The latest issue of Foreign Affairs has a particularly thoughtful article by Azar Gat, “The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers,” posted today at RealClearPolitics. Gat argues, against Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis, that there is nothing inevitable about the triumph of democratic capitalism. Authoritarian capitalism can sustain a long-term rivalry with democracy, and in the shape of Russia and China may well be about to do so.
Gat’s takes us on an engrossing tour of twentieth century history, arguing that democracies triumphed over the Axis powers more because of the unique character of the United States than because of any inherent economic or military advantage of democracy itself. Even the current slow but steady world-wide shift toward democracy (the Muslim world excepted) may have more to do with the absence of supportive authoritarian great powers than with any inevitable evolution towards freedom. With Russia and China on the rise, will small- and medium-sized states begin to peel away from the democratic path?
As an historical and theoretical exercise, this is fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, if Gat is right, the practical implications are not pretty.