Back from the Brink: Countering Illiberalism in Liberal Democracies

Event time: 
Friday, April 14, 2023 - 2:45pm to Saturday, April 15, 2023 - 4:45pm
Henry R. Luce Hall (LUCE ), 203 See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

The literature on the current crisis of liberal democracy focuses on the rise of illiberalism and populism as well as on the erosion of democratic rights and institutions; less systematic attention has been paid to how pro-democratic actors can prevent, contain, or resist illiberalism. The scholarship on responses to illiberalism is scattered across different subfields, including analyses of legal and judicial restrictions on extremism, studies of party organization and competition, works on civil society organizations and social movements, and analyses of voting behavior. This conference brings together scholars from different subfields of comparative politics and political sociology to discuss the conditions of viability and effectiveness of strategies to prevent the rise, contain the influence, and resist the power of political illiberalism in democracies.
Our focus will be on liberal democracies. Even though democracy is in retreat globally, the current predicament of liberal democracies poses specific challenges for comparative political analysis. The institutional reforms that instantiate incremental democratic backsliding in liberal democracies freeing the executive from checks by institutions such as courts, media, independent agencies, international and supranational rights regimes; manipulating the access to vote of specific groups— are different from those observed in “electoral” democracies. So are the strategies to thwart them.
Unlike most literature on countering illiberalism in liberal democracies, which focuses on cases where illiberal governments have started to entrench their power, the contributions to this conference cover situations in which illiberals are both in power and in opposition. The success of figures such as Trump, Orban, Kaczyński, and others, has inspired populist right-wing parties and movements in other liberal democracies to also advocate removing national and supranational checks on executive power. Some of these parties are not in power but are rising rapidly in support and influence. Others (e.g., in the US), are on the brink of power. Pro-democratic forces are not doomed to fight back only after illiberals have reached power. They can act preventively too.
Finally, although long-term strategies such as redistribution, deradicalization programs or education reforms are often important to counter illiberalism, we complement this literature by focusing on strategies tailored to have effects in the short term. These are particularly salient in the current political juncture and include, but are not limited to: legal prosecution; the violation of informal constitutional conventions (pro-democratic “constitutional hardball”); actions of civil society organizations; and voter mobilization. All of them may entail navigating significant tradeoffs and dilemmas, which become sharper as illiberal forces become more influential in society. Yet, democrats are rarely defenseless, even when illiberal forces take over the executive.