What have the Romans ever done for us?*

by John Quiggin on February 21, 2008

Most long-lived dictatorships have at least some positive achievements, and, the world being what it is, most dictators have some unattractive enemies. These facts have generated a couple of marathon threads here, following Chris post’ on Castro and mine on Suharto** , not to mention vast numbers on Saddam. Then there’s Algeria and Pakistan, where dictatorial governments have had plenty of fans.

What are the implications of these facts, both for the policies we should support and for the moral judgements we should offer? I have a couple of fairly obvious points to make about policy, and some less clear thoughts about moral judgements.

First, up it is sometimes necessary to deal with dictators in order to defeat their even worse enemies, the most obvious case being the alliance with Stalin in World War II. But, as on other points, relying on precedents set in that worst of extreme cases is likely to lead you astray. Most of the time, cutting a deal with the lesser evil is a mistake. Today’s lesser evil (Saddam or bin Laden in the 1980s) may turn out to be tomorrow’s greater. More importantly, complicity in the crimes of a dictator throws away many of the moral advantages of democracy, advantages that have repeatedly outweighed temporary gains in military effectiveness.

Second, while the end of dictatorship is desirable, it’s not true that there is nothing worse than a dictatorship. A dictator can be replaced by an even worse successor or by chaos in which the positive achievements of the regime are lost and nothing is gained. Given a choice between a dictatorship and a democratic alternative with a plausible chance of success, there’s no alternative but to support democracy. But a decision to smash an existing regime in the hope that something better will turn up (or, as Robespierre put it, to export liberty at bayonet point) is usually a mistake, if not a crime.

On moral judgements, I’m pretty much an absolutist. Dictators may do some good, but on average less good than democracy, with all its faults. Unless there’s a strong reason to believe otherwise, I’m going to put better-than-average performances under dictatorship down to luck rather than dictatorial merit. And while it’s tempting to give a pass to a dictator who is willing to impose some policy program that seems good to you, but not to the inhabitants of the country concerned, none of us has the kind of infallibility required to justify this. There may be occasions on which dictatorship is the only alternative to civil war and chaos, but any dictator who wants to make such a claim ought, like Cincinnatus (at least in the version I was taught at school), to retire as soon as the immediate crisis is over, and take his chances with the judgement of his successors.

So, even though unappealing people will be celebrating for the wrong reasons, I’m glad to see Castro go. I hope that his brother won’t outlast him long and that Cubans rather than external enemies will be the ones who bring an end to his government. I hope that Cuba will be as lucky in the succeeding governments as Indonesians have been in the governments that followed the downfall of Suharto.

* I was just settling down to type this title when it appeared 310 comments into the thread on Chris’ post on Castro

** Actually, it was about post-Suharto Indonesia, but the comments thread was rapidly derailed.

{ 102 comments }

1

abb1 02.21.08 at 12:55 pm

There may be occasions on which dictatorship is the only alternative to civil war and chaos, but any dictator who wants to make such a claim ought … to retire as soon as the immediate crisis is over

The (potential) immediate crisis may never be over. Look at Yugoslavia functioning fine under Tito and turning into bloody hell almost immediately after his death. That’s why it’s not really black-and-white, it’s a matter of judgment, politics.

2

Random African 02.21.08 at 1:14 pm

The (potential) immediate crisis may never be over.

Or Mobutu (though it didn’t really seem to function fine at all)

3

Tracy W 02.21.08 at 1:15 pm

First, up it is sometimes necessary to deal with dictators in order to defeat their even worse enemies, the most obvious case being the alliance with Stalin in World War II. But, as on other points, relying on precedents set in that worst of extreme cases is likely to lead you astray. Most of the time, cutting a deal with the lesser evil is a mistake.

And how do we tell the difference between “the worst of extreme cases” and the other cases when cutting a deal with the lesser evil is a mistake?

