Government & Governance – Autocracy & Democracy

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Governance and good governance
Difference between Tyranny and Dictatorship

Anne Applebaum: The Bad Guys Are Winning
If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.
(The Atlantic) Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy, but by sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services (military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance), and professional propagandists. The members of these networks are connected not only within a given country, but among many countries. The corrupt, state-controlled companies in one dictatorship do business with corrupt, state-controlled companies in another. The police in one country can arm, equip, and train the police in another. The propagandists share resources—the troll farms that promote one dictator’s propaganda can also be used to promote the propaganda of another—and themes, pounding home the same messages about the weakness of democracy and the evil of America. (15 November 2021)

World Forum for Democracy 2022
Democracy: A New Hope?
7-9 November 2022
The 10th World Forum for Democracy (7-9 November 2022) will look for the key contributing factors to democratic decline, consider how these might be addressed, and explore what kind of democratic future is desirable, and possible, in the interests of people across the world.

September/October 2022
Spirals of Delusion
How AI Distorts Decision-Making and Makes Dictators More Dangerous
By Henry Farrell, Abraham Newman, and Jeremy Wallace
(Foreign Affairs) …thinking about AI in terms of a race for dominance misses the more fundamental ways in which AI is transforming global politics. AI will not transform the rivalry between powers so much as it will transform the rivals themselves. The United States is a democracy, whereas China is an authoritarian regime, and machine learning challenges each political system in its own way. The challenges to democracies such as the United States are all too visible. Machine learning may increase polarization—reengineering the online world to promote political division. It will certainly increase disinformation in the future, generating convincing fake speech at scale. The challenges to autocracies are more subtle but possibly more corrosive. Just as machine learning reflects and reinforces the divisions of democracy, it may confound autocracies, creating a false appearance of consensus and concealing underlying societal fissures until it is too late.
… What is much less well understood is that democracy and authoritarianism are cybernetic systems, too. Under both forms of rule, governments enact policies and then try to figure out whether these policies have succeeded or failed.

23 August
The autocratic world will split before the west does
The US must act in a patient, even cynical way that stokes divisions among its illiberal adversaries
Janan Ganesh
(Financial Times) Autocrats tend to fall out. The chauvinism that turns them against the west doesn’t suddenly dissolve in their relations with each other. From Operation Barbarossa to the Iran-Iraq war, what saved the liberal cause in the 20th century, besides American power, was the elusiveness of a common front against it.
The west must ensure the same thing happens in the 21st century. This means cultivating rogue regimes at times. It means teasing out the tensions between them. Autocracies are no less prone to quarrel than they were 50 years ago, when Richard Nixon shook Zhou’s hand amid the Peking-Moscow rift. The question is whether the west still has the art and cynicism to exploit the fact.
This summer, Joe Biden bumped fists with the Saudi crown prince that he wasted 18 months shunning as a brute. The displeasure of US liberals was loud. But it will be as nothing next to the rage of the right if he makes a similar overture to Iran. Gingerly, the White House is testing domestic opinion in advance of a potential revival of the nuclear pact.
There are sound enough arguments against either or both of these rapprochements. But they must be weighed against the fact that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have alternative suitors in China and Russia. Both also have the wherewithal to ease the west’s energy problem. Even if, adjusting for all that, it is still right to freeze them out, the US will have to form relations of convenience with other unpleasant regimes in future. Or maintain existing ones. It cannot do so if it commits to a “democracies versus autocracies” framing of the world.
Fears abound of western exhaustion with the Ukraine war. The historical record suggests the authoritarian world will fracture first: if not over this, then something else. While liberal countries tend to be liberal in much the same way, there are flavours of autocracy, and they pair badly. The ethnic chauvinist hates the universal Marxist. The cleric hates the colonel. Two theocracies of different denominations hate each other. “Axis” was a kind word for a group of second world war belligerents — Germany, Italy and Japan — that rarely viewed each other as racial or civilisational equals.

13-14 August
As Right-Wing Rhetoric Escalates, So Do Threats and Violence
Both threats of political violence and actual attacks have become a steady reality of American life. Experts blame dehumanizing and apocalyptic language
(NYT) The armed attack this week on an F.B.I. office in Ohio by a supporter of former President Donald J. Trump who was enraged by the bureau’s search of Mr. Trump’s private residence in Florida was one of the most disturbing episodes of right-wing political violence in recent months.
But it was hardly the only one.
In the year and a half since a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, threats of political violence and actual attacks have become a steady reality of American life, affecting school board officials, election workers, flight attendants, librarians and even members of Congress, often with few headlines and little reaction from politicians.
Several right-wing or Republican figures reacted to the search of Mar-a-Lago not only with demands to dismantle the F.B.I., but also with warnings that the action had triggered “war.”

10 August
Most Americans support using the popular vote to decide U.S. presidents, data shows
There have been five presidents who won the electoral vote, but not the popular vote — John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
(NPR) Most Americans support using the popular vote and not the electoral college vote to select a president, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
Opinions on the systems varied sharply according to political party affiliation. 80% of Democrats approve of moving to a popular vote system, while 42% of Republicans support the move. Though, many more Republicans support using the popular vote system now than after the 2016 election, when support was at 27%. There is also an age divide: 7 out of 10 Americans from ages 18 to 29 support using the popular vote, compared to 56% in Americans over 65 years old.

