Author: Clay R. Fuller

The Threat of Authoritarian Liberalism

I am now a member of the Washington elite circles I scorned in my youth. My early hostility did not stem from partisan ideology, but rather from a tacit social understanding that lowly academics from state universities (i.e. not elite Ivies) like me would never be listened to, much less embraced. Both the following story and my burgeoning Beltway comeuppance contain a kernel of wisdom that informs a new way of thinking about the current populist moment. It was May 2015, the third iteration of a course I was teaching on “21st Century Dictatorships” at the University of South Carolina. The course explored the varieties, strengths, and weaknesses of continuous and categorical measures of democracy—such as those employed by Freedom House, Polity, the Geddes typology, and others. It was substantively so full of dark material—repression, violence, assassinations, coups, poverty, and censorship—that I had become fond of making the final class an open conversation about the future. I hoped to end that particular semester with an imaginative spark—my grand theory of ‘authoritarian liberalism.’ This theory—more of an interesting …