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Photo: “IMG_1965“, by Tom Page, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Farrell, Henry, and Abraham L. Newman. “The Janus Face of the liberal international information order: When global institutions are self-undermining.” International Organization (2021): 1-26.


Scholars and policymakers long believed that norms of global information openness and private-sector governance helped to sustain and promote liberalism. These norms are being increasingly contested within liberal democracies. In this article, we argue that a key source of debate over the Liberal International Information Order (LIIO), a sub-order of the Liberal International Order (LIO), is generated internally by “self-undermining feedback effects,” that is, mechanisms through which institutional arrangements undermine their own political conditions of survival over time. Empirically, we demonstrate how global governance of the Internet, transnational disinformation campaigns, and domestic information governance interact to sow the seeds of this contention. In particular, illiberal states converted norms of openness into a vector of attack, unsettling political bargains in liberal states concerning the LIIO. More generally, we set out a broader research agenda to show how the international relations discipline might better understand institutional change as well as the informational aspects of the current crisis in the LIO.

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.