The Rise of Authoritarianism: A Challenge to Democracy and Human Rights - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Rise of Authoritarianism: A Challenge to Democracy and Human Rights

While we often associate dictatorships or autocratic regimes with sudden revolution, they may also arise gradually - this process has been coined the "slippery slope" or hybrid regime model.

Altemeyer and colleagues assert that certain individuals possess latent authoritarian tendencies which can be activated through fear or social change, including an affinity to control and punish others.

1. The rise of right-wing authoritarianism

In 2021, only about 20% of the world's population lived under democratic rules - an alarming decline from 1989 levels and one that contradicts gains made over three decades1.1

One key contributor to this alarming trend is a rise in right-wing authoritarianism. Authoritarianism can be defined as a personality trait marked by conventionalism (adherence to traditional values), authoritarian submission (high regard for obedience and deference to authority), and aggression in service of valued in-groups. Authoritarianism forms part of political ideology and predicts support for more authoritarian policies and politicians.

Research also suggests that right-wing authoritarianism is linked to various social problems, including environmentalist views148, science scepticism149 and conspiracy theories140. Furthermore, right-wing authoritarianism can even lead to resurgent nationalism141 as well as increased support for conservative parties142-143.

Right-wing authoritarianism poses a grave danger to democracy and human rights by fomenting in-group hostility and seeking dominance over outgroups. It often results in anti-immigration sentiment, antisemitism, racism and other forms of prejudice against non-native populations; furthermore it often contributes to economic inequalities, COVID-19 outbreaks and political polarisation both within countries as well as between them.

Research has also demonstrated that right-wing authoritarianism predicts support for various illiberal policies and candidates, such as opposing same-sex marriage, restricting abortion access for rape victims63, and anti-democratic policies that privilege in-group rights over out-group rights9. These results remain stable regardless of demographic and ideological covariates.

Right-wing authoritarianism's origins have been the subject of extensive scholarship. A growing body of literature on its development suggests it is an evolutionary response to various selection pressures; whether helping individuals identify and exploit resources in their environment or encouraging conformity and loyalty towards those in power. Whatever its source, behavioral plasticity - allowing personality traits to change over time - may have played an instrumental role in its formation and social dominance orientation.

2. The rise of left-wing authoritarianism

Authoritarians worldwide are joining forces to undermine international norms against the spread of dictatorship and accelerate attacks against democracy. They do this by taking advantage of countries where democratic institutions have been slow to adapt and by capitalizing on global economic incentives as competitive advantages over democracies - leaving an international system that has provided peace and prosperity for billions at risk of collapse.

Studies typically associate authoritarianism with political right wing positions; however, recent studies have discovered that individuals high in left-wing authoritarianism exhibit similar attitudes toward their own groups as those high in traditional definitions of right-wing authoritarianism (Jost et al. 2003 and Van Hiel Pandelaere & Duriez 2017). These results support the validity of authors' concepts and measures, suggesting more research needs to explore psychological drivers behind both right- and left-wing authoritarianism.

Study findings show that those high in right-wing authoritarianism are more likely to display racist tendencies, even when these prejudices are moderated by other personality traits or demographic factors; those high in left-wing authoritarianism may also demonstrate racist beliefs; however, their hostility toward African Americans does not reach the same heightened levels as those high in traditional right-wing authoritarianism definition. Thus, authors' results imply a more dynamic definition of authoritarianism which encompasses both right- and left-wing variants.

Final analysis by the authors led them to the conclusion that most participants didn't view any of those they studied as authoritarian in the traditional sense, yet still identified with them (see tables 1 and 2) as such (see descriptive statistics in tables 1 and 2). Even liberal participants identified significant numbers (24%-30% depending on which summary measure was employed) of left-wing authoritarianism individuals (24%-30% depending on which summary measure used), suggesting further study is needed in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of both left- and right-wing authoritarianism's psychological underpinnings as well as its negative impacts upon intergroup relations.

