Is Authoritarianism Our 21st Century “Democracy”?
An essay in the July 10 edition of the New York Review of Books is worth discussion: “Are the Authoritarians Winning?” (Some of you, I know, subscribe to the NYRB and have probably already read the essay.) The author is Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian and former professor at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, and Toronto and, while living in Great Britain, a radio broadcaster for “The Observer.”
The essay refers to four books or articles: Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order by Richard Haas, Restraint: A New Foundation for U S Grand Strategy by Barry Posen, The Fourth Revolution: the Global Race to Reinvent the State by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, and Reforming Taxation to Promote Growth and Equity by Joseph Stiglitz. Micklethwait and Wooldridge are editor-in-chief and managing editor, respectively, of The Economist. I have not read Haass, Posen, Micklethwait and Wooldrige’s books but I have read Stiglitz’s essay and the special section of a recent edition of The Economist summarizing some of the ideas Micklethwait and Wooldrige discuss in The Fourth Revolution. The books I haven’t read are on my fall reading list.
Professor Ignatieff and the authors of the books he discusses think the answer to the question in the title of the essay is “yes.” I agree with their conclusions that authoritarianism is a present danger to our form of government which I do not view as the democracy envisioned by the Founders of our nation. The end (at last!) of the feckless 113th Congress motivates me to post this blog and to ask readers to think about the essay, the various ideas set forth by the authors who have different views as to what is needed to address the problems, and to suggest how we the people can force politicians to consider our interests in their decisions and not just the interests of the authoritarians and their 600+ lobbyists who are well along the road to purchasing our politicians.
In their sum-up paragraph of the essay, Micklethwait and Wooldridge say:
“There is nothing new about this [the present] challenge. Inequalities of wealth have recurrently threatened to overwhelm the rough and ready political equality without which a liberal state cannot function fairly. Recurrently, defenders of the liberal state, in the Progressive era, the Roosevelt New Deal, and the dawn of the European welfare state responded to the challenge and restored the state as the guarantor of the order and freedom of market society. Where Micklethwait and Wooldridge are surely right is that the genius of the West lay in its invention of rights respecting limited government, grounded in the revocable trust of ordinary people. It was this set of robust and enduring institutions that made us what we once were and what, if we restore their constitutional vigor, we can be once again.”
On a note of irony, Professor Ignatieff was recruited from the Harvard faculty in 2006 to be the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. In the 2011 national election he lost his seat in Parliament in the worst drubbing the Liberal Party ever suffered at the polls. A prestigious professorship at a major university does not assure an elected official in the U S or Canada a high political rating.
Your thoughts and comments are welcomed.