Rising to the Sharp Power Challenge

Issue Date October 2022
Volume 33
Issue 4
Page Numbers 119–32
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation

Read the full essay here.

Authoritarian regimes have been waging an active assault on democracy for quite some time, and the effects of this battering are now clearly visible. Authorities in countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe have launched massive crackdowns, often with impunity. Meanwhile, free societies’ misguided assumptions about the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy have only worsened the authoritarian challenge. In the wake of the Cold War, Western democracies largely put aside their own inherent competitive advantage—the principles of democratic accountability and transparency. By turning a blind eye to the authoritarians’ corrupt practices, succumbing to self-censorship, or otherwise letting the authoritarians set the terms of engagement, democracies and their key institutions ceded much ground. And while a handful of democracies have responded effectively to this corrosive form of authoritarian influence, most societies are dangerously underequipped. New strategies are urgently needed to combat this insidious form of sharp power.

About the Author

Christopher Walker is vice-president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy. He is the author (with Shanthi Kalathil and Jessica Ludwig) of “The Cutting Edge of Sharp Power,” which appeared in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Democracy and “What is Sharp Power?” from the July 2018 issue of the Journal.

View all work by Christopher Walker

Image Credit: Torsten Blackwood/AFP via Getty Images