Public Discourse and Autocratization: Infringing on Autonomy, Sabotaging Accountability
Ever since its existence, democracy is periodically diagnosed to be in crisis. When such crises are analyzed, reference has usually been made to the malfunctioning of core democratic institutions and the behavior of actors. We believe that this fails to capture a crucial element of the current crisis. It is words, not (only) deeds that present the contemporary challenge to liberal democracy even before such challenges materialize in institutional change. There are strong theoretical and empirical reasons to take into account the public discourse of leading political ﬁgures when study-ing democratic decline. In this article, we conceptualize illiberal and authoritarian public rhetoric as language practices that harm democracy. Such a practice-orientated approach allows for ﬁne-graded assessments of autocratizing tendencies in democracies that goes beyond an exclusive focus on democratic institutions. By using a corpus of 4 506 speeches of 25 heads of government from 22 countries and data on government disinformation and party identity, we empirically illus-trate with dictionary analysis and logistic regression that illiberal and authoritarian public rhetoric are tightly linked to autocratization and should no longer be ignored.
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