Fig. 1. Photograph by Joachim F. Thurn, August 1991, Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F089030-0003, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE.

“You do not have to have emergency powers or a military coup for democracy to wither,” Aziz Huq, a constitutional-law professor at the University of Chicago, told me [Andrew Marantz]. “Most recent cases of backsliding, Hungary being a classic example, have occurred through legal means.” [Viktor] Orbán runs for reëlection every four years. In theory, there is a chance that he could lose. In practice, he has so thoroughly rigged the system that his grip on power is virtually assured. The political-science term for this is “competitive authoritarianism.” Most scholarly books about democratic backsliding (“The New Despotism,” “Democracy Rules,” “How Democracies Die”) cite Hungary, along with Brazil and Turkey, as countries that were consolidated democracies, for a while, before they started turning back the clock.[1]

If you really want to capture your democracy, you always start with the most important guardrail, and this is judicial review. The ruling majority understood that if you have an independent court in place, the constitutional capture will never work because the constitutional court would always stand in the way.[2]

I intend the category of illiberalism to include movements and regimes that merely pretend to a system of elections and the rule of so-called “law.” In some cases, the movements have gained political power; in others, they threaten to. I mean to exclude fully authoritarian regimes such as China, North Korea, and Russia.

I am uncertain as to the status of countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. The media coverage I see of these countries is so starkly one-sided, appearing to conform so completely with official U.S. policy, that I distrust it.

Seriously affected countries

(list under continuous development)

See also:

Roger Cohen, “Emmanuel Macron Defeats Marine Le Pen for Second Term as French President,” New York Times, April 24, 2022,

Ishaan Tharoor, “Sweden’s election marks a new far-right surge in Europe,” Washington Post, September 16, 2022,

Ishaan Tharoor, “The mainstreaming of the West’s far right is complete,” Washington Post, September 27, 2022,

Thomas B. Edsall, “Seven Years of Trump Has the Right Wing Taking the Long View,” New York Times, September 28, 2022,

Barbara Moens and Cornelius Hirsch, “How the far-right got out of the doghouse,” Politico, October 3, 2022,

Marc Fisher, “Leaders of democracies increasingly echo Putin in authoritarian tilt,” Washington Post, October 16, 2022,

Greg Sargent, “The hidden danger lurking behind Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover,” Washington Post, October 28, 2022,

Kate Connolly and Philip Oltermann, “German police raids target group accused of far-right plot to overthrow state,” Guardian, December 7, 2022,

Matthew Karnitschnig, “Germans on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” Politico, December 8, 2022,

Karin Fischer, “The power and vulnerability of colleges amid rising authoritarianism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 8, 2023,

Ishaan Tharoor, “The West shrugs as a democracy dies,” Washington Post, March 1, 2023,

Ishaan Tharoor, “Biden’s Summit for Democracy is a tough hill to climb,” Washington Post, March 29, 2023,

Ishaan Tharoor, “A far-right European Union could be around the corner,” Washington Post, July 21, 2023,

Barney Jopson, “Spain faces uncertain political future after election deadlock,” Financial Times, July 24, 2023,

Martin Wolf, “Modi’s India is moving in an illiberal direction,” Financial Times, July 25, 2023,

Ishaan Tharoor, “In Argentina, a new Trump rises,” Washington Post, August 16, 2023,

Matthew Karnitschnig, “Springtime for Europe’s fascists,” Politico, August 20, 2023,

  1. [1]Andrew Marantz, “Does Hungary Offer a Glimpse of Our Authoritarian Future?” New Yorker, June 27, 2022,
  2. [2]Tomasz Tadeusz Koncewicz, quoted in Ishaan Tharoor, “Netanyahu’s Israel finds kindred spirits in Hungary and Poland,” Washington Post, March 28, 2023,

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