2020-09-11 Authoritarian regimes are popular

Recently, @22 linked to “Life in authoritarian states is mostly boring and tolerable” by Thomas Pepinsky, arguing that “Americans have an overly dramatic view what the end of democracy looks like.” Then it goes on to say that people have the same problems as in a democracy, and that they are mostly happy. And I agree.

I’ve often said to friends that dictatorships work because most people benefit in some way. I’ve had a Brazilian friend tell me how they liked the dictatorship. It was safe to go to the public bath after sunset. Salazar and all the fascist leaders are still beloved by many. I think people underestimate how easy it is to slide into authoritarianism; what they ignore is how terrible the price to pay is for the minorities.

If you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, jewish, uighur, black, or if you own the plot of land a friend of the government wants, or if your business competes with a friend of the government, then you have a problem.

People often talk about Switzerland’s direct democracy as some form of “the majority is always right” and nothing could be farther from the truth (even if our right wing party wants it to be the truth). Protecting minorities and making sure they all have a say is the most important part and often not appreciated. If we can’t do that, then what’s the point, I wonder. Any authoritarian regime feels like a tyranny of the majority.

I often think about the motto on the Brazilian flag: Ordem e Progresso. Order and progress. Who doesn’t want order and progress? All the fascists are nodding. To talk about the drawbacks of rational authoritarian regimes is tricky and I find one of the easiest routes is the discussion of human rights.

Of course that same measuring stick can also be applied to many governments many consider to be democratic. If your government is democratic but human rights are being violated, what’s the point, I wonder? We need to change that.

To give you a simple example from Switzerland: we have about eight million people and of these about two million are foreigners. That’s because it takes so damn long for naturalisation to happen. Switzerland is criticised for it on a regular basis. A fourth of the population can’t vote in this country! I mean, that doesn’t mean that Switzerland is authoritarian, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s failing as a democracy on a different axis.

Comments

The Vox link is currently truncated; the complete URL is https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/1/9/14207302/authoritarian-states-boring-tolerable-fascism-trump

Alexis 2020-09-12 03:30 UTC

Thanks, fixed! – Alex


Uh, not really. I grew up in a dictatorship. The crime rate was sky-high (especially compared to what we have now: for a good while this century, Bucharest was the safest city in Europe). And part of that was due to poverty. There’s still a huge difference in crime rates between parts of the country, and the correlation with poverty is striking. But also, law enforcement in a dictatorship doesn’t protect people from anything. It protects the regime from people, and largely ignores everything else.

No, life in a dictatorship isn’t safe. It’s predictable: you get up in the morning, go to your government-imposed workplace (they’ll even make one up just for you if there’s no work otherwise), get your salary at the end of the month (always the same amount), drop by the nearly-empty grocery store to pick up your food rations, and head back home to turn on the TV and hear how the economy is booming.

Which, of course, it isn’t. Dictatorships are never prosperous. They’re horribly poor all over, except in a few places where they keep up the appearances so they can brag to foreigners. But people would rather have extreme poverty and crime everywhere if that spares them from having to feel responsible for anything.

Felix 2020-09-12 06:31 UTC


Thank you, Felix!

– Sandra 2020-09-12 06:57 UTC


Every dictatorship and authoritarian state is different. The Vox article was about the American delusion that “not democracy” is “full on apocalyptic dictatorship” which sounds a bit like what you’re describing, Felix. The Vox article then went on to describe another state in the spectrum of “not democracy”, Malaysia. I feel many of the systems that disappeared and still have people pining for them without having been part of the immediate upper echelons of the government fall somewhere along this line – Salazar’s Portugal, the Brazilian military dictatorship, the communist regime in Eastern Germany, the communist regime in China today.

For Salazar, for example: «In 2006 and 2007 two public opinion television shows aroused controversy. Salazar was elected the “Greatest Portuguese Ever” with 41 per cent of votes on the show Os Grandes Portugueses (”The Greatest Portuguese”) from the RTP1 channel»

A Romanian friend told me similar stories about hardship and poverty (and the family’s eventual flight to Switzerland). I don’t want to deny the misery of these communist dictatorships.

I still agree with the author of the Vox piece, however: there’s a slow slide into authoritarianism and as the regime props up fake enemies, enemies to a religion, enemies to the economic order, enemies to the established societal order, and keeps up a basic working state, there’s no rebellion. People acquiesce and are distracted by daily life.

I also think an important part of the Vox article is to see these aspects in the countries that call themselves democracies today: if the system doesn’t change no matter who you vote for, if police and border patrols and other security elements have expansive powers, if widespread poverty and precariousness spread, then all of these are red flags.

– Alex 2020-09-12 11:11 UTC


Oh, red flags they are. As people have been pointing as of late: tanks in the street aren’t the first sign of a dictatorship in the making, but the last. And Americans don’t get it, as evidenced by their reaction to what’s been happening in Belarus. Which is exactly why they’re guaranteed victims in the upcoming elections.

Felix 2020-09-12 11:47 UTC


I’ve had a few depressing exchanges with @Shufei on the topic of the upcoming elections in the USA. 😱

Recently she linked to this thread by .

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-12 13:22 UTC


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