Authoritarian great power capitalism

Before I forget — a while back I read a terrific Foreign Affairs article, The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers. The argument is, just a century or so ago, states based on authoritarian capitalism were very powerful in the world; e.g. imperial Japan and Germany. They got plenty of the economic benefits of capitalism but not so much the democratic effects people like to talk about today. (And there are interesting points that the failure of fascism in the second world war was contingent and not inherent to the ideology.) The author argues this looks like the future: Russia and China are becoming economically strong world powers but keeping solidly non-democratic ways of governance. The period of liberal democracy we live in, with all its overhyped speculation about the inevitable spread democracy and free market capitalism — say, an “end of history” — might just be that, a moment caused by the vagaries of 20th century history.

After I read the article last June, I actually saw Mr. End of History himself, Francis Fukuyama, speak at the good ol’ Long Now seminar series. He pointed out several challenges to liberal democracy, admitting:

China and Russia will be a test of his thesis, Fukuyama said. They are getting wealthier. If they democratize in the next twenty years, he’s right. If they remain authoritarian, he’s wrong.

But this only posed it as a test, not addressing this particular point — that authoritarian capitalism could be efficient and powerful enough to beat out liberal democracy’s hegemony. Maybe it’s secondary to clashes of civilizations or environmental catastrophe, but it seems something’s there.

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6 Responses to Authoritarian great power capitalism

  1. Emil Perhinschi says:

    why do you include Germany among the “authoritarian” states ? Germany was as liberal as France was before 1914 …

    The Germans became “the Huns” only during the war, and only in Allied propaganda.

  2. Anonymous says:

    All that this article demonstrates is that there is a very good chance Russia and China will remain authoritarian as they become economic superpowers. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t disprove Fukuyama’s thesis – he argues that liberal capitalism is the only defensible ideology left, not that it will necessarily take root in every country.

    To live up to its premise, this article would have to demonstrate that Russia or China are going to develop some sort of exportable authoritarian-capitalist ideology that will challenge liberal capitalism. That seems unlikely. China is self-consciously imitating America and Western Europe in its development, while Putin’s only political ideology is “let’s steal together” (in the words of Garry Kasparov). I highly doubt that Russia and China will start inspiring other countries by their examples or forcibly exporting their systems.

    Hannah Arendt observed that totalitarian movements are more successful in continent-wide countries. I think the same may be true of authoritarian forms of capitalism: they are much more sustainable in large countries like Russia and China where serious internal security threats abound and the vast majority of the population is marginalized and apolitical.

  3. Eric Fish says:

    That was Eric Fish, not anonymous

  4. Brendan says:

    > why do you include Germany among the
    > “authoritarian” states ? Germany was as liberal as
    > France was before 1914 …

    I think it’s cited as an example to contrast with Britain or the U.S. In any case France had a bit more of a liberal history, right :)

    >Even if that’s true, it doesn’t disprove
    >Fukuyama’s thesis – he argues that liberal
    >capitalism is the only defensible ideology left,
    >not that it will necessarily take root in every

    Anyone who titles their book “The End of History” has gotta defend that their ideology will take over the world! :)

  5. Emil Perhinschi says:

    From the article:

    “The inefficiencies that favoritism and unaccountability typically create in such regimes might have been offset by higher levels of social discipline.”

    “whereas the nondemocratic capitalist powers, Germany and Japan, were defeated because they were too small.”

    There are no polite words to describe how flawed I think the arguments of the author are.

    “Social discipline” == efficiency ? I thought capitalism was the opposite of “social discipline”: as I see it, capitalism is all about “social indiscipline”, breaking as many rules as possible to fill as many economic niches as possible.

    Germany and Japan too small ? How about then: the USA had to cross two oceans to send their troops to fight, spending tremendous amounts of resources just to get the troops in position. Even Soviet Union had to reinvent itself to be able to withstand the Germans: moving the heavy industry from West to East, building an entire network of railways to support it, moving millions of people to man the factories and the railroads etc.

    Why not ascribing the defeat of the Germans/Japanese to their enthusiasm in alienating their new subjects: the Germans were received with flowers when they entered Ukraine, only to respond with executions and the “slash and burn” method of harvesting resources from the civilians left behind by the Red Army.

    How about the Nazis locking in concentration camps millions of productive people, that might have made a difference in their war effort, and who proved to be loyal in the previous war?

    Then comes the issue of Nazi or Japanese “capitalism” … is it capitalism when a few organizations control most of the production and distribution of goods, and there is little competition among them ? That used to be called “corporatism”, not “capitalism”.

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