Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Authoritarian Allure

Tyler Cowen:
If I look back at the 20th century, I am struck by the pull exerted by powerful governing ideologies, even when those systems were evil or failing. Thousands of intellectuals endorsed Stalinism, even after many of its worst practices came to light. Marxism in its broader forms had more adherents yet. Extreme right-wing ideologies exercised a strong pull as well, at least until they became America’s outright enemies as the Second World War approached. Mussolini’s fascism was quite popular with many Americans, including New Deal intellectuals and leaders.

You can scold the sympathizers for their naivete or illiberal tendencies, but there is a deeper truth. Individuals have a mimetic desire to copy or praise or affiliate what is perceived as successful, and a lot of our metrics of success have to do with power rather than freedom or prosperity. So if there is a powerful system on the world stage, many of us will be drawn to it and seek to emulate it, without always being conscious of the reasons for those attractions.
As Cowen notes, this admiration for success explains both the unchallenged dominance of capitalist democracy in the 1990s and its decline since then relative to both socialism and authoritarian government. Since the invasion of Iraq, the Wall Street collapse, and the Great Recession, America and its imitators have looked weak, their values questionable. This is true both for people within western nations and in developing nations such as China and Vietnam.

On the other hand there is always Venezuela to remind people that anti-westernism and anti-capitalism don't necessarily lead to a better outcome.

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