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Authoritarianism and NGOs

Illiberal Norm Diffusion: How Do Governments Learn to Restrict NGOs?

Recent decades have witnessed a global cascade of restrictive and repressive measures against NGOs. This project aims to shed light on what explains the rapid diffusion of legislative restrictions against NGOs. We show that NGO restrictions are primarily a non-democratic phenomenon, and that learning from observation of the international environment, rather than NGO growth per se or domestic unrest, explains this diffusion. We develop and test two hypotheses regarding the effects of learning from abroad on the adoption of legislative restrictions. First, we consider whether NGO restrictions are a reaction to the observation of regime threats in the form of mass mobilization in their regional environment (‘learning from threats’). Second, we suggest that regimes learn to imitate the legislative behavior of their neighbours (‘learning from examples’). We test these hypotheses by means of negative binomial regression and survival analyses, using an original dataset on NGO restrictions in 96 countries over a period of 25 years (1992-2016). We find no evidence for learning from threats, but consistent evidence for learning from examples. We corroborate and elaborate this finding through a qualitative comparative analysis of legal restrictions adopted in the Middle East and Africa.

Glasius, M., M. De Lange and J. Schalk (submitted).  ‘Illiberal Norm Diffusion: How Do Governments Learn to Restrict NGOs?’, article submitted to International Studies Quarterly.