August 11, 2007
The Challenge of Authoritarian Capitalism
Argh! Must read this Foreign Affairs article! But it is available only to paying subscribers! Oh well — the blockquote’s pretty good on its own:
Today’s global liberal democratic order faces two challenges. The first is radical Islam — and it is the lesser of the two challenges. Although the proponents of radical Islam find liberal democracy repugnant, and the movement is often described as the new fascist threat, the societies from which it arises are generally poor and stagnant. They represent no viable alternative to modernity and pose no significant military threat to the developed world. It is mainly the potential use of weapons of mass destruction — particularly by nonstate actors — that makes militant Islam a menace.
The second, and more significant, challenge emanates from the rise of nondemocratic great powers: the West’s old Cold War rivals China and Russia, now operating under authoritarian capitalist, rather than communist, regimes. Authoritarian capitalist great powers played a leading role in the international system up until 1945. They have been absent since then. But today, they seem poised for a comeback.
Authoritarian capitalist states, today exemplified by China and Russia, may represent a viable alternative path to modernity, which in turn suggests that there is nothing inevitable about liberal democracy’s ultimate victory — or future dominance.
The EU is also a noteworthy model. It’s of course not authoritarian by any stretch, but it’s not exactly democratic, either.
The question will soon be posed: Do we favor democracy simply because it is effective? Or do we favor it because it is, in some deeper sense, right? And are we willing to defend the latter proposition even if the first is subverted — that is, even if nondemocratic systems demonstrate equal or greater effectiveness?
Not well-worded, but perhaps you get the idea.
My answer to the latter question, for the record, is yes. And you?