New and Serious Challenges to Democracy Emerge as Authoritarianism Goes Global

For Immediate Release
April 13, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC— Over the past decade, leading illiberal powers have become emboldened and gained greater influence within the global arena, according to a new Journal of Democracy book, Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy. During this period, influential authoritarian countries―including China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela―have developed new tools and strategies to contain the spread of democracy and challenge the liberal international political order. Meanwhile, advanced democracies have retreated and failed to respond to the threat posed by the authoritarians. The book, which is published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is co-edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Christopher Walker.

The book explains how authoritarian regimes have developed a wide-ranging arsenal of “soft power” tools to subvert democratic norms and reshape the liberal international system. These include the use of new laws and regulations to repress civil society and independent media; an assault on the integrity of election monitoring, including the creation of “zombie” election monitors; the use of sophisticated state-backed international broadcasting outlets such as Russia’s RT and China’s CCTV to spread misinformation and propaganda; growing manipulation of cyberspace and efforts to establish authoritarian-friendly norms of internet governance; and the promotion of illiberal “counternorms,” more generally. Taken in sum, the authoritarians have sought to hijack the concept of “soft power.”

The book’s key findings include:

  • Authoritarian governments have become bolder and more adept at stopping dissent before it starts.
  • Repressive governments have learned how to use the forms of law to repress independent civil society, while also developing sophisticated techniques to manipulate both traditional and new forms of media.
  • As these regimes have become more repressive, over the past decade they also have become more internationalist: they have refined and incubated methods of domestic repression, and project what they have learned beyond their borders.

As the editors note in the book’s introduction, the stakes are exceedingly high for the international system as we know it: “The extent of the authoritarian challenge forces us to confront the disconcerting prospect that the most influential antidemocratic regimes are no longer content simply to contain democracy. Instead, they want to roll it back by reversing advances dating from the time of the democratic surge. Just a decade ago, few political observers could even have imagined such a development.”

The book features a distinguished group of contributing authors, including Anne Applebaum, Anne-Marie Brady, Alexander Cooley, Javier Corrales, Ron Deibert, Larry Diamond, Patrick Merloe, Abbas Milani, Andrew Nathan, Marc F. Plattner, Peter Pomerantsev, Douglas Rutzen, Lilia Shevtsova, Alex Vatanka, Christopher Walker, and Frederic Wehrey.

On April 14, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time), the National Endowment for Democracy will host a public book launch event featuring William Dobson, chief international editor at National Public Radio and author of The Dictator’s Learning Curve; Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor at the Washington Post; Christopher Walker, Vice President for Studies and Analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy; and Marc F. Plattner, founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy. It will take place at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC and be livestreamed at:

For media interviews with the editors or individual contributing authors, please contact Jane Riley Jacobsen at or at (202)-378-9700.