The New Dictators, with Dr David Lewis

Dr David Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Exeter University, author of The Temptations of Tyranny, advisor to governments and organizations across the globe

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From Budapest to Beijing, democracy is out of fashion, and a new form of strongman authoritarianism is in vogue. The idea of liberal democracy, which seemed unstoppable after the fall of the Berlin Wall, appears to have run aground.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has crushed independent journalism and political opposition, and built a new type of authoritarian state. Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan has followed suit.

Under Xi Jinping China has become more rather than less repressive. EU states are not immune: in Hungary Viktor Orbán seeks to build what he terms ‘illiberal democracy’.

Unlike the traditional image of dictators relying on brute force to maintain control over a restive population, the new authoritarians are often popular. Sometimes they even win elections. Rapid economic growth and nationalist sentiment are used to drum up political support, and contemporary autocrats are adept at manipulating the media ruthlessly.

The rise of the new authoritarians poses significant questions for democrats in the West. Why has the democratic ideal failed to make headway around the world? Is the West itself immune to a reversal of democracy? Or does the rise of populist leaders, such as Donald Trump, suggest that in troubled times the allure of the populist strongman is never far away?

Not Dr David Lewis

Not Dr David Lewis

Dr David Lewis

Dr David Lewis is Senior Lecturer and Director of Education in Politics at the University of Exeter, and a specialist on the politics of Russia and Eurasia.

He was Director of the Central Asia Project in Kyrgyzstan and then worked in Sri Lanka for the International Crisis Group. He was Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford and joined the politics department in Exeter in 2013, where he has been been engaged on a major research project on the roles of Russia and China in the security of Central Asia.

David’s main areas of research are on the comparative politics of authoritarian regimes. His recent work has focused on the impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Russia’s Eurasian regional initiatives. He is currently completing a book on the rise of the new forms of authoritarian politics.

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2017Martin Keeley