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Karolewski, I.P., Libin, X., Patapan, H. et al. Carl Schmitt and Democratic Backsliding. Contemp Polit Theory 22, 406–437 (2023).


The contributors to this Critical Exchange focus on Schmitt’s role in contemporary processes of democratic backsliding – both as a direct source of inspiration and as a framework of analysis. They identify Schmittian inspirations in countries where powerful political actors, movements, and ideologues draw on Schmitt, or act in accordance with Schmittian views, to promote attacks on liberal democracy and try to accelerate further autocratization of already authoritarian regimes. A number of Schmittian developments can be associated with democratic backsliding, a process of weakening and hollowing out the institutions of liberal democracy (e.g., Grzymala-Busse, 2008; Sata & Karolewski, 2020). This includes the infamous ‘state of exception’ as a means to usurp power, populist attacks on the rule of law and independent courts, the politics of the friend–enemy distinction to mobilize support, and acclamation as an essential means of legitimizing authoritarian decision-making. As a consequence, propagandistic terms such as ‘real democracy,’ ‘people’s democracy,’ ‘sovereign democracy,’ or ‘illiberal democracy’ are window-dressing for autocratizing policies or overtly authoritarian political regimes.

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.