Tackling the authoritarian techno-challenge


COVID-19 could nudge minds and societies towards authoritarianism, according to a recently published study, from the University of Cambridge.

Researchers examined the impact of the behavioral immune system on attitudes towards obedience and authority, and found that high rates of infectious diseases – and the disease-avoidance they promote – may fundamentally shape political opinions and social institutions, notes Research Fellow in the Psychology of Ideologies at the University of Cambridge.

The researchers found a clear relationship between people’s authoritarian attitudes and their region’s levels of infectious diseases: areas with a higher prevalence of infectious diseases had more authoritarian citizens, she writes for the Conversation. Additionally, areas with high infection rates tended to vote conservatively and were governed by more authoritarian laws – laws that are imposed on some members of society but not all.

Perhaps the way forward lies in adopting anti-authoritarian stances that champion openness, inclusion and scientific reasoning rather than mythical, ideological or conspiratorial thinking, suggests.

Contributions from a two-week online seminar entitled “Digital Activism and Authoritarian Adaptation in the Middle East,” and cosponsored by CDDRL’s Program on Arab Reform and Democracy (ARD), the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University, and the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS), recently appeared in POMEPS Studies #43. To read, click here.

The technological and digital spheres are increasingly becoming the defining space of competition between democracy and authoritarianism, Forum 2000 adds. To find joint responses to the growing challenges, the US, the EU, India, and other democracies need to cooperate on improving their digital capabilities, protecting themselves against digital interference, and building a digital regulatory framework that would guarantee human rights and democratic principles.

What steps must the free world take to keep pace with China’s technological ambitions? How can democracies work together to thwart the rise of “digital authoritarianism“? And can the free world hold its technological leadership? These and other questions will be addressed at a forthcoming Forum 2000 session (above) – Facing the Authoritarian Techno-Challenge, organized in cooperation with the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.  


  • Christopher Walker, Vice President, Studies & Analysis, National Endowment for Democracy, Member, Program Council, Forum 2000 Foundation, USA


  • Trisha Ray, Associate Fellow, Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology, Observer Research Foundation, India
  • Xiao Qiang, Founder, China Digital Times, Professor, UC Berkeley School of Information, China/USA
  • Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director, Global Digital Policy Incubator, Stanford University, USA
  • Maria Virginia Marin, Executive Director, ProBox , Venezuela/USA

Time: Monday, October 11, 18:15 – 19:15 CET = 9:15 AM -10:15 AM PDT = 21:45 – 22:45 New Delhi time. Venue:  Žofín Palace, Forum Hall, Slovanský ostrov 226, Prague 1.


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