Furthermore, what about all those cases where we want something from a dictatorship – like Indonesia to stop the pollution that created smog across South-East Asia? Riding in and installing a democracy is out by your logic, is it admittable to cut a deal with a dictatorship to protect the environment?

How about cutting a deal with a dictatorship to get a hand on important medical scientific research? For example, NZ cooperated with Cuba on developing a vaccine for menningitis (I forget which exact type). Was that morally wrong?

Unless there’s a strong reason to believe otherwise, I’m going to put better-than-average performances under dictatorship down to luck rather than dictatorial merit.

In general I believe there is some merit in attributing better-than-average performances to luck rather than merits. From memory, economic studies of the relationship between economic policies and GDP growth in OECD countries have generally found that there is a strong random walk, with the exception of Japan’s catchup. These are of course studies of mostly democracies (OECD countries are used because typically they’re the only countries with a decent time-series), but the same seems likely to be true of dictators.

On more specific policy areas than GDP generally, this seems an odd attitude to take. Why?

4

Marko Attila Hoare 02.21.08 at 1:15 pm

A very thoughtful post, with which I broadly agree. One of the problems with dictatorships is that, while they may genuinely be able to achieve positive things in the short term, they tend to outlive their positive side, and become a brake on further positive development. And the longer an obsolete dictatorship remains in power, the more it is likely to jeopardise or negate its earlier achievements. If, thirty or forty years ago, Castro had managed a transition to democracy in Cuba, instead of being determined to keep his regime in power indefinitely, one might evaluate the Cuban Revolution less negatively.

On the other hand, if the ‘gains of the revolution’ dissolve as soon as the dictatorship falls and democracy is introduced, then those ‘gains’ were a castle built on sand in the first place. In which case the dictatorship wasn’t worth it.

A final judgement on a dictatorship’s alleged achievements can be made only after democracy has been introduced, and we can see just how many of those achievements have proved durable.

5

jamie k 02.21.08 at 1:34 pm

“A final judgement on a dictatorship’s alleged achievements can be made only after democracy has been introduced, and we can see just how many of those achievements have proved durable.”

Wait a minute. So if an elected successor regime abolishes something established under the previous regime that might be good in itself, that only goes to show that it was never worth having?

6

ajay 02.21.08 at 1:37 pm

Look at Yugoslavia functioning fine under Tito and turning into bloody hell almost immediately after his death.

Tito died in 1980; Yugoslavia remained unbloody and non-hellish for the rest of the decade, with the wars only breaking out in 1991. I don’t think they were the result of “ancient ethnic hatreds” so much as the product of the desire by the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government to keep hold of bits of the country that wanted to secede.

7

Ragout 02.21.08 at 1:39 pm

relying on precedents set in that worst of extreme cases is likely to lead you astray.

And this post, which seems mainly informed recent US actions in Iraq and the war on terror, is a good example. What does this post tell me about whether the US should cut a deal with Pakistan, or should have intervened in the Korean War? I guess this post implies that the US shouldn’t invade China, but are we complicit with them because we let China in the WTO? Or fail to support a seat for Taiwan in the UN?

8

Marko Attila Hoare 02.21.08 at 1:41 pm

“So if an elected successor regime abolishes something established under the previous regime that might be good in itself, that only goes to show that it was never worth having?”

Well, if a dictatorship makes certain ‘reforms’ that lack popular acceptance, and an elected successor regime then reverses those reforms on the basis of a popular mandate, then I don’t think those transient reforms can have justified the abuses that the dictatorship involved.

9

Matt 02.21.08 at 2:05 pm

Be careful, John, or Brad Delong will start calling you a “fan of Castro” and a “worm”. I know nothing you’ve said here could support the idea you’re a fan of Castro but so far Brad’s not let that stop him in his silly name-calling.

10

christian h. 02.21.08 at 2:19 pm

Define democracy. Define dictatorship.

