Beyond the Leader: Looking at Grassroots Reasons for the Rise of Illiberalism


As Europe and the United States prepare themselves to see a rise of far-right and illiberal parties gaining a large share of the votes at the June and November 2024 elections, Marlene Laruelle explored the grassroots reasons for this rise of illiberalism.

Moving beyond the usual explanations of electoral politics and populist rhetoric, she engaged with the deeper transformations of our societies in terms of their relationship to time and space, socioeconomic transformations, the impact of media ecosystems, the polarization of values and culturalization of citizenship, as well as the rise of illiberal grassroots cultures.

The existence of such cultures contributes to the mainstreaming of illiberalism and therefore to a new cultural normal that may over time facilitate the legitimization of illiberal political projects and policies. 

Marlene Laruelle is a Research Professor of International Affairs and Political Science at the George Washington University, where she is also the Director of the Illiberalism Studies Program. Her expertise covers the emergence of populist and illiberal movements in post-Soviet Eurasia, Europe, and the United States. She also studies the transformation of nationalist and conservative ideologies in Russia. Her most recent publication is entitled Is Russia Fascist? Unravelling Propaganda East West. In her latest work, currently in the writing stage, Marlene Laruelle explores what she calls "Russia’s ideological grammars"; that is, the overarching frameworks of legitimacy through which one apprehends the world.

Ludger Hagedorn, IWM Permanent Fellow, introduced the speaker and moderated the Q&A with the audience.