Disentangling Authoritarianism and Illiberalism in the Context of the Global States System

This Argument appears in vol. 75, no. 1, "Insecurities: The 75th Anniversary Issue, 1947-2022" (Fall/Winter 2022).

By Julian G. Waller

The 2010s and 2020s have been readily identified as periods of considerable disjuncture and political disruption at the level of the global states system. Many point to observations of a relative rise in certain ideational conceptual categories, such as “illiberalism” or “populism,” or regime concepts such as “authoritarianism” to explain these patterns of breakdown and system-level uncertainty. While this scholarly approach has much to recommend itself, in the end a great deal of academic usage suffers from a poor understanding of what these conceptual categories entail and consist of, their application across states, and their interaction with seemingly antithetical concepts such as “liberalism” or “democracy” itself. This article presents a critical schematic approach to the application of these conceptual tools in the scholarly analysis of the current international system and its discontents. In doing so, it argues that the concepts of “illiberalism” and “authoritarianism,” in particular, are vulnerable to conceptual misuse, and that this misuse leads to sometimesunintended ontological assumptions about the global states system—such as “authoritarian internationals” and “illiberal waves”—that may be empirically and functionally untenable, or otherwise misleading, although context and close case analysis ultimately determines their relevance beyond description.


The global states system is in crisis, a function of the decline of the system-level ordering derived from the post-Cold War moment and the ideological victor that emerged from it—global liberalism made in the American mold.[1] Indeed, the fragmentation of the international order, once undergirded by “unipolar,” American-backed international hegemony, has become clearer in the accounting of both academics and policymakers.[2] As this has taken place, so too has there been an increased recourse to conceptual tools from the comparative politics subfield which provide ideational descriptions that may better describe the shape and substance of this partial dissolution of the system. In an era typified by a revitalized realism and heightened interstate competition for many policymakers, observers nevertheless continue engaging with the constructivist emphases on ideas and ideologies to explain the international system’s more jarring tendencies.[3]

Chief among conceptual constructs in vogue today are analytical terms such as “illiberalism,” “nationalism,” “populism,” and “authoritarianism” (among others), used to describe, categorize, and assess outcomes relevant to interested observers.[4] Why is democracy in decline? In what ways do “black knight” international actors engage with the system?[5] Where are the weak-points in longstanding alliances, and why? Why do we speak without confidence about the “global liberal order” (or the more rather congratulatory “rules-based order”) and other such terms for hegemonic authority?[6] Such concepts entice scholars by seeming to provide answers in this vein.

This reliance on a small range of expansive, conceptual toolkits is certainly a necessary one, yet is also subject to considerable analytic slippage, given the often-pejorative nature of these concepts’ common terminological deployment.[7] To put it mildly, when many political scientists or international relations experts write about non-liberal or non-democratic challenges to the global order, they often do so in a normative register that assumes a specific ideological position about the value of the old order and the threat of a new alternative.[8] This is perfectly acceptable, but it raises the challenge of ensuring that we know precisely what we are talking about when we use such terms.

This article reviews the conceptual contours of just two of these terms— “authoritarianism” and “illiberalism”—and situates them in a broad context at the level of the international states system and their feedback loops from relevant domestic-level political systems.[9] I argue that given the domestic bounds of these particular concepts, and the fact that they operate at different (and in the case of illiberalism, multiple) levels of analysis, these concepts must be integrated into the theoretical assumptions of a state-oriented approach to international politics with care.

Specifically, I argue that we must be particularly cautious of assuming the existence of “authoritarian internationals” or “illiberal waves” as anything more than useful heuristic, descriptive accounts, rather than evocations of genuine, coherent groupings besetting an abstracted liberal international order.[10] There are certainly authoritarian regimes or illiberal ideological pressures that act on the world system, sometimes in patterned ways. But whether they do so with intentional-agential purpose, in concert, or in tandem is not always clear. At the very least, it is better for these assertions to be interrogated rather than assumed. Furthermore, we must be wary of connecting these two concepts without clear theoretical frameworks and nuanced comparative empirical research. Domestic-level concepts of political order (authoritarianism) and ideational/ideological motivations or orientations (illiberalism) should not be taken to act as ontological units at the state-level without considerable caveats and reasoned consideration— and should certainly not be conflated.[11]

The point is relevant for both scholars and policymakers alike, although it may seem somewhat abstruse at first glance. For academics, correctly identifying and using concepts of relevance is a basic task in the social sciences—failure to do so can lead to miscoding quantitative data-sets, suggest misleading country-case comparisons, and produce faulty assumptions from which theoretical frameworks will find ill-fit.[12] Concepts that are asserted to be readily identified as ontological phenomena are even more important to get right, if only to ensure that the knowledge-building project that is iterative academic research ensures it is not talking past itself, but is engaging on fundamental questions in shared, paradigmatic ways. The messy conflation of concepts or their haphazard deployment means that scholarship may simply speak about the empirical world in a manner divorced from reality— and in doing so lead to inferences that may only be corrected much later.[13]

For policymakers, the stakes are sometimes even higher, as inclusion in one or another category can have legal and foreign policy ramifications, especially for highly-bureaucratized legal processes that can bind the international policies of Western states. Although the policy field sometimes seems unrelated to academic theory, the translation of concepts from academe to Western intergovernmental organizations and national states is increasingly regularized.[14] For example, the European Union’s (EU) parliament recently labeled Hungary an “electoral autocracy.”[15] Yet the EU’s own treaties define the supranational organization as a club of democracies—does this imply Hungary might be kicked out of the union with the justification being a labeling process? Or does this mean the EU will be pressured to conduct regime-change operations or otherwise coerce its own membership, as some scholars argue?[16] That the abstraction of regime-type is now debated in the halls of a supranational organization suggests that it is not meaningless to ensure we deploy such concepts rigorously.

This is not only a European issue, nor one dealing with internal matters alone. Similar problems matter with other designations, such as whether countries experience “coups”—foreign aid legislation in the US is shut down should the State Department label a regime change to be as such.[17] And, of course, conceptual labels matter to policymakers as heuristic components in debates over justifying decision-making within government. The Biden Administration’s focus on “democracy vs. autocracy” framings in its foreign policy priorities have been expressed in the 2022 National Security Strategy, as well as in other regulatory and orienting directives for both diplomatic and military bureaucracies.[18] The gap between theory and policy is not as small as sometimes assumed—thus it is wise to check and revise our assumptions when needed and engage with high-level concepts with care.[19]

To that end, this article provides an analytical check against conceptual stretching and assumptive theorizing, while sketching out relevant interactions between domestic-level dynamism and system-level approaches for the concepts of “authoritarianism” and “illiberalism,” respectively.[20] In doing so, it will take a hard look at how we use these concepts to build out descriptions of interstate patterns, such as “internationals” and “waves.” As with all attempts to maintain conceptual rigor while embarking on a broad sweep of the international system, the result is more questions than answers. Yet this is merely the inevitable cost of such scholarship and will ultimately better prepare future research with greater understanding and more refined deployment of the conceptual toolkits that we have available.