I do not agree at all that states usually called “democracies” by liberals are in any way “morally” (whatever that is) superior to certain states usually called “dictatorships”. Internally, capitalist democracies use softer methods of control, and yeah, I’d agree that they are preferable to, say, the Gulag. Externally, however, advanced capitalist nations routinely engage in imperialism and neocolonialism, and this changes the equation.

Who are we to tell the victims in Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq, Somalia, etc. pp. that they should rejoice, b/c their suffering was caused by a democracy?

In light of this “universal violation of human rights”, human rights absolutism is profoundly apolitical; it disregards power differentials; it leads to equating the oppressor and the oppressed.

11

Anderson 02.21.08 at 2:20 pm

but so far Brad’s not let that stop him in his silly name-calling

Pooh. What’s “silly” is any reaction to Castro other than “good riddance.”

The good he accomplished, a democratic Cuba could have achieved, and then some. The evil is his own.

12

Martin Wisse 02.21.08 at 2:35 pm

A democratic Cuba of the sort you want was never on the cards. Way back then it was Castro or Batista and at the very least Castro was and is an immense improvement on Batista. Undemocratic regimes can still be legitamite, as long as they (largely) keep the support of their people; for all that the exiles disagree, Castro has mostly had this support.

13

Uncle Kvetch 02.21.08 at 2:45 pm

These facts have generated a couple of marathon threads here, following Chris post’ on Castro and mine on Suharto** , not to mention vast numbers on Saddam.

Perhaps I’m picking a nit, but I call apples & oranges on this one. As we’ve seen, with Castro, Suharto, and Pinochet, there’s at least room for discussion. I really see no analogous “yes, but” situation with Saddam, no “accomplishments” that could balance out the horrors of his rule. I’d put him in another category, with Mugabe and the Burmese junta.

The fact that life for many, perhaps most, Iraqis has gotten even worse since his overthrow says far more about the profound stupidity and amorality of US foreign policy than it does about Saddam’s “good side.”

And I say this as someone who has opposed the US invasion and occupation of Iraq from the beginning.

14

Glen Tomkins 02.21.08 at 2:47 pm

Roman dictatorship

In the early Roman republic, the dictatorship was a constitutionally limited office. A dictator would be elected by one of the popular assemblies for a limited term (defined either by a time interval or the achievement of a set goal), with the particular laws he was allowed to circumvent specified in his election.

In almost all cases, the reason for the election of a dictator was a military emergency, and the laws the dictator was allowed to set aside involved the normally strict controls on recalling veterans to military service. The early republic had a purely citizens’ army, with no training other than the on-the-job training of fighting and surviving a military campaign. The veterans of one or more such campaigns were thus of much greater military value than first-time citizen soldiers. But, because these citizen soldiers had less dangerous day jobs that they needed to attend to, there were strict legal limits that required the burden of military service to be rotated to green citizens in order to spread that burden evenly. These restrictions resulted in the army usually available to the annually elected consuls being small and inexperienced, and not infrequently getting into trouble that required a dictatorial army to be raised to restore the situation.

This is exactly what happened with the famous dictaroship of Cincinnatus. The small and inexperienced bi-consular army for that year had managed to get itself trapped by the Samnites. So Cincinnatus, who had had already been a consul in a prior year and successfully led the army, was elected dictator with the power to ignore the usual exemptions granted by prior service in drafting an army to deal with the emergency. So he raised a large army of veterans, quickly rescued the biconsular army, and then, the term of his office ended upon accomplishment of its assigned task, he marched his veteran army home to disband it, and himself, back to their day jobs.

The more modern usage of “dictator” to mean someone who grabs power outside of and against the law, derives from the abuse of the office in the late republic. There this previously constitutional office was used as a PR mask to lend some semblance of legality to the raising or maintaining of armies outside the usual restrictions by generals who then used these forces to rule by force.