3. The rise of populism

Populism's primary characteristic is asserting that one, and only one person or group represents "the people." While populists may claim to be anti-elitists, their claim implies they also reject pluralist representation - including voters who don't vote for them but also other parties, politicians, or citizens whose vision differs from theirs of what represents "true interests of the people".

Anti-democratic strategies such as this one can threaten to undermine democracy. A democracy requires a pluralist political system where competing ideas of different parties can compete freely and it must allow for easy power transfer between regimes. Democracy provides the best way to ensure all human rights are respected and ensured for its constituents.

However, there are various interpretations of populism's rise. Some think that its rise is caused by globalisation; individuals experiencing economic and social dislocation become vulnerable to authoritarian leadership as a result. But this interpretation misses the mark; globalisation provides wealth for countries while contributing to middle class growth.

Populism's rise can also be explained as the result of political parties failing to adapt to modern society, and with traditional parties declining has created space for new players based on issues which mobilize people into politics - leading to identity politics-based populist parties which offer few concrete policies.

Some believe the rise of populism reflects a backlash against perceived losses of national identity; this misconception, however, ignores globalisation's many benefits for all nations, such as increased access to education and improved living standards that have helped bring poverty levels down.

No matter its source, populism's rise must be counteracted for democracy to thrive. To do this, those opposed to populism's rise must challenge its assumptions and expose its dangers.

4. The rise of xenophobia

Xenophobia refers to an intolerance or fear of people from diverse places, backgrounds or cultures and their customs; this form of discrimination can lead to violence and discrimination against non-nationals and can have significant detrimental ramifications on society including depriving basic amenities for life as well as economic opportunities lost for those subjected to violence and discrimination by non-nationals. Xenophobia represents a serious violation of human rights which should not be taken lightly as its impacts can have devastating repercussions with serious ramifications being felt across generations and cultures alike. Xenophobia represents a serious human rights concern given its harmful ramifications on society such as deprivation of basic amenities and/or loss of economic opportunities for victims who come to experience violence or discrimination due to its effects - leaving victims without basic amenities, or the loss of economic opportunities from being victims of such discrimination/violence/discrimination from violence/discrimination from being victims of such violence/discrimination are significant negative - with victims often losing basic amenities necessary for life, as well as loss of economic opportunities due to such violence/discrimination being practiced against non-nationals who come out as victims due to such acts resulting from such forms of discrimination/violence against non nationals who face discrimination due xenophobic violence/ discrimination from society in being victimized as resultant in terms of economic losses as victims xenophobic discrimination from society altogether xenphobic violence/d discrimination/violation and consequently suffering economically as resultantly suffering economically due loss economic opportunities caused as possible as depriving economic opportunities due xenophophobia as this serious human rights concern being forced out.

It can often be linked to feelings of social and economic insecurity, leading to people viewing minorities and immigrants as the culprits behind society's ills. Other contributing factors for xenophobia may include not interacting with those from other communities and media portrayals that depict them as dangerous or untrustworthy. Politicians that use anti-immigration rhetoric and policies during campaigns - for instance President Trump's disparaging remarks towards Mexicans and his pledge to build a wall against them; or in the UK with Brexit promising "take back control of borders from EU member states".

Even when democratic governments denounce authoritarian regimes, there is evidence of domestic illiberal forces attempting to distort democratic institutions and violate human rights. Many of these illiberal movements are led by people with no intention of sharing power fairly; rather they aim at altering politics and governance for their narrow interests.

South Africa must develop and implement a comprehensive national plan in order to effectively counteract xenophobia, with measures including measures that ensure non-nationals receive their constitutionally entitled services; address impunity for perpetrators of xenophobic attacks and looting; strengthen community capacity to address factors driving hostility toward foreigners such as racism and economic insecurity; as well as establish joint government/community task forces dedicated to finding methods that enhance integration, inclusivity, and social cohesion - replacing individual incidents of attacks, discrimination or violent mob action by responding immediately with individual groups formed ad hoc groups when needed - in such a plan

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