Making Sense of Russia's Illiberalism

Political movements declaring the rejection of liberalism are on the rise, almost everywhere. Until the covid-19 pandemic dramatically reshaped the international scene, the illiberal ascent was the most striking trend in world politics, stretching from the United States and Europe to Russia, from Turkey and Israel to Brazil, India, and the Philippines.1 This paradigm shift has been described in a variety of terms: far-right, populist, nationalist, national-populist. Yet it is the concept of illiberalism that most fully captures the nature of the movements that are challenging liberal-democratic systems around the globe. These movements explicitly identify liberalism as their enemy. They denounce, in varying proportions, the political, economic, and cultural liberalism embodied in supranational institutions, globalization, multiculturalism, and minority-rights protections. They do not necessarily make up a coherent ideology; rather, they represent an interconnected set of values that come together in country-specific patterns. Illiberals in different settings stress different issues, with some emphasizing Christian roots, others chiefly fomenting xenophobia against migrants, still others trumpeting their defense of the traditional family, and so forth. Where illiberal parties are in power, their worldviews intertwine with authoritarian and patronal practices of governance.