For stark evidence that we live in a world where political hypocrisy reigns supreme, one need look no further than Biden’s recent Democracy Summit.
The United States — which was rated for the fifth consecutive year as a “flawed democracy” by a “leader in business intelligence” — sought to project itself at last week’s summit as a leader in the fight to preserve global democracy, despite its long and dark history of overthrowing democratically elected governments and installing military dictatorships, and in spite of its ongoing support for any regime, however autocratic, that supports the interests and the objectives of the U.S. empire.
As if this wasn’t hypocritical or farcical enough, many of the countries invited to take part in the summit are governed by leaders with little concern for democratic norms, such as India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. These are authoritarian-led states, but they have strong economic and diplomatic relations with the United States.
China and Russia were not invited. Neither was Turkey because of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s extensive military deals with Russia.
The summit brought together leaders from government and the private sector, all of whom seem to have accepted the fact that democracy is under strain in today’s world, but there was no acknowledgement of the factors responsible for the weakening of democratic governance and the resurgence of authoritarianism. One heard promises to strengthen democratic accountability and expand economic opportunities, as well as protect human rights. In other words, the same blahs, blahs, blahs, delivered by leaders at Cop26.
Summarising, the Summit for Democracy wasn’t about defending democracy. It was a geopolitical maneuver to advance U.S. foreign policies objectives. The question of why democracy is under attack is therefore answered. an alarming decline across the worldremained in the air.
What is the true reason for the rapid spread of authoritarianism during the past few decades? How does it differ from political authoritarianism during the Cold War?
Today’s authoritarianism (often called “authoritarian populism”) is a complex phenomenon, with unique economic, cultural, political and social dimensions. Thus, while the ideological location of “authoritarian populism” is to be found on the far right of the political spectrum, there are important differences with regard to policymaking between regimes such as Victor Orbán’s in Hungary and Donald Trump’s during his four-year reign.
Different political contexts are also key to the resurgence authoritarianism. The rise of the new radical right in Europe is directly tied to the decline in the left. In Latin America, however, the radical right has grown during a period of sharp electoral gains for the left.
Nonetheless, what bonds authoritarian leaders in today’s world is their affinity for forms of political behavior that result in repressive measures, undermine all forms of collective decision-making — and indeed of the democratic process itself — and lead to the formation of autocratic regimes. In addition, all of the above leaders employ a rhetoric that can be loosely defined as xenophobic, if not outright racist, while seeking at the same time to gain popular support by using an ideology of extreme nationalism and emphasizing “law and order” as the basis for their political legitimacy.
Yet, we also need to understand how today’s authoritarian regimes are different from those in the past. They are run by leaders who enjoy a lot of support from the citizens of their respective nations. The new generation of authoritarian leaders did not rise to power through Coups d’étatBut through elections and with vows of transformation of the existing socio-political system. They offered quick and easy solutions for social and economic problems. They also managed to build strong support among the working-class and nonurban populations.
Take, for instance, the case of Orbán in Hungary, who was not invited to Biden’s Democracy Summit, as his policies make him a pariah within the European Union.
On the economic front, Orbán developed a set of unorthodox but populist programs that came to be known as “Orbánomics.” Briefly, “Orbánomics” combine policies of increased wages, low interest rates, high value-added taxes, initially high taxes in sectors of the economy controlled by foreign capital with the aim to drive foreign players away so the industries would pass into the hands of the domestic capitalist class (corporate tax in Hungary is now among the lowest in all of Europe, but value-added taxes remain the highest in the world), and an extensive workfare program for unemployed Hungarians. It’s an economic program that can easily appeal to the average citizens, especially when compared to what they had experienced in the early years of the transition to post-communism where the ideology of the free market ran amok.
Naturally, developments on the political front do not go unnoticed either by average Hungarians. Orbán has been remaking the Hungarian state in his own image since he took charge of the country in 2010. He filled the judiciary in with members from his own party, rewrote it, placed party apparatchiks within key agencies, institutes, and schools, launched a war of the media and actually put hundreds of independent media outlets in the hands of his cronies. And he created an enormous security apparatus at border to keep refugees and immigrants away. Pro-Orbán newspapers and magazines are in the habit of even publishing the names of people considered to be enemies of the Hungarian state.
Hungary is clearly not a democracy, yet Orbán’s authoritarian politics has more supporters than one cares to acknowledge. For many citizens, Orbán’s regime is the protector of Hungary’s national interests and identity from the globalizing impacts of a ruthless capitalist economic system. Different political forces inside Hungary have forged an alliance to challenge him ahead of next year’s elections, but it would not be a shock if Orbán continues in office after April 2022. In an effort to convince voters to remain loyal, he launched a massive public spending campaign which includes, among other things, a huge tax rebate for families and an extra month’s worth of pensions. He also wants to create national panic by accusing the EU of being too generous with their tax rebates and the U.S. planning election interference.