9 August
F.B.I. Search Ignited Violent Rhetoric on the Far Right
Some pro-Trump media figures reacted to the search at Mar-a-Lago with talk of ‘war,’ the clearest outburst of such language since the days leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
the reaction this week to the F.B.I.’s court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, Fla., went far beyond the usual ire and indignation. Pro-Trump influencers, figures in the media and a Republican candidate for office employed the language of violence to rally opposition.
“Tomorrow is war,” Steven Crowder, a conservative commentator with 1.9 million Twitter followers, wrote on the site within hours of the search. “Sleep well.”

3 August
Nobody Wants the Current World Order
How All the Major Powers—Even the United States—Became Revisionists
(Foreign Affairs) Major powers exhibit what may be called “revisionist” behavior, pursuing their own ends to the detriment of the international order and seeking to change the order itself. Often, revisionism takes the shape of territorial disputes, particularly in the Indo-Pacific: China’s friction with its neighbors India, Japan, Vietnam, and others in maritime Asia comes to mind. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a violation of international norms and a further rebuke to the notion that Russia could find a comfortable role within a U.S.-led order in Europe. Revisionism also manifests in the actions of a plethora of other powers, including the growing skepticism about free trade in the United States, the military build-up in once-pacifist Japan, and the rearmament of Germany. Many countries are unhappy with the world as they see it and seek to change it to their own advantage. This tendency could lead to a meaner, more contentious geopolitics and poorer global economic prospects. Coping with a world of revisionist powers could be the defining challenge of the years ahead.
The United States has turned away from international institutions it built, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. It has stepped back from its commitments to free trade by withdrawing from agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The view from Washington has grown darker, with great power threats looming on the horizon: not only China but also Russia, which has in many ways been expelled from the international order that sought to remake it in the image of the West.
China was the greatest beneficiary of the globalized order led by the United States. It now wants, in President Xi Jinping’s words, to “take center stage.”
geopolitics grows more fractured and less cohesive. A world of revisionists is one in which each country goes its own way. The globalized world economy is fragmenting into regional trading blocs, with partial decoupling attempted in the areas of high technology and finance, and ever fiercer contention between the powers for economic and political primacy. In the process, a much more dangerous world is emerging.

31 July
Kevin Boyle: We Are Living in Richard Nixon’s America. Escaping It Won’t Be Easy
(NYT) Not the America of Nixon’s last years, though there are dim echoes of it in the Jan. 6 hearings, but the nation he built before Watergate brought him down, where progressive possibilities would be choked off by law and order’s toxic politics and a Supreme Court he’d helped to shape.
Nixon’s version of law and order has endured, through Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs, George H.W. Bush’s Crime Control Act of 1990 and Bill Clinton’s crime bill to broken windows, stop-and-frisk and the inexorable rise in mass incarceration. The ideological vetting of justices has increased in intensity and in precision.
… Nothing matters more, though, than shattering Nixon’s fusion of race, crime and fear. To do that, liberals must take up violent crime as a defining issue, something they have been reluctant to do, and then relentlessly rework it and try to break the power of its racial dynamic by telling the public an all-too-obvious truth: The United States is harassed by violent crime because it’s awash in guns, because it has no effective approach to treating mental illness and the epidemic of drug addiction, because it accepts an appalling degree of inequality and allows entire sections of the country to tumble into despair.
Making that case is a long-term undertaking, too, as is to be expected of a project trying to topple half a century of political thinking. But until Nixon’s version of law and order is purged from American public life, we’re going to remain locked into the nation he built on its appeal, its future shaped, as so much of its past has been, by its racism and its fear.

29 July
Bureaucratic commitment to local government service: Lessons from Zambia
(Brookings) Globally, local governments have significant responsibilities for delivering agriculture, education, and health services, and they increasingly are forging their own strategies for
tackling climate change, supporting sustainable food systems, and promoting gender equality. In fact, over the last three decades, most regions of the world have experienced progressively greater decentralization, a trend sometimes christened the “silent revolution.” Despite this broader trend, decentralization faces various challenges that hinder its intended effectiveness. For example, high turnover and low retention of skilled civil servants at the local government level undermine continuity in service provision, reduce public sector accountability to communities for project implementation, and often necessitate additional outlays in scarce resources for training new staff. In our new journal article [Organizational commitment in local government bureaucracies: The case of Zambia], we examine the factors affecting bureaucrats’ continued commitment to local government service in Zambia, which has a long tradition of pursuing greater decentralization.

25 July
Paul Wells: Winning is easy. Governing’s hard.
Is it too much to hope for a better government?

23 May
Governance for Resilience: How Can States Prepare for the Next Crisis?
Frances Z. Brown
(Carnegie) Trend lines around a series of domestic and multinational governance issues, including climate change, migration, rising geopolitical tensions, and citizen alienation from governing institutions, suggest that complex, interlinked crises will be features of the future. While national and multilateral policymakers should work to alleviate the drivers of such crises, they must also strive to prepare their countries to adapt and recover from complex shocks. In short, they must try to build resilience.


17 June
Democracy Is Surprisingly Easy to Undermine
Politicians around the world are borrowing Trump’s “Stop the Steal” tactics. These false fraud allegations are profoundly dangerous.
By Anne Applebaum
(The Atlantic) … Elections have been stolen before. Dictators have falsified results before. But losing candidates in established democracies do not normally seek to turn their supporters against the voting system itself, to discredit elections, to undermine the very idea of competitive politics. No modern U.S. president has done so. No postwar European democratic leader has tried it either. And there is a reason: At its core, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign presents an existential challenge not to his opponents, but to democracy itself. If, by definition, your opponent’s victory can be obtained only through fraud, then how can any election be legitimate?

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