Learning to be Loyal: Political Education in Authoritarian Regimes

Faculty Research Grant
Grant Year

All states use their educational systems to build popular support for the nation and the regime. What better investment in the survival of a political system is there than instilling in the young a strong appreciation of their country, its political and economic systems, and leadership? Contemporary autocracies are no exception to this generalization. Yet, little is known about political education and how autocrats use it to influence their publics. Is political education a long-term investment in regime stability or a tool of last resort that reflects the fragility of authoritarian rule? Does political education successfully teach young people to be patriotic and supportive citizens, or does it stoke nationalism, inflate expectations, and awaken youth to the regime’s shortcomings?

This research project is first study of political education across the authoritarian world. It seeks to understand how autocracies cultivate popular legitimacy; how they use schools to socialize students to be patriotic and supportive citizens; and whether these strategies actually generate support for the authoritarian status quo. These questions are derived from debates about the durability of authoritarian rule and how citizenship is constructed in illiberal political systems.