In this age of rising authoritarianism.

            Journalism professor Peter Beinart refers to “this age of rising authoritarianism.”[1]  In what sense is this an “age of rising authoritarianism”? 

The history of Russia is a history of authoritarianism.  The appalling Tsarist monarchy gave way to the even worse Communist era, which gave way to the appalling Putin dictatorship.  The point is, Russia has been an authoritarian state for virtually its entire history.  The history of China is the history of authoritarianism.  The Qing monarchy gave way to the “age of the warlords” until the Kuomintang (KMT) established a national dictatorship.  The Communists replaced this dictatorship with their own—even worse—dictatorship in 1949.  Much has changed in China since the 1980s, but it remains a highly effective authoritarian state.  Since gaining independence from Britain in 1949, India and Pakistan have been, at best, false-front democracies hiding real authoritarianism.  The list of Less Developed Nations that are anti-democratic horror stories is as long as your arm and has been for decades. 

“Well, well, authoritarianism is rising in places like Europe.”  No, it isn’t.  If anything, we have been witnessing are nationalist revolts against threatening authoritarianism.  Poland and Hungary have resisted the encroachments of the anything-but-liberal and German-dominated administrative state of the European Union (EU).  In 2003, French President Jacques Chirac said that Eastern European countries who supported the American invasion of Iraq had “missed the chance to shut up.”[2]  One particular flash-point in this resistance came when semi-authoritarian Turkey used the refugee/migrant weapon against the EU.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by issuing quotas of illegal immigrants to be absorbed by each EU member state.  It is possible to see Ukraine’s resistance to Russian’s invasion in the same light, even if the situation and the Ukrainian response are both more extreme.  Yet no one questions the legitimacy of Ukraine asserting its own independence against clanking, rather than creeping, authoritarianism. 

Then there is “Brexit.”  That went well beyond whatever the Poles and Hungarians have done.  It is best understood by an upwelling of English patriotism among an older generation for whom nationality still has some meaning.[3]  In contrast, the much-feared “Grexit” never happened because the Greeks bent before EU (and especially German) pressure. 

If authoritarianism isn’t “rising,” why claim that it is?  I suspect that is because it allows Progressive people to set Donald Trump in a particular framework.  “[T]oday you do not need to have a dictatorship or a one-party state in order to accomplish your goals. You can take a democracy and change it through expansions of executive power and other repressions until you have the same effect on the subject population and a quasi-rubber-stamp parliament, without declaring a dictatorship….Now with Trump, he uses fascist tactics.”[4] 

What might worry some people is that such a characterization might be used to justify exceptional measures in defense of “our democracy.”  


[1] Peter Beinart, “Has the Right Against Antisemitism Lost Its Way?” NYT, 28 August 2022.  The op-ed piece itself is really good on its subject. 

[2] See: CNN.com – Chirac lashes out at ‘new Europe’ – Feb. 18, 2003 

[3] I suspect that it really began with the referendum on Scottish independence.  In the background of television news reports I noticed growing numbers of “Cross of St. George” flags.  That’s the English half of the more familiar “Union jack” created after the Act of Union (1707). 

[4] LISTEN: Ruth Ben-Ghiat on how Trump is already using “fascist tactics” | Salon.com 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s