Authoritarianism and Illiberalism as Complicated Conceptual Tools

Concepts such as authoritarianism and illiberalism are at their core scholarly constructs, designed to combine a set of observed political sub-elements which are asserted to hold together as an ontological (i.e., that which really exists or is) reality that can be useful to undergird a given theoretical approach.[21] That is, in the way that theoretical models—statistical or otherwise—are in some ways best viewed as analogues to maps or schema, such concepts should be understood as objects that should be judged and crafted based both on their usefulness and their relation to actually-existing social phenomena.[22] Given this, a demand for parsimony as well as clear delineation of conceptual boundaries is always at a premium.[23]

It is beyond the scope of this article to deeply dive into the disparate strands of literature that dispute definitions and conceptualizations of these scholarly terms of art.[24] Yet a recapitulation is in order, most vitally to make relevant conceptual distinctions that will aid an empirical sweep of the global state system and how rising ideational, organizational, and political challenges to the status quo hegemonic order can be distinguished within and across cases.[25]

Actually-Existing Authoritarianism

We first turn to authoritarianism, which is a conceptualization of political regime.[26] Although the term has been applied in a variety of ways in social science and humanities disciplines—from individual-level behavior, attitude, and even psychological makeup to policy categorization to a broad synonym for state coercion—we restrict the term intentionally to political order at the polity-level. Political authoritarianism denotes a political regime that is not an electoral democracy.[27] Insofar as the term is used not at the polity-level, but in reference to political actors, it refers to the desire by said actors for the establishment of an authoritarian regime.[28] This residual definition is longstanding in the political science literature, given as an antipode vis-à-vis the dominant understanding of the concept of electoral democracy itself.[29]

Electoral democracy is a very peculiar political system in which the apex decision-making political offices are chosen through a competitive struggle for the people’s vote through partisan elections under broad suffrage in which the electoral outcomes are uncertain.[30] This form of political regime is unique in its orientation to political power, to elite rotation, to leadership succession, and to mass participation in the political process and accountability mechanisms.[31] All political regimes that are not electoral democracies are by default “authoritarian” regimes, per standard usage in the comparative political science field.[32] This leaves us with a broad umbrella category of authoritarianism as political regime, to which we then append an entire architecture of sub-categories and variations relevant for careful, context-relevant cross-national and case-study work.

Given this understanding of authoritarianism, we are able to acknowledge the vast diversity of authoritarian rule across space and time, including a considerable variety of organizational and authority combinations that run a wide gamut. Military juntas, absolute monarchies, personalist dictatorships, ideocratic party-states, bureaucratic-corporatist states, theocracies, and electoralist non-democracies all fall under this capacious concept, united in their orientation towards power (top-down) and their degree of unaccountability to the wider population.[33]

It is quite evident that this conceptualization of authoritarianism has its demerits, as it is quite broad and definitionally is unable to tell us very much about the specific innerworkings, motivations, or constellations of relative power between rulers and regime elites. For this reason, an entire literature has grown around specifying authoritarian subtypes and exploring their diverse specificities.[34] When we speak broadly about authoritarianism in international politics, we must therefore be mindful of the grab-bag nature of authoritarianism properly speaking, which very quickly looms large as one explores any set of individual country-cases.[35]

Most importantly, for the international relations analyst, is that authoritarianism, as we most commonly understand the concept in a crisp sense, operates explicitly at the regime and state-level. The study of authoritarian states is a longstanding concern in the IR subfield, of course, giving valence to the long-debated “Democratic Peace” thesis, as well as numerous studies on security dynamics, civil wars, coups, and other research items of interest.[36] Yet authoritarianism is multiheaded in its operationalization—that is, authoritarian regimes are a large category bucket that needs to be populated with empirical cases and specified subtypes for it to hold substantive meaning, beyond the most basic binary analyses, in quantitative research.[37]

Approaching Illiberalism Substantively

Although often confused or conflated with authoritarianism, illiberalism is does not relate directly to political regime per se, as it represents an ideational construct rather than one describing the organization and ordering of political authority. Illiberalism is a complicated—and contested—concept, although most scholars use it as a conceptual shorthand for a modern ideological or ideational family defined by a self-understood opposition to and reaction against philosophical liberalism, with pronounced tendencies towards the distrust of checking or minoritarian political institutions formed by apolitical experts, and focused on promoting a variety of collective, hierarchical, majoritarian, national-level, and/or culturally-integrative approaches to contemporary political society in a substantive manner.[38]

Most importantly, illiberalism itself is not “conservatism,” “populism,” “nationalism,” or any other thick ideology, but rather a thinner ideological orientation that may encapsulate one or more of these concepts, as well many others, in a given case-context. Illiberalism’s key distinctions are its oppositional relation to liberalism, defined entirely by a given situational context, its reliance on non-individualist or egalitarian appeals, and its motivation as being triggered through the actual experience of liberalism as a dominant domestic (or externally-imposed) paradigm.[39] Illiberalism is therefore not an appropriate concept to use when discussing preliberal societies or those that have not experienced liberalism in a comprehensive way. Nor is it helpful to define illiberalism as simply anti- or not-liberalism, as the positional and reactive nature forms the core of the concept itself.[40]

Illiberalism is then a modern phenomenon of the last forty years or so, found primarily in the West and its dependent or semi-dependent periphery—a helpful distinguishing marker relative to the many other ways and places in the world that are not “liberal.”[41] One useful distinction can be made between Hungary and China, an example provided by Laruelle.[42] While both states are non-liberal in substantive ways, illiberalism successfully captures the specificity of the Hungarian case—which can be compared to distinct expressions in Poland, the United States, Brazil, and elsewhere to provide meaningful analytic leverage—while it becomes stretched beyond utility if it is meant to include the extremely distinct Chinese case, or other forms of traditionalism and social conservatism found in non-liberalized polities globally.[43] If illiberalism is used broadly to mean any sort of “conservatism” found across all times and all places, it quickly loses its conceptual benefit and becomes a catch-all without easy application, significantly divorced from the phenomena for which it was created to describe substantively.[44]

Illiberalism is a multilevel concept, comprising individual worldviews, party and political actor orientations, policy decisions, and whole-of-government (or even “regime”) positions. This makes it difficult to disentangle, which is of course one reason why the concept is both so in vogue as well as hotly contested today.[45] Its primary saving grace is that the concept is developed to understand a specific moment in time—the post-Cold War period under Western liberal hegemony and its discontents—rather than built to be a catch-all category for all things at all times.[46] Even so, usage practices vary considerably, and it is not difficult to admit that scholars often use the term more as a punching-bag for political or sociological developments that are out of favor rather than anything conceptually substantive.[47]

In this sense, then, illiberalism describes a modern form of ideological reaction which is expressed contextually against the economic, cultural, and political liberalism of a given society and which is not necessarily tethered to older forms of social traditionalism, although it may indeed appeal to such authority or legitimating structures as well. This reaction is expressed through social movements, civil society, political parties, and individual leaders, as well as apolitical subcultures and even online communities, most of which occur below the level of the state, while some may even work transnationally.[48] Illiberalism, being ideational in form, can be applied to the international system only with some difficulty, perhaps more than scholars sometimes realize—although this does not mean it is impossible or not desirable, of course.

Armed with these conceptual tools, we can attempt to situate the current global states system in its current era of crisis and uncertainty.

