Cartoon of Donald Trump, Marie le Pen and Viktor Orban

The Rise of Authoritarianism

Authoritarian populists have disrupted politics in many societies, as seen in the U.S. and the UK. This event brings two leading scholars to discuss their new books and the power of populist authoritarianism.

Authoritarian populist parties have gained votes and seats in many countries, and entered government in states as diverse as Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. Across Europe, their average share of the vote in parliamentary elections remains limited but it has more than doubled since the 1960s and their share of seats tripled. Even small parties can still exert tremendous ‘blackmail’ pressure on governments and change the policy agenda, as demonstrated by UKIP’s role in catalyzing Brexit.

The danger is that populism undermines public confidence in the legitimacy of liberal democracy while authoritarianism actively corrodes its principles and practices. It also increases the resolve of authoritarian regimes around the world. This public forum sets out to explain the growth and character of these regimes and the polarisation over the cultural cleavage dividing social liberals and social conservatives in the electorates, and how these differences of values translate into support for authoritarian-populist parties and leaders in the U.S. and Europe, and elsewhere. The forum highlights the dangers to liberal democracy arising from these developments and what could be done to mitigate the risks.

This event was held at the University of Sydney on Thursday 22 March 2018.


  • Pippa Norris will discuss her new book Cultural Backlash: The Rise of Populist Authoritarianism. Pippa is a comparative political scientist who has taught at Harvard for more than a quarter century. She is ARC Laureate Fellow and Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, the Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and Director of the Electoral Integrity Project. Her research compares public opinion and elections, political institutions and cultures, gender politics, and political communications in many countries worldwide. She is ranked the 4th most cited political scientist worldwide, according to Google scholar. Major honors include, amongst others, the Skytte prize, the Karl Deutsch award, and the Sir Isaiah Berlin award. Her current work focuses on a major research project,, established in 2012 and also a new book with Ronald Inglehart "Cultural Backlash" analyzing support for populist-authoritarianism.

  • John Keane will discuss his new book When Trees Fall, Monkeys Scatter: rethinking democracy in China. He is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), and Distinguished Professor at Peking University. He is renowned globally for his creative thinking about democracy. He is the Director and co-founder of the Sydney Democracy Network. He has contributed to The New York Times, Al Jazeera, the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, Harper's, the South China Morning Post and The Huffington Post. His online column 'Democracy field notes' appears regularly in the London, Cambridge- and Melbourne­-based The Conversation. Among his best-known books are the best-selling Tom Paine: A political life (1995), Violence and Democracy (2004), Democracy and MediaDecadence (2013) and the highly acclaimed full-scale history of democracy, The Life and Death of Democracy (2009). His most recent books are A Short History of the Future of Elections (2016) and When Trees Fall, Monkeys Scatter (2017), and he is now completing a new book on the global spread of despotism.

Image (at top): David Parkins

Sign up for our newsletter

Each month we'll send you details about upcoming events, and a selection of podcasts.

You might also like