By John Dunkelgrün.
Growing up in The Netherlands in the second half of the 20th century, a generally left leaning liberal democracy, I came to believe that democracy with all its faults and drawbacks is generally good and that dictatorships are always bad, be they fascist, communist or nihilist. This view was reinforced by the aftermath of the Second World War and the Cold War.
Sure the great democracies had done and at times still did despicable things and made terrible mistakes, but given time bad leaders were exposed, rooted out or elected out. On the whole they appeared to strive for ‘the greatest good for the greatest number of people’. In general people trusted that. But slowly cracks in this world view appeared. In many cases the greatest number of people turned out to be the greatest number of like-coloured, like-believing, heterosexual, male people.
In most ‘Western’ countries this view is now fortunately changing, albeit way too slowly. In many countries and in some US states it is still not. Also, by showing that they are democratic, adult democracies develop Byzantian bureaucracies, resulting in slow and pondering decision making. By contrast dictatorships or absolutist governments can get things done.
‘Baron’ Haussmann was only able to change the layout of Paris and create its famous Boulevards because in the beginning of the reign of Napoleon III, he was almost an absolute monarch. Hitler could build the Autobahn system and, back in time, Chinese emperors could build the greatest wall on earth. And, speaking of the Chinese, the eye-popping growth of China’s development, wealth and resulting power could not have happened in a real democracy with adherence to the rule of law.
Much as most people (this writer included) in Western democracies becry China’s treatment of Tibetans, Uighurs and members of the Falung Gong, its system is undeniably very successful in providing the greatest – material – good to the greatest number of – Han Chinese – people. Could it be that countries that need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps are better served by an absolute system?
Compare the development of China with that of India, the largest democracy on the planet, which in the first decennia of its independence was governed by men who were trained in the (Fabian) socialist environments of Cambridge and Oxford and were more idealistic than practical. India has also made big strides, but its development was incomparably slower. Look also at the development of South Korea and Taiwan, both poor and war torn in 1945. Under their initial dictatorships their economies grew rapidly until in the nineties their populations had become so sophisticated and influenced by travel and education abroad that they morphed into successful democracies.
Could it be that for a country with a primitive economy, plagued by perennial food shortages and widespread poverty, the best way to rapidly provide for this greatest good for the greatest number of people an authoritarian system works best? And that it will work well until its population is sufficiently secure, educated and internationally oriented to demand personal justice and their political voice to be heard?