Authoritarianism, Illiberalism, Internationals, and Waves

The task of collecting and connecting all these conceptual puzzle pieces and applying them to the diversity of the international system is a considerable one. We can only gesture at some of the research problems and theoretical difficulties that the current tumult in the system leads to. It will surely remain a major element of scholarly study for the foreseeable future, and many promising avenues of exploration loom large already. Exposing some of the contradictions and difficulties in using these concepts to explain and describe the contours of global politics does not deny the project—it merely emphasizes the need for careful analysis and measured approaches. We must therefore look in turn to how authoritarianism and illiberalism fit into debates on the dynamics of the modern international system and identify the common ways they are described—as internationals and waves, among many other variants—to showcase the enormity of the challenge.

Running the Authoritarian Gamut Across the Global States System

Although the return of forthright authoritarian rule in many parts of the globe has become undeniable in recent years, as early as the end of the 1990s, scholars have noted the dwindling dominance of democratic political systems following the crest of the Third Wave of Democratization at the end of the Cold War. Fareed Zakaria’s well-known concept of “illiberal democracy” was quickly followed with an acknowledgement that a new, “Fourth Wave of Democracy and Dictatorship” was percolating even in the early 2000s.[49]

By the late 2010s, the V-Dem project—a major democracy measurement program based in Sweden—identified this fourth wave to be in full force, and that by the end of the decade more countries had been reclassified as authoritarian regimes (“autocracies”) than were transitioning to democracy.[50] The age of modern democratization has plausibly ended; or, perhaps better framed, the edge and middle cases had all ended up failing to institutionalize the democratization processes of the 1980s and 1990s.[51]

This evident observation has been followed with a round of recriminations searching to find a singular cause or reason for this reversion to historical norm. Many have pointed to the rise of “black knight” states: strong, hegemonic authoritarian regimes whose international influence has enabled and furthered this trend towards autocratization and “democratic backsliding.”[52] Scholars often note regional exemplars such as Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela as being central in these proposed diffusion processes. Some have even claimed that an “authoritarian international” (analogous to communist and socialist internationals from prior historical eras) was under development.[53]

There is considerable evidence that both emulation and learning dynamics are at work, both among already-authoritarian regimes as well as ones who sit in the midway point of regime spectra of competition. Political regimes do take lessons on “best practices” from one another, especially in terms of techniques to maintain political stability.[54] What is less clear is whether these dynamics also include agent-oriented motivations for authoritarianism itself. That is, do regimes seek to “spread” authoritarianism for values-based reasons or for intentional, instrumental ones?[55] Or is the preference for authoritarian rule epiphenomenal to other considerations, such as foreign policy orientation away from the West, which just happens to be correlated with non-democratic rule?[56]

Suggesting that states spread authoritarianism qua authoritarianism for its own sake is a major theoretical claim.[57] It also is quickly complicated by case realities—many core exemplar authoritarian regimes are quite happy for their neighbors to hold on to democratic regimes, so long as their foreign policies are not oriented away from their own priorities. Russia is commonly held to be spreading authoritarian rule in its “near abroad.”[58] Support for Belarus’ personalist dictatorship or the electoral authoritarian Yanukovych administration in Ukraine are helpful examples here.[59]

But counter-examples are similarly easy to find: after Kyrgyzstan’s 2010s regime change, Russia had no difficulty negotiating with the new regime and did not press for autocratization. Indeed, autocratization in the 2020s seems to be a thoroughly domestic story in the country.[60] Similarly, Russia supported the recent regime change in Armenia, which flipped the state from a stable electoral authoritarian system to the opposition democratic movement.[61] And Georgia’s electoral authoritarian regime under Mikheil Saakashvili was a major opponent of Russia, while the more pluralist Georgian Dream regime that took its place was also more careful and nuanced in its dealings with Russia, much to the chagrin of many prodemocracy NGOs in the region.[62]

Another key “black knight” example is China, whose international influence has increased significantly across the two decades of global autocratization.[63] Yet even in China’s own “near abroad,” regime pluralism is far more standard than vanguardist promotion of authoritarianism itself. Mongolia, holding to a vibrant, if deeply corrupt, electoral democracy, is thoroughly within Chinese orbit.[64] Other comparable party-states, such as Vietnam, are in fact far more wary of Chinese influence than more pluralist electoral democracies such as Indonesia or Malaysia.[65] And China’s well-known push for economic influence in Africa has not involved directions on political regime at all—Beijing has rather signaled that it will work with any kind of regime, so long as political stability is prioritized and the acceptance of economic investments is taken at face value.[66] China thus deals equally with electoral authoritarian Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe as well as democratic Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa.

This complicates any claim to an “authoritarian international” acting either as a coordinated, autocracy-promotion bloc or any individual critical case specifically pushing authoritarianism for ideological reasons. This does not deny that such could become the case—the global experience of communism suggests this is certainly a program that could be pushed forward, and with potentially significant success.[67] But it is unclear at best that any such real international exists today. Generic authoritarianism, which as noted comes in a variety of organizational flavors and holds to a particularly electoralist cast in the current era, is simply not a necessary condition for major authoritarian states to pursue their own regional and international interests.

Indeed, it is not at all clear that authoritarian regimes, by dint of their authoritarianism, cooperate internationally for these reasons. Much has been made of Russian-Chinese rapprochement and agreement, especially in light of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War and geopolitical tensions vis-à-vis the United States and the broader NATO alliance. Yet this can be explained through other frameworks as well. This rapprochement can be understood as a function of simple, shared geopolitical interests, international balancing, or cultural and social explanations that push these states together based on a shared distrust of the West. None of these arguments require that regime itself is the reason for such changes in diplomatic and geopolitical relations.

Illiberalism in International Politics and its Prospects

The growth of illiberalism has been noted both in Europe, where the term was first used to describe changing domestic politics in places like Hungary and Poland, as well as elsewhere, such as in the Americas or in more liberalized states in east and southeast Asia.[68] In doing so, many discuss illiberalism as a wave: a set of different country-cases all exhibiting similar domestic political reactions to local and regional forms of liberalism. Indeed, diffusion arguments are prominent, with illiberals in one set of countries acting as points of emulation or loci of transnational ideas-sharing.

Yet illiberalism is highly distinct at the country-level, with scholars noting considerable differences across cases, not least in terms of the substantive nature of how it is expressed cross-nationally.[69] Thus, illiberalism in east-central Europe is often understood as reaction against the hegemonic cultural and political assumptions of liberalism imposed on member-states by the European Union, while illiberalism in Russia is a distinct flavor of ideological turn away from the West or an internal revitalization of traditional non-liberal societal institutions.[70] In the United States and Brazil, illiberalism is closely associated with populist electoral campaigns, while in southeast Asia, it has been identified in the form of Islamic cultural hegemony in pluralist domestic ecosystems.[71]

The connections between these political environments operate at the level of broad-based reaction to liberal institutions, politics, and cultural changes—the core of illiberalism—but have difficulty when assigning core similarities at a more granular level. The connections are there, certainly, but whether the Russian Orthodox Church, President Bolsonaro, Islamic populism, or American social conservatism really fit together except at a high level of conceptual abstraction is not obvious.[72] Network ties across these disparate phenomena are only present in some, while in others they remain siloed and quite distinct.

