The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Q&A

Name Of The Book… And Its Coordinates?

Alexander Dukalskis. 2021. Making the World Safe for Dictatorship. New York: Oxford University Press.

What’s The Argument?

Authoritarian regimes care what foreign audiences think of them. They try to promote a positive image in other countries through a variety of means, including propaganda, advertising, and touting high-profile economic assistance. Autocracies also try to block or deflect information that paints the regime in a negative light. They censor embarrassing news, engage in misleading social media campaigns, attack their critics, and silence exiled dissidents through targeted coercion.

Why do they bother? Autocratic regimes believe that a favorable image abroad can help them maintain power at home – they can point a positive international reputation as evidence of their effectiveness and legitimacy. It also undermines the claims of their critics, including exiled political dissidents, from outside of the country. In general, the accumulation of “soft power” enhances international influence. But it’s particularly important for autocratic regimes trying to reduce the salience of political and liberal rights in contemporary international order.

In short, authoritarian states try to make their world safe for dictatorship. My book takes a deep dive into the why, how, and when of their efforts.

Why Should We Care?

The contest between democratic and authoritarian values may be the defining issue of our time. Powerful leaders certainly seem to think so. Joe Biden argues that democracy has an image problem – that democracies need to convince the world that their system of government is the best route to prosperity and security. Xi Jinping clearly sees the prestige of liberal-democratic values as a domestic threat. Document 9, a leaked Chinese Communist Party circular, identifies ideological “problems” that could undermine party rule, including constitutional democracy, independent civil society, universal human rights, and a free press.

We Should Believe Your Argument Because …?

The book uses lots of different types of data to substantiate its arguments. I draw on public relations and lobbying documents from the Foreign Agents Registration Act website, interviews with journalists in China, fieldwork in Japan about North Korea’s image-management efforts there, and endless hours of propaganda videos. I even created a database of instances in which authoritarian states repressed their critics abroad.

My “Authoritarian Actions Abroad Database” records 1,177 cases in which authoritarian states targeted their exiled dissidents between 1991 and 2019 (by the way, you should feel free to use the data in your own work, so long as you cite my book as its source).

Why’d You Decide To Write It In The First Place?

To be honest, the issue started to bug me. I saw more and more examples of authoritarian states trying to promote a positive image; there’d been an explosion of policy pieces about the topic. I wanted to study it in a systematic fashion. So I kept digging until I found myself with a book.

What Would You Most Like To Change about the Book, And Why?

If I’d had more time and space, I would have made more extensive use of he Authoritarian Actions Abroad Database and with the documents I got from the Foreign Agents Registration Act website. You can probably guess that I’m trying to rectify that by writing and publishing additional work on authoritarian brand management.

The +1: How Difficult Was It To Get The Book Published?

The process for this book was pretty straightforward. I pitched it to the publisher. After reviewing some chapters, Oxford University Press gave me an advance contract. It took about three years to get from initial idea to publication.

Getting my first book accepted though was…not even remotely as straightforward. For any ECRs with a manuscript on similar themes I’m happy to be a sounding board – just shoot me an email.

Alex Dukalskis is an associate professor at University College Dublin in the School of Politics and International Relations. He researches and teaches on authoritarian states, Asian politics, and international human rights.  His work has been published in several leading journals, including the Journal of Peace Research, Human Rights Quarterly, Journal of Democracy, Review of International Studies, Government & Opposition, and Democratization

Posted on 26 July, 2021