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.
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