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Monday, June 25, 2007

New Challenges Past Islamofascism

Two interesting articles on the same topic, one from Foreign Affairs and the other from The American.

Both claim that the real challenge to the liberal democratic order comes not from pre-modern Islamic societies but rather from the rise of authoritarian capitalist societies. In other words, the West may be swamped by economically advanced, yet still illiberal regimes.

From the article by Azar Gat in Foreign Affairs:

China and Russia represent a return of economically successful authoritarian capitalist powers, which have been absent since the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945, but they are much larger than the latter two countries ever were. Although Germany was only a medium-sized country uncomfortably squeezed at the center of Europe, it twice nearly broke out of its confines to become a true world power on account of its economic and military might. In 1941, Japan was still behind the leading great powers in terms of economic development, but its growth rate since 1913 had been the highest in the world. Ultimately, however, both Germany and Japan were too small -- in terms of population, resources, and potential -- to take on the United States. Present-day China, on the other hand, is the largest player in the international system in terms of population and is experiencing spectacular economic growth. By shifting from communism to capitalism, China has switched to a far more efficient brand of authoritarianism. As China rapidly narrows the economic gap with the developed world, the possibility looms that it will become a true authoritarian superpower.

And from Kevin Hassett in The American:

The unfree governments now understand that they have to provide a good economy to keep citizens happy, and they understand that free-market econ­omies work best. Also, nearly all of the unfree nations are developing countries. History shows they grow faster, at least for a while, than mature nations. But being unfree may be an economic advantage. Dictatorships are not hamstrung by the preferences of voters for, say, a pervasive welfare state.

So the future may look something like the 20th century in reverse. The unfree nations will grow so quickly that they will overwhelm free nations with their economic might. The unfree will see no reason to transition to democracy.

Kid Various is skeptical. Both in terms that the pre-modern Islamist enemy is not the greater threat and the possibility that authoritarian societies can out-compete the West economically. The entire history of mankind since the Enlightenment has been one of greater individual freedom in all spheres of human endeavour. Societies have progressed in general proportion to how deeply they have embraced the values of the Enlightenment.

Authoritarian societies may be able to free up their economies, but without the attendant political and social freedoms, there's only so far that can progress. Authoritarian political systems can no more plan their distribution of power than communist economies could plan production and distribution of goods - and then you get system disrupting distortions like corruption, which is endemic in China and Russia.

Yes you can score impressive growth rates initially (hell even the Soviet Union in the 1930's had impressive growth rates) but the distortions catch up. For example, in China, most of the savings from this amazing economic expansion is stored in 4 main state owned banks - which the Communist Party (because it fears unrest) forces to make loans to state owned industries. Loans which will never be repaid. Sooner or later there is going to be an immense banking crash in China and a lot of wealth will go up in smoke. Far from being a threat to the Enlightenment order, China, because of its distorted political system, will be lucky to make it out of the 21st century intact.

That said, there is a strong argument to be made that the next 20-30 years, while we are battling the pre-moderns, it may *look* like the forces of authoritarian capitalism are out-competing us. And that may be dangerous.


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