The Financial Express

Authoritarianism, democracy & 21st Century hybrids

| Updated: October 22, 2017 19:49:42

Authoritarianism, democracy & 21st Century hybrids

Neo-liberalism might be why the political centre-left never really gained traction outside the North Atlantic zone. It encouraged an export-led developmental strategy, especially to rescue exhausted import-substitution economies, as part of the technologically-driven restructuring. Taming East and Southeast Asian financial crisis in 1997 was one strand of this, reviving Latin America from its 'lost decade' of the 1980s was another.



A third strand includes authoritarian regimes, broadly defined. In part due to the 40-year Cold War, socialist sparks and preferences were either snuffed out or incorporated as a subset of other pressing policy goals by dictators, or they even merged with nationalism. North African countries like Algeria, Egypt and Libya, as well as their Middle East counterparts like Iran, Iraq and Syria exemplify authoritarianism, socialism, nationalism or admixtures of them, under Houari Boumédienne, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Muammar Gaddafi, Mohammad Mosaddegh, Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad, respectively are glaring examples. The net effect was an identity loss: infrastructure-building capacities were thwarted by political tensions. With the post-Cold War came the Washington Consensus (from 1989) and President George H.W. Bush's New World Order (1990), themselves also rudderless and faltering manifestos, but completely abracadabra to these countries.



Authoritarian structures prohibited left-leaning movements. Socialist agendas could not compete with the multifarious forces typical of newly emergent countries in a materialistic world, and nationalism proved too closeting to reap the harvests of independence, a viable society and technological opportunities. There were, no doubt, successes of sorts: among the export-led countries, Japan and South Korea; in the formerly import-substitution flock, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico; and among the authoritarian cases, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, all positioned on a slippery pole, yet projecting more hope than dismay. Nevertheless, each carries crony capitalist burdens (across Southeast Asian countries), or demographic time-bombs (Japan, South Korea).



A slower but more steady growth of religious fundamentalism must be added, whether Buddhist (in Myanmar, for instance), Christian (scattered globally through US evangelists), Confucian (China's Communist Party making it less of an 'opium of the masses' and more of an integral part of the country's development), Hinduism (India), or Islam (for just about every Muslim country). Left-leaning political parties had no chance, nor will they get one. Where they did make noise, as in Jyoti Basu's West Bengal within India (under the CPM, or Communist Party of India - Marxist), they have done what the US Democratic Party under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as the British Labour Party under Tony Blair, did: shift towards the centre by snapping socialist positions.



With the possible exception of Japan and perhaps South Korea, in none of them can we point to a dominant single paradigm: economically, whether it is neo-liberal, statist, or socialist, and politically, whether it is democratic, a dictatorship, representative or still patrimonial. Every one of them, including the two OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) members, Japan and South Korea, portrays a mixed bag: demographic and ancient bureaucratic practices make Japanese democracy and neo-liberalism time-bound, as too corruption, chaebols, and a hostile neighbourhood tainting South Korea's claim to remain a democratic or neo-liberal model. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Perú among other Latin countries, still keep tossing and turning between neo-liberalism and corporatist practices as well as between democratic promises and patrimonial retreats. Many also face narco-traffickers, and thereby embedded corruption (that, too, in countries with the world's worst Gini inequality ratios), which stultifies long-term democratic or neo-liberal transformation.



India, the developing world's shining democratic star and currently posting some of the planet's highest economic growth-rates (at least among the larger countries), remains puzzling. No one who claims India is the fulcrum of democratising developing countries will deny that it is also witnessing one of the most ferocious confrontations between democracy and Hindu fundamentalist revivalism, threatening minorities and the secular democratic foundation. Not just that, sometimes religious fundamentalism gets into cross-purposes with democracy (as, for example, when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, goes beyond the mandates of its patron, the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP); and when that happens, imperilled democracy is made to look too foreign for local taste. This incompatibility sinks deeper than any between capitalism and socialism. In spite of the humongous poverty-stricken population, India's remarkable economic capacities, performances and potential essentially close the door on any socialist platforms of the kind the Congress Party once espoused under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Many African, Asian, and Latin countries identify with a similar stance, especially as cash-loaded China doles out billions to either purchase their raw materials or induct them into infrastructure-building 'one-belt-one-road' (OBOR) projects.



Even where socialism/communism prevails, as in China and Cuba, there is a marked difference between its original format/tone/goals and present appearances: compromises with or subordination to, free-market practices/proposals thwart any viable left-leaning future.



In short, whatever constitutes the left outside the Atlantic zone remains too much in flux to warrant attention, let alone influence policy-making. Other than an occasional gesture or two to vindicate equality in stubbornly unequal societies, socialism or other left-leaning ideologies continue to live as orphaned a life under a democratic paradigm as they did under authoritarian rule, and democratic tendencies continue to be just that, tendencies, nothing more.



Three countries, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have not been put under the microscope in this series. In all three, like the United States, echoes of the Anglo-Saxon identity and the English Enlightenment remain audible, with the centre-left parties slightly above water: down under (in Australia and New Zealand), they can be found in the shadow, rather than withering; and in Canada, flourishing. There may be a point here: explaining why requires purging Canada's Anglo-Saxon genes for multiculturalism. Justin Trudeau's multiculturalism, referenced previously in the series, has a deeper root in his father, Pierre, institutionalising it in 1971. If that does not explain why Canada flourishes politically, economically and socially today compared to other North Atlantic countries, then it certainly draws attention to why populism has been contained in Canada. Given how Steven Harper placed Canada on that pathway, Justin remarkably nipped that shift from multiculturalism, at least for now. Nevertheless, current populism-Anglo-Saxon relationship demands further scrutiny for long-term prospects.




As British dominions, Australia and New Zealand cannot but lean on the fate and fortunes of Great Britain and the United States. Yet, both exist in a neighbourhood of spotty democracies and liberals where neo-liberalism has not taken kindly to centre-left persuasions. Trapped between Anglo-Saxon origins and their authoritarian-socialist-nationalist-religious neighbours, Australia and New Zealand may find cohabitation the only but increasingly stressful option.



With the North Atlantic remaining the only left-leaning playground, even there the centre-left looks largely strapped, rudderless, leaderless, and clueless to conceive of any, even dramatic, future comeback stories.



No other ideology seeking conformity across the planet can match either democracy or liberalism in the degrees of embrace, expectations, and extent (geographically and temporally). Yet, as was noted, even democracy and liberalism have not brought enough conformity to offer as the final planet lifestyle. In fact, the very size of the non-conformed zone predicts democracy and liberalism may have reached their limits. That is the disturbing conclusion whose implications the final piece of this series addresses next.



Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

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