In 1989, liberal Soviet intellectuals debated proposals for an authoritarian regime intended to speed marketization and allow political institutionalization during a transition to liberal democracy. The “authoritarians” were inspired by the work of neo-conservative Western scholars and Southern European, Latin American, and East Asian models. Their strategy was strongly opposed by a “democratic” camp of radical reformers. The “authoritarians” initially failed to carry the day, but in post-Soviet Russia, Boris Yeltsin's problems with a recalcitrant opposition and the sharp decline in living standards has rekindled interest in a strongman solution. The growth of elite and popular pro-anthoritarian sentiment has been accompanied by the gradual hardening of Yeltsin's “soft authoritarianism,” an outcome supported by sections of the intelligentsia that had vigorously opposed communist rule. The process points up the limits of democratic allegiance among radical-reform elites and intersects with a trend toward authoritarian solutions evident in other post-communist societies.

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