For years it had become fashionable in the main circles of influence in democratic countries, both intellectual and business, to praise authoritarian regimes. The former applauded the long-term vision of their leaders; the latter praised their economic efficiency and commercial reliability.
Thus, at the two extremes of the political spectrum of democracies, people admired, envied and dreamed of imitating the practices of the worst dictatorships. Many still do:
The Chinese Communist Party, they say, has achieved the most extraordinary economic catch-up in human history, turning the country into the world’s largest factory, producing a significant proportion of the cars and telephones on which the West feeds. These admirers closed, and still close, their eyes to the violations of human rights, the exploitation of workers, the plundering of nature; they even came to marvel at the absolute control over the country of Xi Jin Ping at the last congress of the Communist Party; The same people admired, until recently, the way in which the Chinese authorities had succeeded in imposing the ambition of zero covid, without seeing that this was only the result of the party’s total failure in managing the pandemic, from the denial of reality at the beginning to the failure in the production of Chinese vaccines via the refusal of Western vaccines.
The Russian president’s ability to manage a huge country with an iron fist and resist American influence was admired, and some still do; and the Iranian leaders’ ability to maintain their cultural and political autonomy against the entire West was admired.
This success was even theorised, and the concept of ‘illiberalism’ was invented to describe the still democratic regimes that try to imitate totalitarian models as well as possible: Turkish strategic autonomy, Hungarian populism, Italian ranting, and in another context, the proud initial allure of the Brexit, were all admired and still are by many.
These thurifers of the totalitarian order (and its admirers), against democratic anarchy, did not want, do not want to see the obvious: no economy can develop sustainably without emulation and competition, that is, without the market, which itself is not sustainable without the protection of individual rights, putting an end to arbitrariness and allowing everyone to assert some fundamental rights, in particular the freedom to seek, create, think, write, speak, decide and own property: the market therefore needs democracy; democracy needs the market.
If they do not accept to evolve towards democracy, authoritarian regimes can only channel the passions of their people towards something other than individual success, i.e. towards an enemy, from within or without. In other words, an authoritarian regime will never be able to rely on a flourishing economy in the long term without becoming a democracy, as Spain and Chile, among others, did; or without, conversely, tipping over into an authoritarian economy, preparing for war.
This is what we are witnessing today in Russia: a society unable to guarantee the rule of law that protects individual freedoms could only become an aggressive tyranny. This is what we will soon see in China and Iran, whose regimes will only be able to survive by becoming increasingly hardened, even to the point of engaging in conflicts with their neighbours: we must be prepared for the regimes in these two countries to start wars in order to survive.
Other countries could one day do the same: Turkey against Syria; North Korea against Japan. And a few others.
It is not by appeasing these regimes that these wars will be avoided, but by helping the people to get rid of their tyrants.
The democracy that could then take hold will never be perfect. At the beginning it will even be very imperfect, to the point of being able to fall back into the clutches of a new tyrant, as we saw with Russia, after the failure of Yeltsin. In any case, this democracy will have the same thousand faults as ours, faults that can be improved: fragile governments that are insensitive to the demands of the long term; media that are concerned with ratings to the point of making a spectacle of the worst; monstrous inequalities.
Painting : Pablo Picasso, La Dépouille du Minotaure en costume d’Arlequin, stage curtain for Romain Rolland’s 14 July, 1936