The same problem that besets arguments around intentional authoritarian growth around the world fits here: are these distinct events, movements, and ideas emerging at a similar time, or are they of-a-piece? There remains the clear problem of treatment overdetermination, as much of the world experienced post-Cold War global liberal and democratic changes thirty years ago, thus giving the illusion of a singular status quo to which domestic politics can react to, even if the reaction is very different cross-regionally.[73]

Similarly, the issue of conceptual distinctions remains. For policy-oriented research especially, there is a tendency to collapse illiberalism and authoritarianism together, usually for the purpose of noting the growth in the latter is assumed to be caused by the former. A Washington, D.C.- based foreign policy think-tank, the Hudson Institute, is illustrative of this approach, which recently released a report on “democratic backsliding” in the Indo-Pacific region. When discussing illiberalism, the report cites a disparate collection of authoritarian or hybrid-regime rulers alongside illiberal democratic figures: “Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland are populist leaders who exemplify executive takeovers in their countries; while Constantine Chiwenga in Zimbabwe, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, and Ahmed Gaïd Salah in Algeria are all prominent examples of army generals who led military takeovers in their countries.”[74]

These are plausibly all “illiberal” leaders—although, their illiberalism is quite context-specific, and it is difficult to assign clear connection between them. And indeed, some may not count as illiberal, given that countries such as Egypt or Zimbabwe have not experienced liberalism in any deep way— though, of course, they have experienced secularism, socialism, progressivism, and nationalism, which should remind us of all the potential other conceptual tools that could be brought to bear instead here. Furthermore, Bolsonaro and Kaczyński do not even lead authoritarian regimes, which again makes the problem of assigning a singular framework onto vastly disparate international actors quite acute.[75] President Bolsonaro’s recent election loss only furthers the point that the comparison is likely spurious. This further illustrates the problem of conceptual opacity when attempting to compare real cases.

“Internationals” and “Waves”: Descriptors or as Real Political Entities?

The above discussion has shown that given these conceptual distinctions, caution must be taken when assuming that state units with comparable ideological or political regime positions translate to the international arena. This does not mean that such a line of research is impossible, but simply that we must ensure that the assumptions made fit to the cases. In some senses, descriptions of temporal events as “waves” is easier to do than to declare the existence of “internationals” or ideational cohorts that exist in reality. Wave descriptions falter, rather, when they move beyond the temporally or geographically descriptive and into the ontological, providing unitary causes for disparate events and configurations on the ground.[76]

They key question here deals with appropriate levels of analysis. Political regime can be explained by both domestic and international variables, as Gunitsky has noted in his influential accounts of democratization and autocratization patterns across modernity.[77] It is thus perhaps true that in the wake of international shocks, we observe patterned changes in the modal regime type across the global system. Yet it is less clear that such blocs of similar regimes cooperate or act together in agential-intentional concert, except as specified in specific historical and regional contexts. There may be no international-level unit that corresponds to regime, especially in the modern era of thin ideologies.[78]

We need to be very careful when using concepts that assert individual behavioral or meso-level societal patterns and then apply them to high-level descriptions of the international states system. A recent article by Fouquet and Brummer on “populist foreign policy” came to the conclusion, for example, that “conceptual distinctions between populist and non-populist leaders are not fully reflected at the personality level” and indeed required considerable stretching to find any relevant connection between individual personality traits and specific foreign policy outcomes.[79]

The problems of conceptual stretching and the misidentification of appropriate levels of analysis to which one deploys such concepts is at the core of why we can stand firm at the level of description, yet fall hard when it comes to ontological, agential-intentional, or causal analysis. These are old problems, and ones that we must be perpetually reminded of, especially as the churn of world history continues onward.


This article has suggested some of the analytical concerns when using domestic-level concepts to ascribe ontological existence at the international level. This is an old debate, and one that is hardly expected to go away in the coming decades. Indeed, there are perfectly valid reasons for thinking that in some cases and at some times, “internationals” and “waves” may be appropriate constructs to describe system-level changes. Yet the assertion here—that this must be regularly demonstrated, rather than assumed—has the benefit of holding especially close to empirical work and case-study insights.

This is especially important, as the terms most used in these discussions have specific conceptual meanings in the comparative politics literature— sometimes even still under debate or with differing interpretations and sub-categorizations. Internalizing the mindset that “all bad things do not always go together,” as well as the caution to not assume agential direction and intention when faced with patterned observations at the state-level, is critical for scholarship in the coming decades. Especially as the unipolar moment of liberal (and democratic) hegemony recedes further, researchers do not have the luxury of assuming a single, agreed-upon baseline with which to measure all deviations simply and easily.

The debate remains relevant for both academics and policymakers, as well as policy and political journalists who also work with these concepts. Scholarship requires careful comparative concepts and metrics with which to make assessments of the real-world, while those in the policy realm use these in foreign policy decision-making and prioritization. Governments in the 21st century care about whether countries are democratic or not, whether they exhibit regime instability (either democratic or authoritarian), and whether or not the domestic dynamics of a given country will aid or hinder issues of political and economic relationships in very substantive ways. Distinguishing authoritarianism from illiberalism, in addition to better describing political realities, may make all the difference when states make decisions about what sorts of other states may be reliable, friendly, or both—and whether warning signs are existential, or merely represent the twisting turns of standard internal political divisions.

[1] David A. Lake, Lisa L. Martin, and Thomas Risse, “Challenges to the Liberal Order: Reflections on International Organization,” International Organization 75, no. 2 (2021): 225–57, https://doi.org/10.1017/ S0020818320000636; Lucan Ahmad Way, “The Rebirth of the Liberal World Order?,” Journal of Democracy 33, no. 2 (2022): 5–17, https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2022.0014; Constance Duncombe and Tim Dunne, “After Liberal World Order,” International Affairs 94, no. 1 (January 1, 2018): 25–42, https:// doi.org/10.1093/ia/iix234; Tanja A. Börzel, “The Noble West and the Dirty Rest? Western Democracy Promoters and Illiberal Regional Powers,” Democratization 22, no. 3 (April 16, 2015): 519–35, https:// doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2014.1000312.

[2] Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon, “The Real Crisis of Global Order: Illiberalism on the Rise,” Foreign Affairs 101 (February 2022): 103; David Owen, “A Global Crisis of Liberal Democracy?: On Autocratic Democracy, Populism and Post-Truth Politics,” Journal of Social and Political Philosophy 1, no. 1 (February 1, 2022): 30–46, https://doi.org/10.3366/jspp.2022.0005; Duncombe and Dunne, “After Liberal World Order”; Ruth Wodak, “Entering the ‘Post-Shame Era’: The Rise of Illiberal Democracy, Populism and Neo-Authoritarianism in Europe,” Global Discourse 9, no. 1 (January 2019): 195–213, https://doi.org/10.1332/204378919X15470487645420.

[3] Charles E Ziegler, “Conceptualizing Sovereignty in Russian Foreign Policy: Realist and Constructivist Perspectives,” International Politics 49, no. 4 (July 1, 2012): 400–417, https://doi.org/10.1057/ip.2012.7; David Marsh, “Keeping Ideas in Their Place: In Praise of Thin Constructivism,” Australian Journal of Political Science 44, no. 4 (December 1, 2009): 679–96, https://doi.org/10.1080/10361140903296578; J.Samuel Barkin, “Realist Constructivism,” International Studies Review 5, no. 3 (September 1, 2003): 325–42, https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1079-1760.2003.00503002.x.

