For too long, observers in democracies interpreted authoritarian influence through an outdated lens, even as autocratic regimes like China and Russia embedded themselves in democratic societies. Writing for Foreign Affairs, Christopher Walker, Shanthi Kalathil, and Jessica Ludwig evaluate the increasing role of civil society in the fight against authoritarian influence. Even as countries like Australia implement new legislation to take meaningful action against foreign interference, it is clear that democracies cannot rely solely on governmental measures to address the complex challenges presented by authoritarian sharp power. Leaders of important public institutions—publishers, university administrators, media executives—have a responsibility to uphold their commitment to democratic values and free expression by remaining vigilant against censorship or manipulation by external authoritarian forces.
Sharp power is so effective because institutions in democratic settings are open to the outside world and thus vulnerable to foreign manipulation. Policymakers within democracies need to grapple with the challenge of repelling outside influence while upholding essential democratic values.
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