Contentions over World Culture: The Rise of Legal on Foreign Funding to NGOs, 1994-2015

The last two decades have witnessed an unprecedented rise in government restrictions on foreign funding to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Often in the name of defending the nation from outside influences, over 60 countries have implemented laws limiting foreign funding to NGOs.We use event history analyses to evaluate domestic and global explanations for the adoption of these policies over the period 1994–2015. Prior work has argued that funding restrictions result from real or perceived threats to political regimes, especially in countries with competitive elections. We add to this story by situating it in a larger global and cultural context: new funding laws are part of a growing backlash against the liberal international order, which has long sponsored international and domestic NGOs devoted to issues such as human rights and the environment. In an era of increasing resistance toward globally linked civil society groups—the primary carriers of liberal world society—NGO funding restrictions are now diffusing widely across the international system. We argue that restriction policies will be most common among countries that are linked to illiberal or anti-Western organizations and discourses in the international community. Moreover, adoption will accelerate as more countries do it, representing a growing “wave” or backlash against the liberal international order. Findings support the prior literature as well as our new arguments regarding illiberal international organizations and global backlash.