Call for Papers
Character Assassination, Illiberalism, and the Erosion of Civic Rights
Liberal democracies face multiple external challenges from autocracies across the world, as well as internal challenges from populist politicians, nativism, and the normalization of incivility in media and political discourses. Character assassination (CA) often accompanies these political and social conflicts, especially when unresolved ideological and moral issues are involved. Social conflicts become aggravated when moral issues intermix with political and economic factors. Factions then resort to persuasive attacks on character to delegitimize and disempower their opponents. This increased polarization and aggressiveness of elite rhetoric likely foster voters’ cynicism and discontent with politics as usual. The increasing gap between liberal elites and the disgruntled electorate, in turn, likely provides even more fertile ground for intra-elite conflict, and paves the way for illiberal conceptions of the democratic order.
Suggested Topics:
• The erosion of civic rights in historical societies;
• Character assassination as an illiberal practice;
• Negative campaigns and their effects on behaviors and attitudes;
• Political incivility over time and space;
• The psychological and emotional underpinnings of persuasive attacks on character;
• Populist rhetoric, impression management, and democratic elections;
• Political incivility and polarization;
• The spread of culture wars in the U.S., the E.U., and beyond;
• Illiberal technologies and societal transformations;
• The effects of cancel culture on civil discourse;
• Far-right and far-left social movements;
• Digital activism and the practices of disruption and subversion;
• Neo-authoritarian forms of coercion and dominance in the Internet Age;
• Mediated public scandals in liberal democracies;
• Personalization and infotainment issues;
• Legal aspects of libel, slander, and defamation;
• Reputation management, image repair, and inoculation strategies.
Please submit a 250-word abstract of your paper by 15 February, 2023. A limited number of slots for online presentations will be made available. If you would like to opt for one of these, please include a brief motivation explaining your reasons. Email the abstract as an attachment to Martijn Icks and Sergei Samoilenko at
Illiberalism Studies Program
Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES)
Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
1957 E Street, NW | Suite 412 | Washington, DC | 20052