This book will hopefully provide a fresh perspective for understanding the relationship of authoritarianism and capitalism both generally and as specific to this current era of globalization. To do so it will explore this diverse authoritarian politics of capitalism within a range of national and international contexts. It will do so by first providing a historical overview revealing the previous linking of capitalism ideologically and in practice with both democratic and authoritarian political discourses. Central to this historical account will be the ways capitalism dealt with ideological challenges, similar to other economic belief systems such as communism, through political fantasies that championed authoritarian governments and policies. It will then update this largely hidden authoritarian history of capitalism to the contemporary period revolving around discourses of globalization.
From this foundation it will examine the proliferation of capitalist fantasies of political authoritarianism in rising despotic “state market” powers such as Russia and China, “developing countries” like Singapore and Mexico who legitimize formal and informal authoritarian rule through discourses of “modernization” and “democratization,” respectively. It will then shift its attention to longstanding liberal democratic regimes who have drawn on globalization discourses, such as the “War on Terror,” for granting the state greater power to use “illiberal” measures to protect liberal democracy politically and neoliberalism economically. Following this investigation, it will interrogate the paradoxical way international capitalist institutions, notably the IMF and World Bank, have encouraged authoritarian capitalism at the national level in the name of maintaining a “responsible” international financial order. It will conclude by highlighting theoretically and empirically how the global spread of capitalism strengthens political authoritarianism.
The second chapter will provide a historical account linking the evolution of economic capitalism to political fantasies of progress. This will explore, in particular, the connection of marketization to affective discourses stressing at different times democracy, colonialism and political authoritarianism. It will also reveal how leaders attempted to deal with the inability of capitalism to always deliver on its promises of prosperity, especially in bourgeoning liberal democratic countries, with fantasies demonizing social groups involving the deployment of a range of authoritarian rhetoric and concrete methods.
Chapter 3 looks in more depth at how present-day globalization has contributed to these historical trends. The ideologically closed nature of corporate globalization, reflected in popular understandings of it as “inevitable,” produces resurgent desires for personal and collective agency. These desires are translated politically into a renewed appeal to the power of the state to recapture this lost sense of freedom and collective self-determination. In particular, it presents the government as effectively able to shape and guide globalization for the needs of its citizens. Consequently, these longings for sovereign protection become channeled into affectively resonant capitalist discourses of political authoritarianism.
Chapter 4 will examine the growth of new national regimes combining traditional authoritarian politics with the promotion of intensified economic marketization. Focusing particularly on the cases of China and Russia, it will trace out the shared legitimization of this form of authoritarian politics and capitalist economics through a fantasy of state-led market progress. It will then reveal how the closed ideological nature of capitalism as a “global” economic project - one where other ideas of economic development are marginalized or repressed - contributes to a matching authoritarian politics revolving around the state’s singular ability to popularly guide this “inevitable” marketization against internal and external enemies.
In a similar vein, Chapter 5 looks at how affective authoritarian discourses linked to values of “modernization” and “democratization” are legitimizing neoliberal development. In particular, it will concentrate on how policies of marketization and privatization within “developing” countries have been conjoined with explicit and implicit political fantasies extolling the dominant function of the state for achieving and preserving national development. It will do so through the case studies of Singapore and Mexico, where aspirations for economic and political “modernization” have been strategically deployed to justify authoritarian rule and marketization policies for advancing the country.
Chapter 6 investigates the seemingly paradoxical deployment of authoritarian political rhetoric and practices by established liberal democratic regimes. This can be witnessed, for instance, in the West’s ongoing “War on Terror,” as well as enhanced policing to deal with internal threats ranging from “terrorists” to “immigrants” to social deviants such as drug users and “benefit thieves.” To explain this apparently contradictory phenomenon, the chapter will explore the displacement of social and economic dissatisfaction, structurally related to policies of increased financialization, onto a demonized external or internal “other.” More precisely, it champions the ability of a state to extend its power politically to spread liberal democracy abroad and protect it at home, while accepting its dramatically retreating role economically. It will also reveal how this discourse of liberal authoritarianism actively prevents the development of more democratically substantive and empowering forms of politics, as well as geographically confining popular rule to national boundaries.
Chapter 7 surveys the use of authoritarian fantasies to legitimize capitalism globally. It will do so through examining the accepted power of international institutions such as the IMF and World Bank to dictate national policy to reflect a narrow neoliberal economic agenda. In particular, it emphasizes its empowering of national governments to police itself and its citizens for the sake of preserving a “responsible” global free market. Such national “self-disciplining” is connected to a broader fantasy of governments using their power, even if necessarily repressively, to ensure that their country can survive and flourish in this international capitalist order. It also reveals how this fantasy empowers international institutions such as the IMF to “discipline” fiscally “irresponsible” states.
The eighth and final chapter concludes with an analysis of the common connection between these various forms of authoritarian capitalism. It will highlight how this analysis reveals the positive and dangerous relationship between economic capitalism and political authoritarianism. It will discuss, in this respect, how corporate globalization is historically, politically, affectively and structurally producing authoritarian capitalism.