Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Democracy, Dictatorship and Economic Growth

It's a popular notion that dictatorships are more efficient than democracies, and that it is China's political system that explains it's fast growth since 1978. Professor Yasheng Huang from MIT Sloan School of Management challenges that notion, by a series of very interesting comparisons.

Yasheng Huang: Does democracy stifle economic growth?

If you found Yasheng's speech interesting, you may want to listen to Joseph Nye's speech, which places China's economic and political power in a soft power perspective.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Tea Party As a Proto-Fascist Movement

I'm finally reading Hannah Arendt's fascinating book The Origins of Totalitarianism, which feels surprisingly fresh despite its age. Her treatment of the pan-slavic and pan-germanic movements makes you think of the Tea Party, and her discussion of the treatment of the stateless and their internment makes you cold inside. But if the similarities are that obvious, somebody must have written about it. I googled Hannah Arendt and the Tea Party and did get a few thousand hits.
Here is an example: Richard Cohen: Green with Tea Party envy (Washington Post)

And here is an excerpt from Arendt's book:

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who never before had appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been "spoiled" by the party system. Therefore they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with other parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.

The success of totalitarian movements among the masses meant the end of two illusions of democratically ruled countries in general and of European nation-states and their party system in particular. The first was that the people in its majority had taken an active part in government and that each individual was in sympathy with one's own or somebody else's party. On the contrary, the movements showed that the politically neutral and indifferent masses could easily be the majority in a democratically ruled country, that therefore a democracy could function according to rules which are actively recognized by only a minority. The second democratic illusion exploded by the totalitarian movements was that these politically indifferent masses did not matter, that they were truly neutral and constituted no more than the inarticulate backward setting for the political life of the nation. Now they made apparent what no other organ of public opinion had ever been able to show, namely, that democratic government had rested as much on the silent approbation and tolerance of the indifferent and inarticulate sections of the people as on the articulate and visible institutions and organizations of the country. Thus when the totalitarian movements invaded Parliament with their contempt for parliamentary government, they merely appeared inconsistent: actually, they succeeded in convincing the people at large that parliamentary majorities were spurious and did not necessarily correspond to the realities of the country, thereby undermining the self-respect and the confidence of governments which also believed in majority rule rather than in their constitutions.

It has frequently been pointed out that totalitarian movements use and abuse democratic freedoms in order to abolish them. This is not just devilish cleverness on the part of the leaders or childish stupidity on the part of the masses. Democratic freedoms may be based on the equality of all citizens before the law; yet they acquire their meaning and function organically only where the citizens belong to and are represented by groups or form a social and political hierarchy . . . (The Origin of Totalitarianism)

Also, see Wikipedia's article about Hannah Arendt's book.