Contemporary democracies are having to contend with various forms of radical politics taking on the form of populist, far-right, nationalist and/or xenophobic movements. These extremist crusaders contest both the democratic rules of the political game and the classic visions of democracy understood as a system balancing interests or engaging with different concepts of the common good. Governments carried along by the wave of (so-called) “new authoritarianism” are undertaking a broad spectrum of dubious operations including, among others, restricting the rights of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition, expanding various forms of political clientelism, undermining the very principles of judicial independence as well as that independence itself, and monopolizing vital channels of information and communication.

In commencing such a line of action, new authoritarianisms make reference to a unique type of legitimization, incompatible with the paradigm of “liberal democracy.” They invoke a fictional “will of the people,” infer a homogeneous “sovereign” public, allege their inclusion of social classes heretofore encumbered by capitalism and technocratism, declare a return to conservative values, and endorse group belongings that are often exclusive. The new authoritarianisms thus pose a dual challenge: they pose a systemic threat to democracy and call its very legitimacy into question.

The aim of this session is to address questions about the causes, nature, and consequences of this emergence of authoritarian tendencies. Discussed, too, will be the prospects for the future of democracy in the face of such movements. More specifically, the speakers will delve more deeply into authoritarian tendencies in Central and Eastern Europe. Taken into consideration will be the context of global trends, social changes, as well as the political and socioeconomic transformations specific to this region over the past three decades. The panel participants will also consider whether the structural vicissitudes in modern societies, changes in the means of communication, and new cultural phenomena are connected with the undemocratic political trends. Special attention will be paid to ongoing transformations of knowledge and education in contemporary societies, and to their impact upon political behavior.