How democracies should respond to authoritarian influence


Democracies should tackle the mechanisms of authoritarian influence head-on, argues Thorsten Benner, Director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. Twenty years ago, the German British sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf argued that “a century of authoritarianism is by no means the most unlikely prospect for the twenty-first century.” Preventing that outcome from materializing is the central task of open societies today, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

Internal illiberal challenges pose the greatest threat—but they must not be fortified from without. The first order of business must be to disrupt the all-too-smooth links between authoritarian states and their enablers among Western elites and to regulate the one-sided openness that allows authoritarians to influence liberal democracies. Only if this first line of defense holds will open societies be in a position to stand up for their values, curtail the international influence of authoritarians, and hinder their ability to oppress and rob their citizens.

“More broadly, liberal states need to stop the infiltration of dirty authoritarian money and the complicity of Western professionals in laundering it. That means ending hidden ownership and other vehicles authoritarians use to shield their assets in the West and pursuing the kind of judicial activism that is uncovering the trail of Angolan money in Portugal,” Benner adds. “Democracies’ provision of a safe haven for money and assets stolen from the populations of authoritarian states is morally indefensible.”


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