Photograph of Giovanni Capoccia





Recent talks 
and lectures

Working papers





Crest of Oxford University

Working papers 

Countering Illiberalism in Liberal Democracies: Actors, Strategies, Temporalities

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 counter illiberalism. Focusing on advanced liberal democracies, this paper maps the strategies that the government, pro-democratic parties, civil society organizations, and individual voters can adopt to counter illiberal movements in situations where illiberal parties have reached power (resistance); where they are in opposition but are serious contenders to attain executive power in the short term (containment); and where they are not on the brink of power but are rising in political influence (prevention). The discussion focuses on political strategies designed to have effects in the short term and outlines the tradeoff and dilemmas entailed in countering illiberalism in these three scenarios. With the purpose of identifying priorities for future research, the last section of the paper puts forward some tentative reflections on the broad conditions of viability and effectiveness of anti-illiberal strategies.


Shaping competition: Allies' party licensing and the extreme right in Germany
(with Grigore Pop-Eleches, Princeton University)

Political elites in new democracies typically confront the problem of how to mitigate the destabilizing potential of large masses of alienated voters who might oppose the new regime, either because they are still ideologically linked to the past authoritarian regime or because they associate the democratic transition with the loss of material resources and social prestige. The dilemmas associated with this situation are well known: preventing the reorganization of radical “successor parties” might increase voters’ alienation and sow the seeds of more instability, while allowing such organizations to compete freely might entail costs in terms of government stability and effectiveness in the shorter term. Attracting disaffected individuals under the banners of moderate parties with the promise of policy concessions on their most pressing material demands is often considered an effective strategy in enlarging the social bases of the new regime. Using a subnational design, the paper explores the impact of these choices on the development of the extreme right in West Germany during the first decade of the Federal Republic.


Trying Perpetrators: Denazification Trials and Support for Democracy in West Germany
(with Grigore Pop-Eleches, Princeton University)

Transitional justice scholars have discussed the effects on the legitimacy of a new democracy of punishing large numbers of human rights violators. We address this question through the lenses of social psychology theories on how individuals respond to punishment in allocative situations, including how defendants in court trials evaluate their verdicts. We analyze denazification trials in West Germany in 1946-47, which involved large numbers of individuals. Consistently with findings in social psychology, we find that subnational variation in the fairness of procedures and distributive outcomes can dampen and even compensate for the anti-democratic attitudinal effects of being a defendant in a TJ trial. We also find some evidence that procedural fairness shapes the democratic attitudes of family members of TJ defendants. The study has implications for the analysis of contemporary cases of post-authoritarian and post-conflict justice programs that involve trying large numbers of perpetrators.


Normative Frameworks, Electoral Strategies, and the Boundaries of Pluralism in post-Fascist Democracies: The Case of Italy

Variation in the political inclusion or marginalization of the extreme right in Western European democracies is typically explained by focusing on ideational factors, in particular processes of “political learning”, and the “politics of memory” —broadly speaking, whether the public debate is dominated by the rejection of the country’s Fascist past, or whether ambiguity prevails. This paper argues that the emergence of public norms legitimizing the political marginalization of the extreme right is endogenous to whether the extreme right is illegalized in the aftermath of the democratic transition. In turn, this outcome is not driven by how key collective actors and decision-makers view the Fascist past, but by their expected short-term gains in access to governmental power and policy influence. The paper elaborates these theoretical propositions and tests them with newly collected archival and quantitative evidence on post-war Italy. The argument has implications for the analysis of the marginalization or inclusion of the extreme right in comparable cases, and for a more nuanced understanding of the role of public norms in establishing the boundaries of legitimate dissent in liberal democracies. 


Selecting Units in Political Research
(with Laura Stoker, UC Berkeley)

Decisions about units of observation and units of analysis are central to research design. Although the methodological literature in various fields has recognized that different strategies of unit selection typically have a substantial influence on empirical findings, the guidelines offered on how to select the appropriate units for analysis are lacunose and at times unsound. In a first attempt to elaborate better guidelines, the paper argues that unit selection should be driven by the theoretical expectations about the data generating process, and translates this general advice into concrete methodological steps in three lines of scholarship in which difficult unit decisions arise. In the cases of selection of temporal units in longitudinal research and of geographical units for subnational analysis, we draw from insights from the measurement literature to devise a strategy on how to attain theory-driven unit selection. In cases where the data generating process works across units at different levels, we discuss the pitfalls of testing macro-propositions with aggregate data and illustrate the steps necessary to adapt one's empirical strategy in light of the causal process at work.


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