DOI: 10.1111/rego.12567 ISSN: 1748-5983

Administrative responses to democratic backsliding: When is bureaucratic resistance justified?

Michael W. Bauer
  • Law
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology and Political Science


Populist, illiberal, or outright autocratic movements threaten democracies worldwide, particularly when such extreme political forces gain control of executive power. For public administration illiberal backsliders in government pose a dilemma. Trained on instrumental values and expected to implement neutrally the political choices of their elected superiors, bureaucrats lack orientation of how to act in situations when obeying their own government may mean becoming an accomplice to democratic regression. Against this background, this article maps the dubious demands of backsliders in government as well as the potential reactions of bureaucrats to them. Public administration thinking is subsequently examined with a view to showing how administrative resistance to democratic backsliding could be normatively justified. Finally, the article provides practical recommendations to enhance the resilience of democratic public administration in the face of illiberal challenges.

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