Please join us on Wednesday, February 13th for “Informational Autocrats”, a talk with Daniel Treisman, University of California, Los Angeles . This event is part of the Occasional Series, co-sponsored by the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia and the NYU Department of Politics.
The model of dictatorship that dominated in the 20th century was based on fear. Many rulers terrorized their citizens, killing or imprisoning thousands, and deliberately publicizing their brutality to deter opposition. Totalitarians such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao combined repression with indoctrination into ideologies that demanded devotion to the state. They often isolated their countries with overt censorship and travel restrictions. However, in recent years a less bloody and ideological form of authoritarianism has been spreading. From Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela to Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, illiberal leaders have managed to concentrate power without cutting their countries off from global markets, imposing exotic social philosophies, or resorting to mass murder. Many have come to office in elections and preserved a democratic facade while covertly subverting political institutions. Rather than jailing thousands, these autocrats target opposition activists, harassing and humiliating them, accusing them of fabricated crimes, and encouraging them to emigrate. When they do kill, they conceal their responsibility.
The emergence of such softer, non-ideological autocracies was unexpected. How do the new dictators survive without using the standard tools of 20th century authoritarians, and without the traditional legitimacy that supported historical monarchs, or even the revolutionary charisma of anti-colonial leaders?
In work with the economist Sergei Guriev, Dr. Treisman explores the modus operandi of such regimes. The key, they argue, is the manipulation of information. Rather than terrorizing or indoctrinating citizens, rulers survive by leading them to believe that they are competent and benevolent. Having won popularity, they score points at home and abroad by mimicking democracy. Violent repression, rather than helping, undercuts the desired image of able governance. At the Jordan Center, he will present his findings on “informational autocrats” with a special focus on one of the pioneers of this form: Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Daniel Treisman is a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. A graduate of Oxford University (B.A. Hons.) and Harvard University (Ph.D. 1995), he has published four books and articles in leading political science and economics journals including The American Political Science Review and The American Economic Review, as well as in public affairs journals such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. His research focuses on Russian politics and economics as well as comparative political economy, including in particular the analysis of democratization, the politics of authoritarian states, political decentralization, and corruption. A former lead editor of The American Political Science Review, he has served as associate editor or on the editorial boards of the journals Post-Soviet Affairs, Comparative Political Studies, Economics and Politics, Politeia, and the Russian Journal of Economics. He has served as a consultant for the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and USAID. In Russia, he is a member of the International Advisory Committee of the Higher School of Economics and a member of the Jury of the National Prize in Applied Economics. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution (Stanford) and the Institute for Human Sciences (Vienna), and has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the US and the Smith Richardson Foundation. At UCLA, he has served as acting director of the Center for European and Russian Studies.
His latest book, The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev (The Free Press, 2011) was one of the Financial Times’ “Best Political Books of 2011”. Since 2014, he has been the director of the Russia Political Insight Project, an international collaboration funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to investigate political decisionmaking in Putin’s Russia. He is the editor of The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin’s Russia (Brookings Institution Press 2018).