Viktor Orbán is a textbook case of how “authoritarian populism” works in today’s world where the economics of global neoliberalism have left nation-states at the mercy of powerful market forces, eroded social institutions and deprived people of their national patrimony.
Orbán’s regime is not neoliberal per se. In actuality, Orbán’s politics constitute a reaction to neoliberal intensifications via the creation of a post-neoliberal regime which, “merges authoritarianism, racist and patriarchal nationalism, clientelism, and partial neoliberalization,” according to author and professor Dorit Geva. His regime is a far right alternative for global neoliberalism.
No doubt, this is what Trump tried to emulate from the moment he emerged on the political scene, but obviously without any interest in adopting the full package of Orbán’s “economic nationalism.”
Indeed, the spread of “authoritarian populism” is intimately connected to the intensifications of the neoliberal project in almost every case study that one wishes to examine, no matter the geographical location. Extreme neoliberal policies were implemented in Central and Eastern Europe with no regard for the community’s well-being and national patrimony. Massive inequalities were created by austerity, privatizations, deregulations, the degrading and marketization of labor, as well as the transfer of wealth from top to bottom. These are all neoliberal economic and political aims. These developments, along with a growing sense of alienation in their country due to the dominance foreign economic influence, made many easy targets for right-wing populists, particularly in light of the decline in the traditional left. As far as immigration goes, as documented by researchers Anthony Edo and Yvonne Giesing, there is “no mechanical link between the rise of immigration and that of extreme right-wing parties.” The key driver behind the rise of authoritarian populism is neoliberalism and its economic, social and cultural consequences.
In fact, this trend is evident in many European Union countries today, including France. Germany. Spain. Italy. As the devastating effects of neoliberalism are ever more evident, the West is seeing authoritarian and illiberal parties gain ground almost everywhere. The left continues to lose ground.
Surprisingly, Latin America’s extreme right resurgence occurs during a time when the country is experiencing a recession. average voters are electing and reelecting leftist governments. Extreme right-wing parties have a clear goal: to defend neoliberal capitalism and prevent socialists and radical leftists from further inroads and turning against change.
Both cases show that the shift towards illiberal democracy is being driven by the intensification and expansion of the contradictions in the global neoliberal agenda. Neoliberalism is fundamentally antidemocratic. It is actually drawn toward authoritarian politics because, as Noam Chomsky notes, it undermines democratic governance at the national and international level through the “transferring [of] policy-making to private tyrannies that are completely unaccountable to the public.”
Implementing the neoliberal plan is not a politically neutral process. To secure, maintain and reproduce its hegemony within class-disconnected societies, it is necessary to fully utilize both the repressive as well as the ideological apparatuses. Global neoliberalism has been a success because of the effective use of propaganda and state suppression. As such, authoritarianism is just a symptom of neoliberalism — a fact that neither Biden nor any of the invitees to his Democracy Summit dared to acknowledge.
It is impossible to predict what the future holds for democracy, but authoritarianism will likely stay with us as long as neoliberalism is alive. It is of some consolation, however, that “authoritarian populism” no longer has a global leader. Global authoritarianism was dealt a severe blow by Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. This is because Trump was not only an authoritarian politician, but he also embraced many authoritarian leaders over his four years of office. This allowed him to give great political legitimacy and legitimacy to the growing trend toward illiberal democracy. This was indeed a most interesting and rather unique development in the annals of U.S. politics in that, unlike most of his predecessors in the White House, who always sided with dictators and authoritarian rulers willing to cater to U.S. interests, Trump displayed support and admiration for authoritarian leaders (Putin and Erdoğan, in particular) who could be considered anything but allies of the United States.
If Trump decides to run for president in 2024, it is possible that he will return to the White House. The Democrats seem incapable or unwilling in protecting democracy in the U.S. and their inability to pass a voting right bill is very discouraging. the wave of mobilization at grassroots levels among RepublicansIt is a sign of things to come, that candidates for offices to oversee elections are being considered. The Democratic Party’s failure to advance an economic and social agenda that curtails the worst excesses of capitalism may create grounds for the further advancement of authoritarianism.
The contradictions in the global neoliberal system are directly linked to the weakening of democracy, and the rise of authoritarian politics across many parts of the globe. The progressive forces believe that restoring democracy means ending the neoliberal nightmare which has plagued the world over the past 40 years. The slide towards authoritarianism is possible even if neoliberalism is not reversed.