Economic Depression and Authoritarianism (Musing)

Just been musing, as one does, on the current trend in the world towards authoritarianism.  Of instability and the rise of the far-right in Europe, of defeats for freedom in Russia, Egypt, Syria, Mali, Iran, and increasing authoritarianism in countries like Venezuela, Ukraine, Turkey. I don’t know, perhaps reading this article* has just left me particularly gloomy, but there seems a tough fight ahead for democracy around the country.  I vaguely wrote about this earlier this year.  And I was wondering – this is just me musing – how much of a link there could be between economic depression and increasing authoritarianism in countries. I think there is an undeniable link between economic problems and a growth in right-wing movements, as cultural tensions increase and immigration becomes more unpopular.  But is there a link with the behaviour of the governments which are actually in power?

If we look at history, the best example would be the Great Depression in the early 1930s.  I’ve only studied Germany in great detail, but I know that the economic crisis Germany faced was a significant, if not the major reason the Nazis came into power.  They were able to exploit distrust in official establishments, offer a solution, offer hope.  Of course other factors were also important, and perhaps crucial, such as the aftermath of the First World War, Germany’s newness to democracy, etc.  However, I would presume that the growth of fascism elsewhere was also at least partly linked to the Great Depression.

If we assume that there is a link between economic depression and authoritarianism – or even just say that democracy struggles in these conditions – then we can at least agree that the impact now is less than in the 1930s.  I often remind myself of this if the world ever seems particularly hopeless – it was even worse back then, but we got through it.

Another significant reason there’s been an increase of authoritarianism that’s worth noting, in my view, is the aftermath of the Arab Spring.  Dictatorships around the world have released how real and present a threat their own people pose to them and have consequently taken action to further oppress their people.  Davies’ J Curve suggest that the most stable states are either democratic or totalitarian, so these dictatorships have taken the route of further oppression to stay in power.  This does not mean that democracy is weakening but that it is growing strong enough to absolutely terrify the few remaining dictators.  Of course, the Arab Spring was arguably a result of economic stagnation across the Middle East and North Africa, so there could be another link with economic depression.

As I said, these are just musings – I’m sure there are probably quite a few flaws in my arguments.

*That article really makes you loath Putin, doesn’t it?

1 thought on “Economic Depression and Authoritarianism (Musing)

  1. I wouldn’t say quite loath Putin, he’s not exactly Stalin. From a Western perspective he has always kept the Russian Union “safe”, both from a military and economic viewpoint.
    But domestically he has set up a pseudo-democracy. As long as citizens don’t “rock the boat”, and don’t confront the regime and the “establishment”, they should receive no problems.
    But anyone taking active political measures against the regime will invariably end up in one of Russia’s charming jails. They even locked up that punk group ! And I’m sure Amnesty International has a long list of Russian “prisoners of conscience”.

    Your other analysis hits the nail on the head. During the 1930s all the nations pulled apart during the Great Depression, putting up tariffs to protect their own industries. This just made the Depression worse. The difference now is that, although the process can be rather shambolic, there have been any amount of conferences between nations to try to sort it all out. Then there is the World Bank and the International Monetary fund to help out if they can. The point being that most of the world if anything is in a recession, and not a depression. Some countries like Greece are really struggling yes, but they are getting help from many countries and institutions.

    So the chances of a World War Three are minimal. The biggest violent threat is and will continue to be from international terrorism.

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