You hear this term all the time thrown to politicians as insults. I’d like to explain, mostly to people living in the liberal West what “illiberal democracy” actually means. Hint: absolutely not “autocracy” as the liberals claim. I know the difference, since I’ve also lived under communist autocracy.
The (classical) liberals believe in freedom, no doubt. To understand illiberalism, we must separate it into two fields:
- Personal freedom: the ability to do things that do not affect (significantly) any non-consenting adult. For example deciding who to have romantic relationship with. Or what film to watch. Or what joke to tell to your friends. Where to work, what to wear, what to play. These look obvious, but in autocracies, you can’t decide it. Gays being thrown off buildings in Islamist dictatorships, films and books censored in all dictatorships, uniform is enforced (as you can see on North Korea photo), private conversations listened to and sanctioned.
- Political freedom: the ability to change your community against the will of other members. The second part is crucial: doing things that everyone agrees on is not exercising freedom, it’s charity work. As a political citizen or party member you support partisan decisions that are opposed by other political people. If you raise taxes, the capitalists are mad at you. If you lower them, the socialists are. Both are equal citizens in your community.
As I’ve said, classical liberals (not SJWs) are believing that both are needed for a good society. Autocrats believe in neither. Illiberals believe in the first and in not the second. SJW-s are example of illiberalism, so is Putin or my Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The basic illiberal idea is that while political freedom would be good, it’s not attainable due to people not being perfect. Free press is not attainable because journalists will write whatever the magazine owner tells them to write. Free political speech is not attainable because some people have platform and others don’t. Free business can’t be attainable because big business will regulatory capture. According to illiberals, by chasing these pipe dreams, we just open the door to autocrats. There will have a power center anyway, fighting against this fact is futile, we must fight for a better power center over a worse.
So political freedom is taken away by illiberals. But they don’t even aim to take away personal freedom. The illiberals don’t reject freedom, most of them would prefer to live in a classical liberal world, merely acknowledges that it’s impossible because people are weak and immoral. For example SJWs don’t want to take away one’s right to have heterosexual relationship with someone of his own race. They don’t care what you do behind closed doors, they just don’t want anyone to propagate these kind of relationships (the irony).
An illiberal can be democratic or ideological. This practically means that he accepts the power to be transferable by the will of the majority. Theoretically it means that the real power center is the majority itself. Ideological illiberal does not mean autocratic. Again, think about the SJWs: they do not accept people voting against the SJW agenda (see: “not my president”). They do not even consent to discussion of the agenda (“hate speech”). But they still don’t want to tell you how to behave with consenting adults. I’ve never encountered with an SJW who gave me any trouble when I was minding my own business. Autocrats do it all the time.
Putin and Orbán are democratic illiberals. Their ideology can change over time to mirror the changing majority opinion. They back off when they find themselves at odds with the majority. They constantly poll approval ratings and try to keep them high. No doubt that political freedom is very limited in these countries. If you try to start a critical political newspaper, you find yourself a tax authority inspection just as fast as Goolag would censor you for some conservative speech. If you actively organize against their rule, you might end up beaten just as fast as a conservative in Berkeley. This isn’t something I’m happy about, but it’s something that I gladly accept instead of autocracy or failed state – something that liberal democracies often devolve.