15

Random African 02.21.08 at 3:05 pm

I really see no analogous “yes, but” situation with Saddam, no “accomplishments” that could balance out the horrors of his rule.

secularization, women’s rights.. (no it doesn’t balance out the horrors but I’m pretty sure some people miss those elements)

16

Seth Edenbaum 02.21.08 at 3:11 pm

I amazes me that everything in these arguments comes down to simple dichotomies and binary logic. It’s stupid. The debate is more about ego (and taboos) than anything: Who is closer to sainthood? “Well, not you obviously!!”
While many of the dictators the west supported overthrew democracies, Castro and others were nationalists who overthrew dictators who were clients of the west, or threw out colonial powers themselves. And many of them were in turn thrown out with the support of the west. These leaders like Suharto, who “returned” their countries to the earlier order (the sort who would have replaced Castro if we could find a way to do it) were the the most bloody by far. The historical pattern: first national autonomy, then democracy. Stabilization takes time, and lives. Western mechanizations add another bloody stage. Castro fed the poor at the expense of economic “freedom.” Sweden does the same thing, but by consensus. Apartheid S Africa was a colonial power. In Angola, Cuba was not. Castro was a dictator. I would take the ranting over him more seriously if it did not come from those without much of a record of supporting autonomy in the first place.

There is no need to defend dictators and dictators or dictatorships to understand that societies at some point have to make their own way to political maturity. Post-colonial babysitters are the grandchildren of colonial overlords, and they have their own interests, as people do here. Call my moral logic long term consequentialism if you want, or realism. Most of this debate is about the need to feel good about yourself, not the obligation to understand yourself or others. Again self-awareness is not a strong point of anyone here at CT.

And the defenses of Israel, a state that bases its autonomy on the lack of it for millions, that has maintained a crushing military occupation for 40 years, I find utterly grotesque. Again more about post war psychology of jews and western goyim than anything. I’m more convinced than ever that context free rationalism is just way to avoiding moral responsibility, a way of avoiding the moral complexities of the world. This discussion has been absurd from the moment it began.

17

Matt 02.21.08 at 3:21 pm

_Again self-awareness is not a strong point of anyone here at CT._

You know, Seth, I find this really, really funny comming from you.

18

SG 02.21.08 at 3:21 pm

John, your points might work except for the example of Palestine. What has “free and fair elections” brought them in the last few years? They voted for the least corrupt party, and they got a blockade, a coup and multiple incursions.

Why should we think Cuba would have been any different at any point in the last 50 years, and until we have a reason to think that, why should we accept that “democracy” would have been anything (in reality) except a rapid return to right-wing (instead of left-wing) dictatorship.

I also note that this year I have been reading accounts of starvation deaths in Argentina, apparently a liberal democracy with free markets. What should I make of this?

19

Great Zamfir 02.21.08 at 3:39 pm

sg, Argentina is free and capitalist. So those people voluntarily chose to maximize their welfare by starving to death, so this was the optimal outcome for all involved. At least, that’s what some would argue…

20

SomeGuy 02.21.08 at 3:52 pm

Wasn’t it the Aequians? I thought the Caudine Forks was the Samnites.

21

abb1 02.21.08 at 4:09 pm

Maybe a political system could be represented by a point on a continuum between direct democracy and totalitarism. Then one could argue that the optimal point is maximum democracy that can be achieved for the desired level of stability. This model is not binary (like the ‘democracy vs. dictatorship’), but still, I admit, rather simplistic…

22

Tracy W 02.21.08 at 4:17 pm

A final judgement on a dictatorship’s alleged achievements can be made only after democracy has been introduced, and we can see just how many of those achievements have proved durable.

One could say roughly the same thing about any particular democratic government’s achievements. However, those of us who live in democracies are expected to vote every three to five years, which requires making a working judgment about the most recent government’s achievements.

A democratic Cuba of the sort you want was never on the cards. Way back then it was Castro or Batista and at the very least Castro was and is an immense improvement on Batista.

I don’t agree with this. It’s too deterministic. Politics in every country I know about in detail throws up surprises, why would Cuba be the only country to have two choices?