[4] András Sajó, Renáta Uitz, and Stephen Holmes, eds., Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism (New York: Routledge, 2021), https://doi.org/10.4324/9780367260569; Harris Mylonas and Maya Tudor, “Nationalism: What We Know and What We Still Need to Know,” Annual Review of Political Science 24, no. 1 (2021): 109–32, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-polisci-041719-101841; Sheri Berman, “The Causes of Populism in the West,” Annual Review of Political Science 24, no. 1 (2021): 71–88, https://doi. org/10.1146/annurev-polisci-041719-102503; Xavier Marquez, Non-Democratic Politics: Authoritarianism, Dictatorship and Democratization (London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017); Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser et al., eds., The Oxford Handbook of Populism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017), https://doi. org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198803560.001.0001.

[5] A “black knight” state is a regional great power in an upper-income bracket and/or with high defense spending which provides substantial bilateral aid to countries to resist liberalization, per Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way’s influential conceptualization: Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 372. For other writing using the concept, see for example: Gabriele Natalizia, “Black Knight as a Strategic Choice? Causes and Modes of Russia’s Support to the Authoritarianism in Southern Caucasus,” Italian Political Science Review / Rivista Italiana Di Scienza Politica 49, no. 2 (July 2019): 175–91, https:// doi.org/10.1017/ipo.2019.5; Jakob Tolstrup, “Black Knights and Elections in Authoritarian Regimes: Why and How Russia Supports Authoritarian Incumbents in Post-Soviet States,” European Journal of Political Research 54, no. 4 (2015): 673–90, https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12079; J.N.C. Hill, “Levitsky and Way and Competitive Authoritarianism: Leverage, Linkage and Organisational Power,” in Democratisation in the Maghreb (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 0, https://doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9781474408974.003.0002.

[6] Caitlin Byrne, “Securing the ‘Rules-Based Order’ in the Indo-Pacific: The Significance of Strategic Narrative,” Security Challenges 16, no. 3 (2020): 10–15; G. John Ikenberry, “The Next Liberal Order,” Foreign Affairs 99, no. 4 (2020): 133–42; Gregory V. Raymond, “Advocating the Rules-Based Order in an Era of Multipolarity,” Australian Journal of International Affairs 73, no. 3 (May 4, 2019): 219–26, https:// doi.org/10.1080/10357718.2018.1520803; Andrew Hurrell, “Hegemony, Liberalism and Global Order: What Space for Would-Be Great Powers?,” International Affairs 82, no. 1 (January 1, 2006): 1–19, https:// doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2346.2006.00512.x.

[7] Günter Frankenberg, “Exploring the Topography of the Authoritarian: Populism, Illiberalism, and Authoritarianism,” Journal of Illiberalism Studies 2, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 1–14, https://doi.org/10.53483/ VDIU3531; Julian G. Waller, “Harnessing Illiberalism’s Analytical Leverage,” The Loop (ECPR), August 27, 2021, https://theloop.ecpr.eu/harnessing-illiberalisms-analytical-leverage/.

[8] Charles Kupchan, “The Normative Foundations of Hegemony and The Coming Challenge to Pax Americana,” Security Studies 23 (May 16, 2014), https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2014.8742 05; Wesley W. Widmaier and Susan Park, “Differences Beyond Theory: Structural, Strategic, and Sentimental Approaches to Normative Change,” International Studies Perspectives 13, no. 2 (May 1, 2012): 123–34, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1528-3585.2012.00459.x; Toni Erskine, “Whose Progress, Which Morals? Constructivism, Normative IR Theory and the Limits and Possibilities of Studying Ethics in World Politics,” International Theory 4, no. 3 (November 2012): 449–68, https://doi.org/10.1017/ S1752971912000152.

[9] In this sense, we focus here on the “second image” of domestic political influence on international state action as well as the global system-level itself. See: Owen Temby, “What Are Levels of Analysis and What Do They Contribute to International Relations Theory?,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 28, no. 4 (October 2, 2015): 721–42, https://doi.org/10.1080/09557571.2013.831032; Peter Gourevitch, “The Second Image Reversed: The International Sources of Domestic Politics,” International Organization 32, no. 4 (1978): 881–912.

[10] Matthew Draper and Stephan Haggard, “The Authoritarian Challenge: Liberal Thinking on Autocracy and International Relations, 1930–45,” International Theory, October 24, 2022, 1–26, https:// doi.org/10.1017/S1752971922000136; Christian von Soest, “Democracy Prevention: The International Collaboration of Authoritarian Regimes,” European Journal of Political Research 54, no. 4 (2015): 623–38, https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12100; Seva Gunitsky, “From Shocks to Waves: Hegemonic Transitions and Democratization in the Twentieth Century,” International Organization 68, no. 3 (ed 2014): 561–97, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818314000113; Zachary Elkins and Beth Simmons, “On Waves, Clusters, and Diffusion: A Conceptual Framework,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 598, no. 1 (March 2005): 33–51, https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716204272516.

[11] For complications that arise when deploying identity descriptors to state-unit actions, see, for example: Jennifer Mitzen and Kyle Larson, “Ontological Security and Foreign Policy,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, August 22, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.458; Brent J. Steele, Ontological Security in International Relations: Self-Identity and the IR State (London: Routledge, 2007), https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203018200.

[12] David Collier, Jody Laporte, and Jason Seawright, “Typologies: Forming Concepts and Creating Categorical Variables,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology, eds. Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier, Henry E. Brady, and David Collier (Oxford University Press, 2008); Michael Coppedge, “Thickening Thin Concepts and Theories: Combining Large N and Small in Comparative Politics,” Comparative Politics 31, no. 4 (1999): 465–76, https://doi.org/10.2307/422240; David Collier and Robert Adcock, “Democracy and Dichotomies: A Pragmatic Approach to Choices about Concepts,” Annual Review of Political Science 2, no. 1 (1999): 537–65, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.2.1.537.

[13] Charles B. Roger and Sam S. Rowan, “Analyzing International Organizations: How the Concepts We Use Affect the Answers We Get,” The Review of International Organizations 17, no. 3 (July 1, 2022): 597–625, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-021-09432-2.

[14] Francesco Duina, “Is Academic Research Useful to EU Officials? The Logic of Institutional Openness in the Commission,” Journal of European Public Policy 29, no. 9 (September 2, 2022): 1493–1511, https:// doi.org/10.1080/13501763.2021.1968016; Johan Christensen, “Expert Knowledge and Policymaking: A Multi-Disciplinary Research Agenda,” Policy & Politics 49, no. 3 (July 1, 2021): 455–71, https://doi.org/ 10.1332/030557320X15898190680037; Brian Greenhill, Transmitting Rights: International Organizations and the Diffusion of Human Rights Practices (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015); Frederick Wherry, “International Statistics and Social Structure: The Case of the Human Development Index,” International Review of Sociology 14, no. 2 (July 1, 2004): 151–69, https://doi.org/10.1080/03906700410 001681266.

[15] “MEPs: Hungary Can No Longer Be Considered a Full Democracy,” European Parliament News, September 15, 2022, sec. Press Releases, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/pressroom/20220909IPR40137/meps-hungary-can-no-longer-be-considered-a-full-democracy.

[16] R. Daniel Kelemen, “Europe’s Authoritarian Cancer: Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Treatment,” Progressive Yearbook 2022, Progressive Yearbook (Brussels, Belgium: Foundation for European Progressive Studies, 2022); R. Daniel Kelemen, “The European Union’s Authoritarian Equilibrium,” Journal of European Public Policy 27, no. 3 (March 3, 2020): 481–99, https://doi.org/10.1080/13501763.2020.1712455.

