The Twin Rise of Populism and Authoritarianism

Globally, the past decade has been marked by the twin advances of authoritarianism and populism. The two are not always linked, but in situations ranging from the Philippines and Cambodia to Hungary and Poland, politicians have leveraged populist movements to seize power. Once in office, they have begun the process of dismantling the institutions designed to check their authority and protect human rights, particularly the judiciary and the media. 

The populist boom is fueled by disparate, local issues, but these often share common features, such as feelings of disenfranchisement, of being left out of a global economic boom and of discomfort at seeing familiar social orders upended. The movements these grievances generate have spurred anti-immigrant xenophobia—and, in places like Hungary and Greece, even horrifying episodes of political violence—as underlying prejudices are exploited by opportunistic politicians.
A protester holds a sign mocking Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during an anti-government march in central Budapest, Hungary, Dec. 21, 2018 (AP photo by Marko Drobnjakovic).
Champions of liberal democracy have often appeared hamstrung in their attempts to counter these forces, but there have been some recent successes, including the rise of the Greens across Europe and electoral setbacks for extremist parties in France and Spain. And in countries where centrist or right-wing parties have chosen to adopt populist policies rather than to push back against them, civil society groups have been resurgent.

WPR has covered the rise of populism and authoritarianism in detail, and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. How will Chinese President Xi Jinping’s creeping authoritarianism affect the global order? What role will President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war play in the Philippines’ mid-term elections? Can Europe push back against illiberalism in its midst?


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