Illiberal Democracy

Period of duration of course
Course info
Number of course hours
Number of hours of lecturers of reference
Number of hours of supplementary teaching

Type of exam



Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


For quite some time now, observers have been concerned with the end of the so-called ‘third wave’ of democratisation and the dawn of a reverse trend of regime change. However, while open-ended coups have decreased over time, we currently see the prevalence of novel and less blatant forms of democratic erosion. Such processes of dismantling of the liberal-democratic order often rest on the ability of illiberal governments to use legalism to kill liberalism. The emergence of illiberal enclaves within the European Union testifies the relevance of this phenomenon and prompts a reflection on the threats illiberals in power pose to democratic quality and the responses elaborated by institutional as well as non-institutional actors.
Please, contact the instructor via email to request the syllabus.
The course is run as a series of seminars and attendance is mandatory. Each session will be student-centred and primarily consist of peer discussion. For each meeting, students are required to participate actively based on the readings reported in the syllabus. At each meeting, students will present and discuss the readings, describing their contents, methods, and findings in a critical manner. Then, a general discussion will follow. Core readings are mandatory for all. The working language of the course is English. Neither online nor blended teaching is envisaged at this stage.
Please note that all SNS and visiting students are welcome to join the course as auditors but they are required to participate actively to in-class sessions – including presentations and discussions – on the basis of the same core readings as enrolled students.
The students will be evaluated on the basis of their class participation (25%), presentation and discussion of the readings (25%), and a 3,000-word paper (50%) to be delivered by – and no later than – 10 June 2022. The paper will consist of a critical examination of one or more empirical manifestation of illiberalism, through the thematic prism afforded by the course. The specific focus of the paper shall be agreed upon with the instructor by the second week of the course. MA students may submit their final assignment in Italian, if so wished. Final grades are expressed on a 30-point scale for MA students (following the Italian grading system) and in terms of ‘pass/fail’ for PhD students.

Session 1.


Wednesday, 6 April 2022

14:00-17:00 hrs


Session 2.


Wednesday, 13 April 2022

14:00-17:30 hrs


Session 3.

Ideological foundations

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

14:00-17:30 hrs

Session 4.

Cases, causes, and consequences

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

14:00-17:30 hrs

Session 5.

Responses (and leeway)

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

14:00-17:30 hrs


Session 6.


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

14:00-17:00 hrs 

Guest speaker: Milada Anna Vachudova, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Educational aims

The course examines illiberal democracy – a system in which the procedural vestiges of democracy are preserved while hollowing out its liberal content – presenting the main concepts, theories, and implications of this type of governance/regime. Major goals include: providing the student with the necessary tools to analyse illiberal politics within the context of democratic erosion, both theoretically and empirically; decipher its ideological underpinnings; understand its overall implications for the quality of democracy; and define the remedies for the challenges posed by illiberal governments.