Assistant Professor Bryn Rosenfeld’s book, The Autocratic Middle Class, has won the 2022 Best Book Award from the APSA Democracy and Autocracy Section, an Organized Section of the American Political Science Association and an honorable mention for the 2022 William Riker Award for the best book in political economy published in the past two years from the APSA Political Economy section.
Conventional wisdom holds that the rising middle classes are a force for democracy. Yet in post-Soviet countries like Russia, where the middle class has grown rapidly, authoritarianism is deepening. Challenging a basic tenet of democratization theory, Rosenfeld shows how the middle classes can actually be a source of support for autocracy and authoritarian resilience, and reveals why development and economic growth do not necessarily lead to greater democracy.
In pursuit of development, authoritarian states often employ large swaths of the middle class in state administration, the government budget sector, and state enterprises. Drawing on attitudinal surveys, unique data on protest behavior, and extensive fieldwork in the post-Soviet region, Rosenfeld documents how the failure of the middle class to gain economic autonomy from the state stymies support for political change, and how state economic engagement reduces middle-class demands for democracy and weakens prodemocratic coalitions.
The prize citation notes that The Autocratic Middle Class “is a unique study in this genre that examines both attitudes and behavior. The result is a book that will reshape our understanding of democracy and autocracy."