Dictators’ dual dilemma: Autocrats ‘digging their own graves’



Authoritarian regimes suffer from acute near- and long-term vulnerabilities, according to data gathered by the Asian Barometer Survey in four waves across 14 Asian countries between 2001 and 2016. What we found is that the combined role of performance and culture in generating regime legitimacy points to a long-term dilemma for authoritarian regimes, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan.

To achieve high marks for performance, both democratic and authoritarian regimes will pursue policies that promote modernisation. Yet, by definition, such policies run counter to traditional values, which helps to explain why those authoritarian countries that have modernised the fastest also have the fastest spread of liberal democratic values, especially among younger, more educated, urban citizens, he writes for ASPI’s The Strategist:

To be sure, authoritarian regimes can try to slow the erosion of democratic values, as China has done with its campaigns to revive Confucianism and promote a cult of President Xi Jinping. These efforts encourage younger and more educated citizens to feel proud of their country’s traditions and accomplishments. Yet the same cohorts are increasingly determined to assert their individuality, protect their personal and property rights, and learn more about the outside world. They want an accountable government that abides by the rule of law.

The better an authoritarian regime performs in its mission to modernise society, the more rapidly liberal democratic values will replace traditional values, and the larger the proportion of the population dissatisfied with authoritarian rule will become, adds Nathan, a former board member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The most effective authoritarian regimes, then, are gradually digging their own graves. RTWT


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