Skip to main content

Photo: “Wahlkampf in Nigeria 2015“, by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Foa, Roberto Stefan. “Why Strongmen Win in Weak States.” Journal of Democracy 32, no. 1 (2021): 52-65.


Explanations for the rise of illiberal political movements in the West have focused upon the respective roles of economic grievances and “cultural backlash.” However, many “authoritarian populist” leaders outside the West—from Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Vladimir Putin in Russia to Narendra Modi in India—derive their legitimacy neither from economic promises nor from social conservativism alone, but also from a third commitment: to restore public order and state authority. If we are to understand why this platform has been and continues to be appealing to voters, we must examine the ways in which state capacity has eroded in many developing democracies, resulting in a profound crisis of democratic confidence and a willingness to embrace populist alternatives.

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.