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Back from the Brink: Countering Illiberalism in Liberal Democracies II 
(organized with I. Mares), two-day conference at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, 3-4 November 2023

This event concludes the series of seminars and workshops of the "Back from the Brink" research project and comprises several panel discussion over two days. Papers discuss the viability of strategies toi counter illiberalism in liberal democracies, and in particular: the political and institutional responses to parliamentary disruptions; the adoption of legal restrictions against anti-democratic actors; the role of "constitutional hardball" in defending liberal democratic institutions; the conditions for coordinating different oppositional actors to resist illiberal power bids; the role of ethnonationalism in the current predicament of democracy in the US; the role of anti-democratic rhetorical strategies by incumbent autocrats in delegitimizing democratic institutions; the importance of pro-democracy social norms to stymie the rise of illiberal political forces; the role of civil society mobilization in supporting or opposing illiberal reforms; and the electoral dilemmas of democratic oppositions facing elected autocrats.

Participants include: David Bateman (Cornell); Ivan Ermakoff (Wisconsin); Antonis Elllinas (Cyprus); Vincente Valentim (Oxford); Robert Lieberman (Johns Hopkins); Susan Stokes (Chicago); Lautaro Cella (Chicago); Ipek Cinar (Chicago); Andres Uribe (Stanford); Laura Jakli (Harvard); Jason Wittenberg (Berkeley); Melis Laebens (CEU Vienna); Marcin Slarzinsky (Polish Academy of Sciences); Michael Biggs (Oxford), Mihail Chiru (Oxford), Martin Conway (Oxford), Nick Dickinson (Oxford), David Doyle (Oxford), Stathis Kalyvas (Oxford), Desmond King (Oxford), Alex Kuo (Oxford), Marek Naczyk (Oxford), Adam Smith (Oxford), Katerina Tertytchnaya (Oxford).

Link                                                       Program                                                          Abstracts

Back from the Brink: Countering Illiberalism in Liberal Democracies
(organized with I. Mares), two-day conference at the Macmillan Center, Yale University, 14-15 April 2023

Most 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. Furthermore, existing 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 behaviour. This conference brings together scholars from these subfields to analyze what strategies can be adopted, as well as their limitations and their potential, to protect liberal democracies from illiberalism.

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”, less advanced, 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.   

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 liberal democracies.

Link                                   Flyer                                   Program                              Abstracts

Backsliding and Resilience in Liberal Democracies
(organized with P. Schleiter), one-day conference at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, 21 May 2022

A growing literature on democratic backsliding has documented the retreat of democracy around he world, including in Western liberal democracies. Illiberal right-wing movements have been on the rise in Europe, in some cases coming to power and weakening or dismantling liberal institutions. In the US, the authoritarian style that characterized Donald Trump's presidency culminated in a concerted attempt to stop his democratically elected successor from taking office. Scholars are now increasingly shifting attention to the sources of democratic resilience, i.e., the strategies, the processes, and the institutional, political, and social resources available to democrats to prevent illiberal forces from enacting their program.

This one-day conference brings together scholars of institutions, illiberalism, and democracy, for a wide-ranging discussion of new theoretical perspectives on the current crisis of liberal democracies. The focus is on established liberal democracies, where both the processes of institutional change instantiating backsliding, and the potential for social and political resistance to uphold democracy are specific vis-a-vis less advanced democracies. Contributions focus on the responses of liberal democratic governments to illiberal and populist oppositions, on the different dimensions of democratic backsliding, and on the resources available to pro-democratic forces to resist the attempts of elected autocrats to undermine democratic accountability. 

The conference is also streamed online. Registration.

Abstracts                           Program                              Flyer 1                              Flyer 2

Departmental Colloquium in Comparative Politics, Convenor (2020-2022),
Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.

Hilary Term 2021
(with M. Borges, M. Dilling, C. Mueller-Crepon)

Trinity Term 2021 (with
M. Borges, M. Dilling, C. Mueller-Crepon)

Michaelmas Term 2021 (with M. Dilling, M. Laebens)

Hilary Term 2022 (with M. Dilling, M. Laebens)

Trinity Term 2022 (with M. Dilling, M. Laebens)

The Historical Turn in the Study of Democracy (with N. Bermeo), speaker series at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, 2010-2011. Calendar

The historical turn approach analyzes the long-term dynamics of political regimes through a focus on key moments of institutional change. Although income inequality and class struggle are important factors in the emergence of democracy, conflicts over institutional reform generally occur across multiple lines of social and political cleavage, in which ethnic, religious and ideological divisions often play a crucial role. This line of research tests comparative theories of regime change  “on the ground” by reconstructing which factors (socio-economic, identity-based, ideological) determined the outcome of crucial struggles on democratic reform at important junctures. By emphasizing the importance of "reading history forward", the historical turn approach systematically considers the impact of often-neglected factors such as the influence that previous fights on institutional reform have on the interests, worldviews and strategies of key poliical actors, or the international diffusion of political models. The approach allows reconstructing the long-run dynamics of political regimes through the sequential analysis of connected episodes of institutional change, each studied in its own right, and avoids excessive reliance on the overly stylized “regime trajectories” evoked by classical theories of regime change.

The Challenges and Dilemmas of Democratization (with D. Ziblatt), two-day conference at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 3-4 October 2008. 

This workshop, funded by the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and the Stiftung Deutsch-Amerikanische Wisseschaftsbeziehungen, brought together several scholars from Europe, Canada and the US to formulate a new approach to the study of democratization centered on the historical development of democratic institutions. The proceedings were published in August 2010 as a special issue of Comparative Political Studies entitled "The Historical Turn in Democratization Studies". The volume was the focus of a roundtable at the Department of Politics and IR, University of Oxford, on November 11, 2010. 

Tel: +44 (0)1865 276752;  Fax: +44 (0)1865 276767;