From Walter Russel Mead at The Wall Street Journal, The ‘Crisis of Democracy’ Is Overhyped
But the failures of authoritarian states are often far graver than the problems that preoccupy the professional hand-wringers of the liberal West. There are no crises in the democratic world that match the economic meltdown in Iran, the hellish conditions in Syria, or the turmoil in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where efforts to eliminate an Ebola epidemic are hampered by armed militias.
Even China, often described as the poster child of the new authoritarianism, is failing key tests of governance. Chinese censors are scrubbing images of Winnie the Pooh from the internet; the Bear of Very Little Brain is said by some to bear a subversive resemblance to Xi Jinping. But the authorities seem paralyzed when it comes to more consequential issues.
Chinese leaders know that their country suffers from massive overinvestment in construction and manufacturing, that its real-estate market is a bubble that makes the Dutch tulip frenzy look restrained, that both conventional debt and debt in the shadow-banking system are too large and growing too rapidly. But even as the Communist Party centralizes power and clamps down on dissent, it dithers when it comes to the costly and difficult work of shifting China’s economic development onto a sustainable track. Chinese authorities have tried to tackle some of these problems, but often retreat when reforms start to bite and powerful interests push back.
Just as the left in the first Progressive Era admired the communists in Russia and ignored, or worse rationalized and justified the pain they inflicted, the modern left like Thomas Friedman and Naomi Klein wrote articles admiring authoritariansim in China and Venezuela. In a 2009 NYT article Friedman wrote wrote:
“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”
Naomi Klein “signed a petition headlined, “We would vote for Hugo Chavez.” Three years later, she lauded Venezuela as a place where “citizens had renewed their faith in the power of democracy to improve their lives.”
Dysfunctional ideology lasts just long enough to make fools of shallow pundits.
The frustration of our democracy has many reformers wishing for a benevolent dictator. The problem is that when they cease being benevolent, they remain a dictator.