Roots of Ethnic Authoritarianism: Autocratization and Ethnic Inequalities in the Contemporary World
Is the current democratic slump connected to the predicaments of ethnic minority groups and identity conflicts? Despite efforts by previous literatures, we still lack an assessment of the effect of ethnic inequalities on regime transformations away from democracy. The proposed paper represents a first step of a doctoral project, which will address this gap through a nested analysis, integrating quantitative and qualitative techniques to study the effect of economic, political and social inequalities between ethnic majority and minority groups on autocratization episodes after the Cold War. Overall, I hypothesize that these structural factors can boost the actions of authoritarian entrepreneurs, with detrimental consequences for democracy.
After the end of the ‘democratic optimism’ of the 1990s and a new ‘pessimism’ in the 2010s, only recently have experts on regime developments proposed new frameworks to scrutinize democratization ‘in reverse’. These efforts are increasing, but still at the beginning: autocratization and its causes are not properly addressed. The paper first contributes to redefine autocratization on the Sartorian ladder of abstraction, as an umbrella term of different phenomena (e.g., decline of democratic quality or democratic backsliding, and democratic breakdown). Also, it will demonstrate that many currently autocratizing countries (such as India, Turkey, Serbia, Benin, Niger, the US, Israel, or Brazil) resemble ethnically divided societies – where ethnic, national, regional, religious, linguistic identities are politically salient. This does not amount to saying that in these contexts autocratization is always connected to ethnicity or identity issues. Yet, the analysis will focus on economic, political, and social inequalities – rather than simple cleavages – between ethnic groups.
Practically, after the conceptual part, the paper will consist of some empirical tests of the hypothesis that, increasing ethnic inequalities in different spheres of the societies, a country will be more likely to autocratize. Accordingly, with polarization between or exclusion of ethnic groups (social ethnic inequalities), majoritarian institutions where the ‘ethnic’ winner can take it all through elections (political ethnic inequalities), and economic inequalities between ethnic majority and minorities (economic ethnic inequalities), would-be authoritarian entrepreneurs may find fertile soil for dismantling democracy, winning elections and then restricting liberal safeguards to the benefit of their associates. The global analysis will be based on multinomial logistic models for analyzing regime transitions (such as from liberal to electoral democracy, from electoral democracy to electoral autocracy, etc.) or other episodes of autocratization, and OLS models to scrutinize the decay of democratic quality across regime-types. It will specifically test these sets of explanations related to ethnic inequalities for different types of autocratization. The paper concludes presenting the findings of the analysis and the next steps of the doctoral research, in particular on the application of these results in a case-study-based analysis of some path-way examples of autocratization episodes related to ethnic inequality.