Friday, December 14, 2007

Authoritarian Evolution

Following up my post yesterday on how the changing international scene is proving a boon for African liberalization, Daniel Drezner rescues us from crippling optimism by noting how authoritarian regimes have adapted to the new era and found new ways to solidify their grip on power. Route #1: economics. Keep the economy humming, and folks really don't care that they don't get to vote. Route #2: use quasi-Democratic means to ramp up executive power. This appears to be a favorite in South America, where Presidents win office democratically, then host loaded "constitutional conventions" to remake the system to their liking (Drezner cites Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as the narrowly defeated attempt in Venezuela).

It's a good post, and shows that the forces of democracy can't get complacent.

1 comment:

Towering Barbarian said...

I'd argue that route #2 is actually a fairly old tactic. I seem to recall that Napoleon Bonaparte was fairly notorious for using loaded referendums as a means of lining popular opinion, or the appearance of it, behind him while appearing to represent the people. Further back are the figures of Julius Caesar and Marius respectively using appeals to popular sovereignty as a springboard towards sole power. And before them were the Greek Tyrants who were the ones to develop such tactics in the first place. This trick seldom worked for more than 3 generations but it would hardly still be in play if it weren't one of tyranny's best tricks indeed.

As for Route#1, it certainly goes a long way towards keeping Democrats in charge of Chicago (jk/ing), but it too has its limits. The first being that this requires a level of self-disipline on the part of tyrants that most cannot sustain beyond a generation (If that long) and the 2nd being that the things required to keep an economy humming often change without notice to the extent that they can be successfully understood at all.