John Shattuck

John Shattuck is a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a senior fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He served as the president and rector of Central European University in Budapest from 2009 to 2016, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor (1993-1998) and ambassador to the Czech Republic (1998-2000). Earlier, he was national staff counsel and Washington office director of the American Civil Liberties Union (1971-1984). 

Recent Articles

How Democracy in America Can Survive Donald Trump

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1835 that “the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” Tocqueville’s observation, broadly accurate over the past two centuries, is facing perhaps its most severe test today. In its 2016 “Democracy Index” report, the Economist Intelligence Unit downgraded the United States from a “full” to a “flawed democracy.” In 2018, Freedom House offered a more dire assessment: “[D]emocratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in partisan manipulation of the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.” Declining participation and confidence in government are not new, but the populist forces that propelled the election of Donald Trump signaled a new level of public disillusionment with...

Democracy and Illiberal Governance in Hungary and the U.S.

While Viktor Orban’s nationalist populism offers chilling parallels with Trump’s America, the U.S. is in a better position to resist authoritarianism.

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
Seven years ago liberal democracy was hijacked in Hungary. A nationalist politician, Viktor Orban, played on public fears and anxieties to come to power in a national election. He proceeded to attack the media, the judiciary, civil society, the rule of law, and the protection of minority rights—the fundamental elements of pluralism. Was this a harbinger of what would happen in the U.S.? The two countries are of course quite different, but the autocratic government of Viktor Orban has become a model for far-right politicians in the U.S. like Representative Steve King, a Republican member of Congress from Iowa, who has proclaimed that “history will record Viktor Orban as the Winston Churchill of Western civilization.” Orban has established what he calls a system of “illiberal governance,” a new version of authoritarianism in the hollowed-out shell of democracy. Orban’s model is being copied by populist-nationalist politicians in Poland, France, the...

Resisting Trumpism in Europe and the United States

Authoritarian democracy is on the march on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite alarming parallels, the U.S. remains better positioned to preserve and rebuild true democracy.

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
This article will appear in the Winter 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . The election of Donald Trump shows what happens when democracy misfires. It echoes recent developments in Europe, most notably in Hungary and Poland, where elected leaders are attacking democratic pluralism, minority rights, and civil liberties, keeping the forms of democracy without the substance. The same trends are proceeding in France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and other European democracies where far-right parties under the banner of populist nationalism are pursuing racist and xenophobic objectives. Having returned to the United States this fall after seven years in Hungary, I am struck by the shocking parallel between what is happening in Europe and here at home. The Trump election signals a sharp turn toward the populist far right. The presidential campaign was marked by the denigration of women and minorities and the rhetoric of racial extremism. The president-elect’s...

Healing Our Self-Inflicted Wounds

How the next president can restore the rule of law to U.S. foreign policy -- and rebuild American credibility and power.

There's a remarkable paradox in the relationship today between the United States and the rest of the world. Despite economic and military assets unparalleled in history, U.S. global influence and standing have hit rock bottom. As an economic superpower, the U.S. has a defense budget that accounts for more than 40 percent of global military spending. But this "hard power" does not necessarily translate into real power. National-security failures abound, from the catastrophic events in Iraq to the resurgence of terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from the growing threat of civil war throughout the Middle East to the deepening uncertainties of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, from the standoff with Iran to the genocide in Darfur. The next president will have to address these crises by re-establishing America's capacity to lead. Doing so will involve working to regain international credibility and respect by reshaping American foreign policy to direct the use of power within...

A Lawless State

There's a paradox at the heart of U.S. foreign policy: As the Bush administration asserts unilateral global power, the influence and respect of the United States hits rock bottom, and as the United States professes its desire to expand democratic rights around the world, its actions undermine its stated goals. No issue in this political year is more urgent than addressing this disastrous contradiction. Restoring America's commitment to the rule of law would be a good way to start. In the Bush war on terrorism, Washington has shown a reckless disregard for basic principles of international human-rights law like the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It has created a climate of lawlessness in which foreign detainees in U.S. custody overseas have been brutally abused, thousands of foreign citizens are held as “enemy combatants” indefinitely without being accorded the status of prisoners of war, and...