- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Democracy is Retreating, Authoritarianism is Rising

  • Jacob Carozza
| Fall/Winter 2017-2018

History did not end after the Cold War,” says Torrey Taussig, a postdoctoral fellow in the International Security Program.

Many hoped a tidal wave of democracy would sweep the globe after the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991. But there are now indications of a global democratic recession, especially in the last ten years. 

Taussig’s research focuses on the authoritarian regimes that have often filled that void. She recently earned a Ph.D at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where her dissertation looked at the implications of authoritarian political and economic dynamics on Chinese and Russian foreign policy.

Like many in her generation, she says, the events of September 11—she was 13—opened her eyes to the fact that borders are “irrelevant to the movement of ideas, people, history, and cultures.”

But it was a book she read in high school—Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s memoir The Mighty and the Almighty—that got her thinking about specific challenges to international security in the 21st century.

Taussig’s research found that in Russia and China, domestic political consolidation has been accompanied by more assertive foreign policies. Both nations are seeking to develop spheres of influence in their proximate regions and prompting questions about the return of great power competition.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in what Chinese intentions are in the short term, the medium term, the long term, and what China’s growing military and economic assertiveness mean for regional stability.”

Authoritarian rule can also have unintended consequences for regional security, Taussig says, such as when regimes’ domestic repressive circumstances breed instability, generate refugees and lead to violent extremism. 

“We’re more likely to see civil wars break out within those environments,” she said, citing Syria as a prime example.

Taussig says she next hopes to research how authoritarian states such as Russia are exploiting democratic discontent in the West and capitalizing on the same conditions, like economic insecurity and poor governance, that aided their own rise to power.

Torrey Taussig
Torrey Taussig (left) is a postdoctoral fellow in the International Security Program.
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Carozza, Jacob. "Torrey Taussig: Democracy is Retreating, Authoritarianism is Rising." Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Fall/Winter 2017-2018.

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