Desktop version

Home arrow Political science arrow Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization


This book explores the relationship of economic capitalism and political authoritarianism within the contemporary era of globalization. The examination of this relationship has taken on increased importance with the rise of authoritarian capitalist states on the one hand and the deployment of authoritarian-style politics by ostensibly liberal democratic countries on the other. The proliferation of such a politics alongside intensified economic policies of marketization across the globe represents the emergence of diverse forms of authoritarian capitalism nationally and internationally. This manuscript illuminates the political legitimization and spread of capitalism through these different but connected authoritarian politics.

This analysis emerges out of these present-day challenges and attempts to contribute to a wide range of existing literature on this topic. Traditionally marketization has been inexorably linked with processes of democratic transition. More precisely, economic liberalization is meant to be a necessary condition for democratization (see most notably Dahl, 1989; Lipset, 1959; Moore, 1967; Muller, 1995). To this end, economic and political liberalization are theorized to have a complementary relationship, as the former creates the required conditions for the latter. Here, the emerging bourgeois class, formed in the transformation to a market economy, exists as an independent force challenging dictatorial rule and catalyzing the shift to liberal democracy. It follows logically, from this perspective, then that as marketization spreads globally so too will democracy.

Nevertheless, this dominant perspective has long been challenged by critical, especially Marxian, scholarship emphasizing the strong function of the state in maintaining capitalist, and often oligarchic, relations (Jessop, 1990; Plamenatz, 1992; Poulantzas, 1978). Here, governments worked in conjunction with dominant capitalist classes to ensure elite rule, facilitating political authoritarianism both informally and at times formally. Historically these theories were supported by the persistence of politically authoritarian yet economically capitalist states throughout the developing world during the Cold War period (see for instance Canak,

1984; Robison, 1988; Serra, 1979). However, with the fall of the Soviet Union there was a renewed optimism about the positive role of market- ization for fostering new democratic regimes (Fukuyama, 1989).

This debate has expanded recently to encompass broader discussions of the relation of democratization with globalization. Scholars increasingly focus on the effect of international factors such as marketization for positively producing democratic governments in replacement of authoritarian regimes (Drake, 1998; Whitehead, 1996). This positive view of economic liberalization as a force for democratization and against authoritarianism conforms to previous modernization theories. Economic globalization, in this sense, serves as a catalyst for a political liberalization globally. These theoretical assumptions, moreover, stand as a strong justification for policies of privatization across contexts in both developing and developed countries.

However, this positive relation has been put into question. By contrast, recent evidence suggests that policies of economic capitalism tend to weaken the prospect for political democracy nationally (O’Neal, 1994). Notably it is said to incentivize governments to pursue policies, often coercively, favoring foreign investors at the expense of popular opinion and welfare (Cox, 1996; Diamond, 1999; Gray, 1996). This view resonates with broader perspectives setting processes of marketization directly against the prospect for genuine democratic transitions due to its need for oligarchy and a strong government to legitimize such restructuring (Cammack, 1998; Im, 1987; Martin et al., 1997).

These insights resonate with recent literature chronicling the rise of enhanced political authoritarianism coupled with hyper marketization. These studies have been especially prevalent in former communist states. The fall of the Soviet Union brought with it expectations of democratization (Pickel, 1993). While this has occurred in many places nominally, the region has also experienced a preservation, and in many cases enhancement, of authoritarian forms of governance (Bunce, 2003; Heryanto, 1999). Russia is a prime example of this tension. Whereas it has successfully maintained an edifice of parliamentarianism, in practice the country has seen the retention of quite non-democratic features ranging from the presence of a “strong” national leader in Putin to the large influence of a new capitalist oligarchs (Ambrosio, 2009; Aslund, 2007; Gavrov, 2007; Hanson, 2007; Sautman, 1995; Schatz, 2009). Similarly inspired studies have concentrated on the proliferation of authoritarianism in EastAsia, even as countries across the region have increasingly embraced economic liberalization (Chang, 2002; Gills, 2000; Han and Ling, 1998; Lingle, 1996a; Robison, 1988). China remains the foremost example of this “authoritarian capitalist” state - a government whose monopoly rule not only survives amidst marketization but who in fact uses its non-democratic power to further its capitalist economic agenda (Dirlik, 1997; Ma, 2009; Tsai, 2007; Winfield and Peng, 2005).

Emerging from such country-specific studies have been novel attempts to understand more generally this new combination of political authoritarianism and economic marketization. In particular, this phenomenon has been referred to as “soft authoritarianism.” This label has been applied to a wide range of regimes internationally, all of whom have combined authoritarian rule with economic marketization (Prizel, 1997; Pei, 2000; Roy, 1994; So, 2002; Stubbs, 2001). More precisely, it has crystallized, at least in rhetoric, a popular vision of a strong nondemocratic state or leader for effectively implementing these changes for the sake of national progress and popular welfare (Gat, 2007; Rodan and Jayasuriya, 2009; Swyngedouw, 2000). Consequently, globalization has produced in its wake not only concrete authoritarian regimes but also a new authoritarian myth of capitalist development and socioeconomic prosperity (Beeson, 2010; Fu and Chu, 1996; So and Chan, 2002; Thompson, 2004).

Somewhat less explored, but in a similar vein, have been examinations of the authoritarian characteristics of established liberal democratic nations within “developed” capitalist economies. Perhaps not surprisingly, these have primarily focused on the “War on Terror” and its adoption of what for many appears to be traditionally authoritarian language and methods (Henry et al., 2005; Steger, 2008). Yet this tacit form of authoritarianism within liberal democratic settings is also witnessed in the quite prohibitive “War on Drugs,” the rise of a prison- industrial complex and the marginalization both in rhetoric and practice of groups such as immigrants and “benefit thieves” for explaining the nation’s ills (Giroux, 2007; Hetherington and Weiler, 2009). This “liberal authoritarianism” has further been associated with, though problematically only limitedly and often without proper explanations, chronic economic problems such as recession and rising inequality.

These observations have led, in turn, to theoretical discussions explaining the persistence of such explicit and implicit authoritarianism to the global spread of “neoliberalism.” According to this perspective, the proliferation of capitalism internationally is part of broader shift away from democratic forms of rule (Brownlee, 2007; Tickell and Peck, 2003). In its place will be new types of power, prioritizing the authority of corporations and their state allies on the one hand as well as the ability of individuals to “self-discipline” themselves in line with these market- based values (Giroux, 2004; Ong, 2006, 2007). Present then is the legitimization of political authoritarianism, whether through nondemocratic regimes or everyday practices of coercion, in the service of furthering corporate globalization.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics