Legal Gaslighting

Suppose that an authoritarian regime wants to make changes to legal norms or institutions to consolidate its hold on political power. Suppose further that the regime cannot ignore the domestic or international costs of doing so, and that it has an interest in responding to critiques of these changes based on liberal democratic norms and the rule of law. How can it do so?

One approach is to sow confusion and undermine the normative standards themselves – to “gaslight” the domestic or international audience (or both). To that end, a regime might assert that the change it proposes resembles a “best practice” from another jurisdiction. Such emulation need not be thorough, or even sincere; it may suffice simply to assert that a proposed change resembles that in another jurisdiction. Gaslighting need not succeed in deceiving outsiders or subjects; undermining standards by which legal reforms are measured, sowing confusion, or providing a superficial pretext for inaction may be sufficient.