[17] Alexis Afieff, Marian L. Lawson, and Travis A. Ferrell, “Coup-Related Restrictions in U.S. Foreign Aid Appropriations,” In Focus (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, September 1, 2022), https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/details?prodcode=IF11267; Brett Heinz, “Calling a Coup a Coup: The State Department Ignores the Law, Again,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (blog), January 7, 2020, https://cepr.net/calling-a-coup-a-coup-the-state-department-ignores-the-law-again/.

[18] Joseph R. Biden, Jr., “National Security Strategy” (Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2022).

[19] Alyson JK Bailes et al., “The Academia and Foreign Policy Making: Bridging the Gap,” DIIS Working Paper (Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies, May 2011); Stephen M. Walt, “The Relationship Between Theory and Policy in International Relations,” Annual Review of Political Science 8, no. 1 (2005): 23–48, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.7.012003.104904; Fred Chernoff, The Power of International Theory: Reforging the Link to Foreign Policy-Making through Scientific Enquiry (London: Routledge, 2005), https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203799468.

[20] Giovanni Sartori, “Comparing and Miscomparing,” Journal of Theoretical Politics 3, no. 3 (July 1, 1991): 243–57, https://doi.org/10.1177/0951692891003003001.

[21] Gary Goertz, Social Science Concepts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Collier, Laporte, and Seawright, “Typologies: Forming Concepts and Creating Categorical Variables.”

[22] Kevin A. Clarke and David M. Primo, A Model Discipline: Political Science and the Logic of Representations (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[23] Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research (Princeton University Press, 1994); Giovanni Sartori, “Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics,” American Political Science Review 64, no. 4 (December 1970): 1033–53, https://doi. org/10.2307/1958356.

[24] See, for example: Julian G. Waller, “Distinctions with a Difference: Illiberalism and Authoritarianism in Scholarly Study,” Political Studies Review, 2023; Marlene Laruelle, “Illiberalism: A Conceptual Introduction,” East European Politics, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1080/21599165.2022.2037079; Sajó, Uitz, and Holmes, Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism; Jasper Theodor Kauth and Desmond King, “Illiberalism,” European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes de Sociologie 61, no. 3 (December 2020): 365–405, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003975620000181.

[25] This section is partially derived from a related conceptual study on the matter, see: Waller, “Distinctions with a Difference: Illiberalism and Authoritarianism in Scholarly Study.”

[26] Marquez, Non-Democratic Politics.

[27] Waller, “Distinctions with a Difference: Illiberalism and Authoritarianism in Scholarly Study”; Frankenberg, “Exploring the Topography of the Authoritarian: Populism, Illiberalism, and Authoritarianism.”

[28] P. D. Harms et al., “Autocratic Leaders and Authoritarian Followers Revisited: A Review and Agenda for the Future,” The Leadership Quarterly 29, no. 1 (February 1, 2018): 105–22, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2017.12.007.

[29] Barbara Geddes, Joseph Wright, and Erica Frantz, How Dictatorships Work: Power, Personalization, and Collapse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316336182; Marquez, Non-Democratic Politics; Scott Gehlbach, Konstantin Sonin, and Milan W. Svolik, “Formal Models of Nondemocratic Politics,” Annual Review of Political Science 19, no. 1 (2016): 565–84, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-polisci-042114-014927; Barbara Geddes, Joseph Wright, and Erica Frantz, “Autocratic Breakdown and Regime Transitions: A New Data Set,” Perspectives on Politics 12, no. 2 (2014): 313–31.

[30] Adam Przeworski, “Minimalist Conception of Democracy: A Defense,” in Democracy’s Value, ed. Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 23–55; Adam Przeworski, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America, Studies in Rationality and Social Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), https:// doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139172493; Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (Routledge, 1942).

[31] Robert A. Dahl, On Democracy (Yale University Press, 2020); A. H. Birch, The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy (New York, NY: Routledge, 1993); Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (Yale University Press, 1971).

[32] Waller, “Distinctions with a Difference: Illiberalism and Authoritarianism in Scholarly Study”; Marquez, Non-Democratic Politics.

[33] Geddes, Wright, and Frantz, How Dictatorships Work; Geddes, Wright, and Frantz, “Autocratic Breakdown and Regime Transitions.”

[34] Barbara Geddes, Erica Frantz, and Joseph G. Wright, “Military Rule,” Annual Review of Political Science 17, no. 1 (2014): 147–62, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-polisci-032211-213418; Steven Heydemann and Reinoud Leenders, eds., Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and Regime Resilience in Syria and Iran (Stanford University Press, 2013); Levitsky and Way, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War; Andreas Schedler, “The Logic of Electoral Authoritarianism,” in Electoral Authoritarianism: The Dynamics of Unfree Competition, ed. Andreas Schedler (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006), 2–34; Michael Herb, “Princes and Parliaments in the Arab World,” The Middle East Journal 58, no. 3 (July 1, 2004): 367–84, https://doi.org/10.3751/58.3.12; Carl Linden, The Soviet PartyState: The Politics of Ideocratic Despotism (New York, NY: Praeger, 1983); Samuel P. Huntington, “Social and Institutional Dynamics of One-Party Systems,” in Authoritarian Politics in Modern Society: The Dynamics of Established One-Party Systems, eds. Samuel P. Huntington and Clement Henry Moore (Arizona: Basic Books, 1970); Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).

[35] Edward Goldring and Sheena Chestnut Greitens, “Rethinking Democratic Diffusion: Bringing Regime Type Back In,” Comparative Political Studies, June 16, 2019, 0010414019852701, https://doi. org/10.1177/0010414019852701; Alexandre Debs and H.E. Goemans, “Regime Type, the Fate of Leaders, and War,” American Political Science Review 104, no. 03 (August 2010): 430–45, https://doi. org/10.1017/S0003055410000195; Jessica L. Weeks, “Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime Type and Signaling Resolve,” International Organization 62, no. 1 (January 2008): 35–64, https://doi.org/10.1017/ S0020818308080028.

[36] Bruce Bueno de Mesquita et al., “An Institutional Explanation of the Democratic Peace,” American Political Science Review 93, no. 4 (December 1999): 791–807, https://doi.org/10.2307/2586113; Bruce Russett et al., “The Democratic Peace,” International Security 19, no. 4 (1995): 164–84; Erica De Bruin, How to Prevent Coups d’État: Counterbalancing and Regime Survival (Cornell University Press, 2020), https:// doi.org/10.1515/9781501751936; James Raymond Vreeland, “The Effect of Political Regime on Civil War: Unpacking Anocracy,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 52, no. 3 (2008): 401–25.

[37] Geddes, Wright, and Frantz, “Autocratic Breakdown and Regime Transitions.”

[38] Julian G. Waller, “Elites and Institutions in the Russian Thermidor: Regime Instrumentalism, Entrepreneurial Signaling, and Inherent Illiberalism,” Journal of Illiberalism Studies 1, no. 1 (Summer 2021): 1–23, https://doi.org/10.53483/VCHS2523; Waller, “Harnessing Illiberalism’s Analytical Leverage”; Laruelle, “Illiberalism: A Conceptual Introduction.”

[39] Laruelle, “Illiberalism: A Conceptual Introduction.”

