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THE CAPITALIST FANTASY OF AUTHORITARIAN DEVELOPMENT
The once inviolable link claimed by modernization theorists and spreading out to popular thought between marketization and democratization has been increasingly undone. Both theoretically and in practice neoliberalism produces less democracy and more regulatory, often authoritarian, forms of governance. If globalization was meant to create a universal trend toward democracy, even if only its limited liberal version, it has substantially failed on this account. In its place, is a growing authoritarian version of market development that draws its support from economic and political fantasies of state-led modernization.
Despite optimistic claims welcoming the end of the Cold War, there is an established history of authoritarian modernization connected to affective discourses of a strong and repressive state. One of the earliest examples is found in Otto von Bismarck’s iron-fisted rule as chancellor of the German Second Reich. Deploying a mixture of hard and soft authoritarianism, as well as strategic political and social reforms, he helped guide the country’s rapid industrialization. Tellingly, his rule and methods for achieving such modernization stand as a forerunner for today’s “competitive authoritarianism.” According to Bernhard (2011: 150):
One of the best ways to gain insight into the future paths of these political systems, ironically, is to look backward rather than forward, because the past can be prologue. Wilhelmine Germany is a particularly interesting point of comparison, because it had many similar characteristics. Like many of these regimes, it, too, experienced late, rapid growth and social transformation. It, too, developed a competitive form of politics that fell short of full-blown democracy.
Significantly, this authoritarian variant of capitalist development relied upon the affective appeal of a strong-man leader, able to us his power to ensure social order for the sake of attaining rapid modernization. This central responsibility of the state to guide development, and if necessary in quite heavy-handed ways, became an accepted truth of many nonWestern modernists, even those who otherwise held extensive egalitarian and liberal values. Within the context of the Middle East, Atabaki and Zurcher (2004: 4) write:
the fact that the modernists saw in an enlightened intelligentsia, which availed itself of the power of the state machinery to push through reforms, as the only possible engine of change ... meant that many of them were prone to accept the view that only the ruling institutions coordinated by a potent and
persuasive leader were able to instigate the overall needed change and reform
in order to modernize society.
This paradigm for development persisted throughout the century, evidenced, for instance, in the role of Latin American dictatorships in pushing through “neo-conservative” reforms in the 1970s and 1980s (Schamis, 1991).
These historical precedents have been updated to incorporate contemporary discourses of globalization into a new logic for authoritarian development. Economically, this is perhaps best exemplified in the “developmental model” popularized in the 1980s and 1990s in East Asia. It was characterized by the strong role of the state in instituting and managing the country’s marketization (Wade, 1990). Indeed, the success of this market-driven modernization was directly linked to the “autonomy of the state” (Jenkins, 1991). To this extent, they were often considered as socially conservative, productivist and welfare regimes (Holliday, 2000; Lee and Ku, 2007). Not surprisingly, this usually translated into formal and informal authoritarian regimes created and maintained in order to achieve a “governance that works” in a competitive global business environment.
Just as importantly, globalization provided a rich political resource for legitimizing the continuation of this authoritarianism. It was able to shield itself from domestic criticism, at least to an extent, through shifting attention to the attempts by the international community to impose its Western values on these nations. The release of the Bangkok Declaration in 1993 epitomized such efforts, criticizing the UN’s promotion of universal human rights as a potential violation of their national sovereignty. While accepting the importance of these rights, they nevertheless warned “that the promotion of human rights should be encouraged by cooperation and consensus, and not through confrontation and the imposition of incompatible values,” while emphasizing “the principles of respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as non-interference in the internal affairs of States, and the non-use of human rights as an instrument of political pressure” (United Nations, 1993). The pronouncement of these so-called “Asian values” simultaneously reaffirmed these Asian country’s commitment to corporate globalization while politically defending their right to do so on their own terms, namely against the “threat” of liberal democracy (Subramaniam, 2000; Thompson, 2001). In its place, they championed their own authoritarian system of “Asian democracy” (Hood, 1998).
In a similar fashion, countries are using the affective discourse of state-guided development to stabilize and entrench neoliberal “reforms.” This is especially the case in contemporary Latin America. The fall of the “Washington Consensus” as a model for modernization (Gore, 2000) created a political vacuum demanding novel articulations of the relation between the public and private sectors. Rising inequality and deteriorating social welfare throughout the region linked to policies of privatization and deregulation catalyzed novel approaches for involving the government in development while not sacrificing ideological commitments to marketization. New approaches like “neo-structuralism” and “post neoliberalism” sought to merge social development and “market reforms” through a reinvigorated state (Leiva, 2008; Grugel and Riggirozzi, 2012).
The case of Chile illustrates this renewed affective discourse of an enhanced state for moderating the effects, though not directly challenging or regulating, ongoing processes of marketization. Touted as a global success story, the Chilean government has strategically permitted demands for greater equality to exist at the social margins - for instance with unions in the mining industry - without deviating from the country’s overall neoliberal direction (Singh, 2012a; 2012b). The government, in this regard, stands as both the protector of market reforms and of the interests of a wider population often adversely affected by these policies. Nonetheless, the country faced nationwide protests over plans to mar- ketize the education sector (Somma, 2012). These protests were particularly resonant as they directly contradicted the regime’s use of education as a promised pathway for social mobility in the face of a weakened social safety net (Avigur-Eshel, 2013). Despite having one of the best human rights records in Latin America, these protests commonly resulted in enhanced police repression (Human Rights Watch, 2014b).
Crucial to this affective politics of authoritarian development, is the framing of all those who oppose neoliberal measures as “enemies” of modernization. Specifically, previous left-wing movements and ideologies were castigated as being not only wrongheaded but also dangerous. Jorge Casteneda, Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003 and one of the architects of “neo-structuralism,” distinguished a “good” modern pro-market left versus a “bad” traditional anti-market populist leftism. He described their differences as one “that is modern, open-minded, reformist and internationalist ... and the other, born of the great tradition of Latin American populism, [that] is nationalist, strident and close-minded” (Casteneda, 2006: 29).
Reflected is a present-day capitalist fantasy of authoritarian development. It consists specifically of investing in the state as the primary force for protecting neoliberalism and as such the country’s modernization efforts. This state-centric view of development translates into an embrace of the need for a strong regime willing to use repressive methods if required to fight the “enemies” of such progress. Globalization has only enhanced this affective commitment to a necessary authoritarianism for the sake of national development. Notably, it demands that states employ whatever means necessary to create a fertile environment to economically and politically take advantage of a dynamic but capricious global “free market.”