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Tyler Cowen

China's Success Explains Authoritarianism's Allure

It's natural for people to want to copy a strong government and economic powerhouse.
A powerhouse.

A powerhouse.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel is famous for asking interviewees to describe a view they hold that other smart people they know do not agree with. A variant is to ask which views one might earnestly believe in spite of not having much hard evidence for them. And there I have a nomination: I believe that much of Western politics is becoming more authoritarian and less liberal because of the greater presence of autocracies on the world stage, most of all because of the success of China.

If I look back at the 20th century, I am struck by the pull exerted by powerful governing ideologies, even when those systems were evil or failing. Thousands of intellectuals endorsed Stalinism, even after many of its worst practices came to light. Marxism in its broader forms had more adherents yet. Extreme right-wing ideologies exercised a strong pull as well, at least until they became America’s outright enemies as the Second World War approached. Mussolini’s fascism was quite popular with many Americans, including New Deal intellectuals and leaders.