[40] Attempts at defining illiberalism as anything not-liberalism run into quick problems of the incoherent nature of what liberalism means in any given society at any given time. See, Duncan Bell, “What Is Liberalism?,” Political Theory 42, no. 6 (December 2014): 682–715, https://doi. org/10.1177/0090591714535103. For good-faith, but insufficient, attempts to square this conceptual circle, see for example: Stephen Holmes, “The Antiliberal Idea,” in Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism, eds. András Sajó, Renáta Uitz, and Stephen Holmes (New York: Routledge, 2021), 3–15, https:// doi.org/10.4324/9780367260569; Renáta Uitz, “Constitutional Practices in Times ‘After Liberty,’” in Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism, eds. András Sajó, Renáta Uitz, and Stephen Holmes (New York: Routledge, 2021), 442–65, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780367260569.

[41] For a brief discussion of applying the concept of illiberalism to pre-Cold War historical periods, such as the Interwar Era, see: Waller, “Harnessing Illiberalism’s Analytical Leverage.”

[42] Laruelle, “Illiberalism: A Conceptual Introduction,” 310–11.

[43] Reginald M. J. Oduor, ed., Africa beyond Liberal Democracy: In Search of Context-Relevant Models of Democracy for the Twenty-First Century (New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2022).

[44] For the case for seeing illiberalism as conservatism, see: Andy Hamilton, “Conservatism as Illiberalism,” in Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism, eds. András Sajó, Renáta Uitz, and Stephen Holmes (New York: Routledge, 2021), 70–81, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780367260569. For partial discussions of illiberalism’s radical, “liberal,” or revolutionary aspects, which do not fit the conservatism archetype, see for example: Mihai Varga and Aron Buzogány, “The Two Faces of the ‘Global Right’: Revolutionary Conservatives and National-Conservatives,” Critical Sociology, December 9, 2021, 08969205211057020, https://doi.org/10.1177/08969205211057020; Vlastimil Havlík, “Technocratic Populism and Political Illiberalism in Central Europe,” Problems of Post-Communism 66, no. 6 (November 2, 2019): 369–84, https://doi.org/10.1080/10758216.2019.1580590; Benjamin Moffitt, “Liberal Illiberalism? The Reshaping of the Contemporary Populist Radical Right in Northern Europe,” Politics and Governance 5, no. 4 (December 29, 2017): 112–22, https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v5i4.996.

[45] Laruelle, “Illiberalism: A Conceptual Introduction”; Kauth and King, “Illiberalism”; Reijer Hendrikse, “Neo-Illiberalism,” Geoforum 95 (October 1, 2018): 169–72, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2018.07.002.

[46] Ruzha Smilova, “The Ideational Core of Democratic Illiberalism,” in Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism, eds. András Sajó, Renáta Uitz, and Stephen Holmes (New York: Routledge, 2021), 177–202, https:// doi.org/10.4324/9780367260569.

[47] Holmes, “The Antiliberal Idea.”

[48] Julian G. Waller, “Illiberalism and Postliberalism: Comparing Ideological Ferment in Eastern Europe and the Anglo-American World,” Research Paper, Postliberal America (Washington, DC: Illiberalism Studies Program, February 2023), https://www.illiberalism.org/illiberalism-and-postliberalism-comparing-ideological-ferment-in-eastern-europe-and-the-anglo-american-world/; Julian G. Waller, “The Illiberal Right Moves Beyond Critique,” Research Paper, Postliberal America (Washington, DC: Illiberalism Studies Program, November 2022), https://www.illiberalism.org/the-illiberal-right-moves-beyond-critique/.

[49] Lucan A. Way, “Authoritarian State Building and the Sources of Regime Competitiveness in the Fourth Wave: The Cases of Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine,” World Politics 57, no. 02 (January 2005): 231–61, https://doi.org/10.1353/wp.2005.0018; Michael McFaul, “The Fourth Wave of Democracy and Dictatorship: Noncooperative Transitions in the Postcommunist World,” World Politics 54, no. 2 (January 2002): 212–44, https://doi.org/10.1353/wp.2002.0004; Fareed Zakaria, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy,” Foreign Affairs 76, no. 6 (1997): 22–43.

[50] Nazifa Alizada et al., “Democracy Report 2021. Autocratization Turns Viral,” V-Dem Institute Report (University of Gothenburg, 2021); Sebastian Hellmeier et al., “State of the World 2020: Autocratization Turns Viral,” Democratization 0, no. 0 (May 24, 2021): 1–22, https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2021.1 922390; Anna Lührmann and Staffan I. Lindberg, “A Third Wave of Autocratization Is Here: What Is New about It?,” Democratization 26, no. 7 (October 3, 2019): 1095–1113, https://doi.org/10.1080/135 10347.2019.1582029.

[51] Thomas Ambrosio, “Beyond the Transition Paradigm: A Research Agenda for Authoritarian Consolidation,” Demokratizatsiya 22, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 471–94; McFaul, “The Fourth Wave of Democracy and Dictatorship”; Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle, “Neopatrimonial Regimes and Political Transitions in Africa,” World Politics 46, no. 4 (July 1994): 453–89, https://doi. org/10.2307/2950715.

[52] Tolstrup, “Black Knights and Elections in Authoritarian Regimes”; Natalizia, “Black Knight as a Strategic Choice?”; Levitsky and Way, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War. See note 5.

[53] Way, “The Rebirth of the Liberal World Order?”; Vitali Silitski, “‘Survival of the Fittest:’ Domestic and International Dimensions of the Authoritarian Reaction in the Former Soviet Union Following the Colored Revolutions,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 43, no. 4 (November 20, 2010): 339–50, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.postcomstud.2010.10.007; Maria J. Debre, “Clubs of Autocrats: Regional Organizations and Authoritarian Survival,” The Review of International Organizations, June 10, 2021, 1–27, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-021-09428-y; Rachel Vanderhill, Promoting Authoritarianism Abroad (Boulder, Colo: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013).

[54] Stephen G. F. Hall and Thomas Ambrosio, “Authoritarian Learning: A Conceptual Overview,” East European Politics 33, no. 2 (April 3, 2017): 143–61, https://doi.org/10.1080/21599165.2017.1307826; Grigorii V. Golosov, “Authoritarian Learning in the Development of Russia’s Electoral System,” Russian Politics 2, no. 2 (June 17, 2017): 182–205, https://doi.org/10.1163/2451-8921-00202004; Steven Heydemann and Reinoud Leenders, “Authoritarian Learning and Authoritarian Resilience: Regime Responses to the ‘Arab Awakening,’” Globalizations 8, no. 5 (October 1, 2011): 647–53, https://doi.org/10.1080/14747731.2011.621274.

[55] Elina Sinkkonen, “Dynamic Dictators: Improving the Research Agenda on Autocratization and Authoritarian Resilience,” Democratization 0, no. 0 (April 6, 2021): 1–19, https://doi.org/10.1080/1351 0347.2021.1903881.

[56] Alizada et al., “Democracy Report 2021. Autocratization Turns Viral.”

[57] Thomas Ambrosio and Jakob Tolstrup, “How Do We Tell Authoritarian Diffusion from Illusion? Exploring Methodological Issues of Qualitative Research on Authoritarian Diffusion,” Quality & Quantity 53, no. 6 (November 1, 2019): 2741–63, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-019-00892-8.

