Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Foreign Affairs takes on the decline of democracy and the apparent success of new authoritarian statist capitalism (especially in China)


The April 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs offers several detailed articles supporting the cover theme “Is Democracy Dying? A Global Report”.

The most important article is probably the first one, by Walter Russell Mead, “The Big Shift: How American Democracy Fails Its Way to Success”, link.   The writer gets into discussing Piketty’s book “Capital” and his theory of inequality (review here July 22, 2014).   Mead argues that growing inequality, even in a low-unemployment economy, tends to drive people more toward tribal thinking and political divisiveness.  He suggests we need to consider ideas like basic income (which Finland is stopping) or other ways of redistribution of wealth.

The second article is “The Age of Insecurity: Can Democracy Save Itself?  I am reminded of Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” symphony.  The article explains that in the 21st Century, some authoritarian societies are providing a better standard of living than previously expected by libertarian and Reagan-style conservatives in the U.S.

Both writers note that a rise in the standard of living tends to take people away from materialism and tends to make liberal democracy and individualism make more sense;  but then inequality can lead to cultural backslide toward group survivalism and prepper culture.

Yascha Mount and Roberto Stefan Foa write “The End of the Democratic Century: Autocracy’s Soft Power” which has to do with greater materialistic success and a larger presence of academia in relatively authoritarian countries, like the health science centers in the UAE and even Saudi Arabia, as well as professional media.

There are two big articles on China.  Yuen Ang writes “Autocracy with Chinese Characteristics: Beijing’s Behind the Scenes Reforms” The author explains how in China politics is embedded in bureaucracy, which can then motivate its citizens with a hierarchal structure of pseudo capitalism and rewards.  China is a unary, not a federal, state.


Then there is “China’s New Revolution: The Reign of Xi Jingping”, by Elizabeth C. Economy.  There is some focus on the authoritarian control of individualism and free speech (with the firewalls against the outside world, not always effective).  Most of all, it seems that Jingping’s (and his predecessors’, post Mao) implementation of Communism (an ideology which students memorize) is predicated on “right-sizing” individual people so that they know where they must fit in according to their abilities;  otherwise they would be treated as mooches (hence the proposed “social credit score” by 2020).  The dangerous trend to arrest people who became citizens of othjer countries when they return to China is mentioned.  Jingping has crowned himself president for life and abolished term limits (which used to be part of the Chinese system of political integrity).

Ivan Kratsev explores “Eastern Europe’s Illiberal Revolution: The Long Road to Democratic Decline.”  I remember that back in 1989 the people of eastern Europe were held up to grade pride, with Leonard Bernstein recording Beethoven’s Ninth in a reunified Berlin near the Wall.  But emigration to the west (and low birth rates), followed by immigration from troubled and non-democratic parts of the world has made the remaining people feel threatened, and turn to populism, and some authoritarianism (Orban in Hungary), which the writer does not see as fascist, despite the labels. Like Putin, leadership wants to raise the standard of living for its ethnic populations by keeping them disciplined and not too loquacious.
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Victor Cha (Georgetown, with Katrin Fraser Katz), whom Trump turned down for an ambassadorship after Victor criticized Trump’s aggressive rhetoric,  has an article on how to coerce North Korea, previously covered.

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