Iza Ding and Jeffrey Javed. Forthcoming. "The Autocrat’s Moral-Legal Dilemma: Popular Morality and Legal Institutions in China." Comparative Political StudiesDOI: 10.1177/0010414020957694

Authoritarian regimes sometimes professionalize their legal systems to govern more effectively. Yet when quasi-autonomous courts rule in conflict with popular conceptions of right and wrong — popular morality— it might threaten citizens’ trust in the regime. We use the case of contemporary China to investigate this "moral-legal dilemma" — the competing needs of legal development and the satisfaction of popular justice concerns. Four case studies demonstrate that when court rulings conflict with popular morality, the party-state selectively alters decisions, so long as intervention does not significantly jeopardize the integrity of the legal system. Two online survey experiments then assess citizens’ reactions to moral-legal conflict in court rulings. We find that people are more likely to experience “moral dissonance” when legal decisions conflict with popular morality. We do not find that moral-legal conflict in court rulings significantly undermines individuals’ trust in the regime. Our analysis underscores the need for more attention to the moral foundations of authoritarian rule.

Iza Ding, Dan Slater, and Huseyin Zengin. “Populism and the Past: Restoring, Redeeming, and Retaining the Nation.” Forthcoming at Studies in Comparative and International Development

Populism and nationalism have been described as the greatest threats to liberal democracy in the world today. This essay compares nationalist appeals in three major cases of contemporary populism: Turkey under Erdogan, the Philippines under Duterte, and Thailand under Thaksin. We argue that nationalism undergirds the populists’ appeals in all three cases; yet diverse past experiences with imperialism have produced distinct, though not exclusive, forms of nationalist appeals today. Specifically, we identify three common types of historical experience with empire that shape contemporary expressions of nationalism: 1) imperial power, where a country used to be the leading polity in a regional or global empire; 2) imperial subject, where a country was ruled and dominated by an imperial power; and 3) imperial holdout, where a country battled off imperial encroachments with relative success. These divergent imperial experiences give rise to three distinct types of nationalist expressions in our cases: restorative nationalism in Turkey — a former imperial power; redemptive nationalism in the Philippines — a former imperial subject; and retentive nationalism in Thailand — a former imperial holdout. Restorative nationalism, in particular, is an especially likely conduit for greater political disruptions at home and abroad.  

Iza Ding and Dan Slater. 2021. "Democratic Decoupling." Democratization 28 (1): 63-80. DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2020.1842361

Democratic backsliding does not necessarily see all democratic institutions erode in parallel fashion. This article analyses contemporary democratic backsliding through the lens of institutional change, as a process of “democratic decoupling”, in which a systematic gap opens up between the constitutive features of liberal democracy. Specifically, we focus on the worldwide decoupling between electoral quality and rights protections over the past decade. Using global data from the V-Dem project, we establish that elections are improving and rights are retracting in the same time period, and in many of the same cases. We offer several illustrative examples from Asia of illiberal juggernauts who have ridden the waves of free and fair elections to do great damage to rights protections, focusing primarily on Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP in the world’s largest democracy, India.

Iza Ding. 2020. "Performative Governance." World Politics 72 (4): 1-32. DOI: doi.org/10.1017/S0043887120000131

The state often struggles to meet citizens’ demands but confronts strong public pressure to do so. What does the state do when public expectations exceed its actual governing capacity? This study shows that the state can respond by engaging in “performative governance” — the theatrical deployment of language, symbols, and gestures to foster an impression of good governance among citizens. Performative governance should be distinguished from other types of state behavior, such as inertia, paternalism, and the substantive satisfaction of citizen demands. I illustrate this concept in the realm of environmental governance in China: given the severity of its environmental pollution, resulting public outcry, and logistical and political challenges to solving pollution problems, how can the state redeem itself? Ethnographic evidence from participant observation at a municipal Environmental Protection Bureau reveals that when bureaucrats are confronted with the dual burdens of low state capacity and high public scrutiny, they engage in performative governance to assuage citizen complaints. This study calls attention to the double-meaning of “performance” in political contexts, and the essential distinction between the substantive and the theatrical.

Iza Ding and Marek Hlavac. 2017. “‘Right’ Choice: Restorative Nationalism and Right-Wing Populism in Central and Eastern Europe.” Chinese Political Science Review 2: 427-444. DOI: doi.org/10.1007/s41111-017-0069-8

What are the facilitating conditions for right-wing populism? This paper explores the moral and nationalist foundations of right-wing populist appeal. Using European Social Survey data, we demonstrate that voting for right-wing populist parties is not associated with anti-elite, anti-establishment sentiment, but instead with moral beliefs in the cultural purity of nationhood and its centrality to the preservation of national identity, which we call restorative nationalism. We draw on qualitative data from Central and Eastern Europe to demonstrate how narratives of restorative nationalism can bolster right-wing populist politicians.


Revise and Resubmit

Iza Ding and Mike Thompson-Brusstar. “The Anti-Bureaucratic Ghost in the Bureaucratic Machine.” Revise and Resubmit at China Quarterly.

Of all the terms that have become lost in translation between Chinese and English, bureaucracy is a prime example. On one hand, the CCP’s ideology, rooted in its foundational struggles, explicitly denounces “bureaucratism,” which is often directly translated into English as “bureaucracy.” On the other hand, the CCP’s governance needs (both under Mao and during Reform) demand state-building efforts that are modernizing, if not rationalizing. As a result, an anti-bureaucratic ghost dwells in the machinery of China’s bureaucratic state, leading to politics that are full of intriguing contradictions. We demonstrate this dualism of bureaucracy and anti-bureaucratism both theoretically and empirically. Theoretically, we draw on the speeches and writings of CCP leaders since Mao to illustrate the Party’s anti-bureaucratic ideology and populist tendencies. Empirically, we trace all the major reforms of the state apparatus since 1949 to illustrate the enduring tension between bureaucratic modernization and anti-bureaucratism. We showcase this tension in the realm of anti-corruption.