[58] Pål Kolstø, “Authoritarian Diffusion, or the Geopolitics of Self-Interest? Evidence from Russia’s Patron–Client Relations with Eurasia’s De Facto States,” Europe-Asia Studies 73, no. 5 (May 28, 2021): 890–912, https://doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2020.1806209; Marianne Kneuer and Thomas Demmelhuber, eds., Authoritarian Gravity Centers: A Cross-Regional Study of Authoritarian Promotion and Diffusion, Conceptualizing Comparative Politics (New York: Routledge, 2020); Max Bader, “Democracy Promotion and Authoritarian Diffusion: The Foreign Origins of Post-Soviet Election Laws,” Europe-Asia Studies 66, no. 8 (September 14, 2014): 1350–70, https://doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2014.939521.

[59] Way, “Authoritarian State Building and the Sources of Regime Competitiveness in the Fourth Wave.”

[60] Barbara Junisbai and Azamat Junisbai, “Regime Type versus Patronal Politics: A Comparison of ‘Ardent Democrats’ in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan,” Post-Soviet Affairs 35, no. 3 (May 4, 2019): 240–57, https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2019.1568144; Kathleen Collins and Robert Gambrel, “Corruption and Popular Support for Democracy and Government in Transitional Contexts: The Case of Kyrgyzstan,” Europe-Asia Studies 69, no. 8 (September 14, 2017): 1280–1309, https://doi.org/10.108 0/09668136.2017.1384449.

[61] Sean Roberts and Ulrike Ziemer, “Explaining the Pattern of Russian Authoritarian Diffusion in Armenia,” East European Politics 34, no. 2 (April 3, 2018): 152–72, https://doi.org/10.1080/21599165. 2018.1457525.

[62] David Aprasidze and David S. Siroky, “Technocratic Populism in Hybrid Regimes: Georgia on My Mind and in My Pocket,” Politics and Governance 8, no. 4 (December 17, 2020): 580–89, https://doi. org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3370; Kornely Kakachia and Salome Minesashvili, “Identity Politics: Exploring Georgian Foreign Policy Behavior,” Journal of Eurasian Studies 6, no. 2 (July 1, 2015): 171–80, https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.euras.2015.04.002.

[63] Julia Bader, “Propping up Dictators? Economic Cooperation from China and Its Impact on Authoritarian Persistence in Party and Non-Party Regimes,” European Journal of Political Research 54, no. 4 (2015): 655–72, https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12082.

[64] Julian Dierkes and Mendee Jargalsaikhan, “Mongolia In An Emerging Northeast Asian Region,” Mongolian Journal of International Affairs 20 (September 27, 2018): 91–100, https://doi.org/10.5564/mjia. v20i0.1026; Sergey Radchenko and Mendee Jargalsaikhan, “Mongolia in the 2016–17 Electoral Cycle: The Blessings of Patronage,” Asian Survey 57, no. 6 (2017): 1032–57; Morris Rossabi, Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005).

[65] Van-Hoa Vu, Jenn-Jaw Soong, and Khac-Nghia Nguyen, “Vietnam’s Perceptions and Strategies toward China’s Belt and Road Initiative Expansion: Hedging with Resisting,” The Chinese Economy 54, no. 1 (January 2, 2021): 56–68, https://doi.org/10.1080/10971475.2020.1809818; David Shambaugh, Where Great Powers Meet: America and China in Southeast Asia (Oxford University Press, 2020); Denny Roy, “Assertive China: Irredentism or Expansionism?,” Survival 61, no. 1 (January 2, 2019): 51–74, https:// doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2019.1568044.

[66] Irina O. Abramova, “Russia and China in Africa: Competitors or Partners?,” Asia and Africa Today, no. 9 (September 28, 2020): 4–9, https://doi.org/10.31857/S032150750010853-0.

[67] A. James McAdams, Vanguard of the Revolution: The Global Idea of the Communist Party (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2017).

[68] Aron Buzogány, “Illiberal Democracy in Hungary: Authoritarian Diffusion or Domestic Causation?,” Democratization 24, no. 7 (November 10, 2017): 1307–25, https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.201 7.1328676; Miklós Bánkuti, Gábor Halmai, and Kim Lane Scheppele, “Hungary’s Illiberal Turn: Disabling the Constitution,” Journal of Democracy 23, no. 3 (July 2012): 138–46, https://doi.org/10.1353/ JOD.2012.0054.

[69] See, for example, a set of case-study chapters in Sajó, Uitz, and Holmes, Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism.

[70] Roland Paris, “European Populism and the Return of ‘Illiberal Sovereignty’: A Case-Study of Hungary,” International Affairs, February 14, 2022, iiac004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiac004; Waller, “Elites and Institutions in the Russian Thermidor”; Aron Buzogány and Mihai Varga, “Illiberal Thought Collectives and Policy Networks in Hungary and Poland,” European Politics and Society 0, no. 0 (July 30, 2021): 1–19, https://doi.org/10.1080/23745118.2021.1956238.

[71] Ronald A Pernia, “Authoritarian Values and Institutional Trust: Theoretical Considerations and Evidence from the Philippines,” Asian Journal of Comparative Politics 7, no. 2 (June 1, 2022): 204–32, https://doi.org/10.1177/2057891121992118; Leandro Pereira Gonçalves and Odilon Caldeira Neto, Fascism in Brazil: From Integralism to Bolsonarism, 1st edition (London ; New York: Routledge, 2022); Savannah Eccles Johnston, “The Rise of Illiberal Conservatism: Immigration and Nationhood at National Review,” American Political Thought 10, no. 2 (March 2021): 190–216, https://doi.org/10.1086/713668; Kristina Stoeckl and Dmitry Uzlaner, eds., Postsecular Conflicts: Debating Tradition in Russia and the United States (Innsbruck, AT: Innsbruck University Press, 2020), https://doi.org/10.15203/3187-99-3.

[72] Laruelle, “Illiberalism: A Conceptual Introduction”; Marlene Laruelle, “Making Sense of Russia’s Illiberalism,” Journal of Democracy 31, no. 3 (2020): 115–29, https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2020.0049.

[73] Owen, “A Global Crisis of Liberal Democracy?”

[74] Hudson Institute, “Indo-Pacific Democracy: A Baseline Study of Major Trends and Driving Forces,” Report (Washington, D.C.: Hudson Institute, September 2022), https://www.hudson.org/democracy/ indo-pacific-democracy-baseline-study-major-trends-driving-forces.

[75] Alizada et al., “Democracy Report 2021. Autocratization Turns Viral.”

[76] Lührmann and Lindberg, “A Third Wave of Autocratization Is Here”; Seva Gunitsky, “Democratic Waves in Historical Perspective,” Perspectives on Politics 16, no. 3 (September 2018): 634–51, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592718001044; Elkins and Simmons, “On Waves, Clusters, and Diffusion.”

[77] Gunitsky, “Democratic Waves in Historical Perspective”; Seva Gunitsky, Aftershocks: Great Powers and Domestic Reforms in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, 2017), https://doi. org/10.1515/9781400885329; Gunitsky, “From Shocks to Waves.”

[78] Draper and Haggard, “The Authoritarian Challenge”; Laruelle, “Illiberalism: A Conceptual Introduction.”

[79] Stephan Fouquet and Klaus Brummer, “Profiling the Personality of Populist Foreign Policy Makers: A Leadership Trait Analysis,” Journal of International Relations and Development, September 28, 2022, 1, https://doi.org/10.1057/s41268-022-00270-2.