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Photo: “Flags around monument at sunset“, by Mommy110710, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Hue modified from the original

Cooley, Alexander and Daniel H. Nexton. “The Illiberal Tide: Why the International Order Is Tilting Toward Autocracy.” Foreign Affairs. March 26, 2021.


The “liberal international order” is under severe strain. Although its supporters welcomed the defeat of former U.S. President Donald Trump, the order still faces major challenges from both within and without. Populist politicians across the globe call for major changes in the norms and values of world politics. They attack liberal order as a so-called globalist project that serves the interests of sinister elites while trampling national sovereignty, traditional values, and local culture. Some with this view currently lead countries that belong to pillars of liberal order, such as NATO and the European Union. Others, including in the United States, are only an election away from taking the reins of foreign policy. Meanwhile, emboldened illiberal powers seek to make the world safe for authoritarianism, in the process undermining key elements of liberal order. China and Russia, in particular, have exercised diplomatic, economic, and even military power to put forward alternative visions.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.