Who would have predicted that Germany would turn into a democratic country post-WWII? Or that India would get through its 1970s constitutional crisis so well? I remember in high school faithfully writing letters to the NZ government about East Timor for AI, and regularly getting replies back saying that the occupation of East Timor was a done deal and there was no point in putting any pressure on. As a result of East Timor’s independence despite the NZ government’s opinion, I place very low value on statements that say things like “a democractic Cuba was never on the cards”.

23

Glen Tomkins 02.21.08 at 4:17 pm

Someguy,

Of course you’re right, it was the Aequi that Cincinnatus fought, some years before the Romans came in conflict with the Samnites. The Aequi had a one-consul army trapped in the hills, which was probably the similarity to the much more serious Caudine Forks emergency that jogged my memory the wrong way.

Obviously, the republic would not want to call gtomkins from his plow in the event of some cosmic emergency, since the Alzheimer’s seems to already have set in.

24

Seth Edenbaum 02.21.08 at 4:30 pm

“secularization, women’s rights…”
Both of which lacked a solid foundation outside authoritarian control. Similar situation in Iran under the Shah, Afghanistan under Najibullah and the Soviets, and Turkey. The beginnings of modernity in the most complex sense, rooted in society as a whole, are evident in the cultural renaissance in Iran in the 90’s, tied to the contradictions of new wealth, and in what we are seeing in Turkey now. The religious party is now the modern one, in both countries, though in Iran the moderns are fighting religious leadership and in Turkey they’re fighting a secular elite. Secularism will win out in due time, but not by command. If Mossadegh had stayed in power, their would not have been the backlash and delay.

Mat, a suggestion: If you’re going to make an argument, please refer to large groups of people and their actions, not one or two and their ideas. You might be surprised.

25

jamie k 02.21.08 at 4:45 pm

Marko, 8.

Well, if a dictatorship makes certain ‘reforms’ that lack popular acceptance, and an elected successor regime then reverses those reforms on the basis of a popular mandate, then I don’t think those transient reforms can have justified the abuses that the dictatorship involved.

Well of course not, but that wasn’t what you said originally:

“On the other hand, if the ‘gains of the revolution’ dissolve as soon as the dictatorship falls and democracy is introduced, then those ‘gains’ were a castle built on sand in the first place.”

The implication of this is that no policy or action can be thought of as good in itself if it is a) enacted by a dictatorship and b)repealed by an elected successor government. The fact that women could get educated free of religous harrassment under Saddam in no way justifies his regime but in itself it is better than the religous orthodoxy increasingly forced on women by the elected successor state. It has an inherent value independent of the kind of government that enacts or repeals it.

26

SamChevre 02.21.08 at 5:12 pm

Well, if a dictatorship makes certain ‘reforms’ that lack popular acceptance, and an elected successor regime then reverses those reforms on the basis of a popular mandate, then I don’t think those transient reforms can have justified the abuses that the dictatorship involved.

I would disagree with this.

I think that this is a two-axis question, and collapsing it to one axis confuses matters.

On one axis, you have dictatorship/absolute monarchy on one end, and direct democracy for everything on the other.

On the other axis, you have tolerance/property rights on one end and “whatever is not required is forbidden” on the other.

Dictators(TM) are unaccountable AND intolerant, but many real-life democracies are also intolerant, and many real-life unaccountable rulers are more tolerant than popular sentiment would be. (Best example is the difference between the Austrian monarchy’s attitude toward Jews and those of the state formed from its breakup.)

Tolerance and accountablility are both goods, and in history they’ve often been competing rather than complementary.

27

abb1 02.21.08 at 5:28 pm

Dictatorships are accountable too – Louis XVI, for example, lost his head. It’s just a matter of the level of sensitivity and mechanics. And democracies are often not very accountable; high level of corruption is one of their major characteristics.

28

Righteous Bubba 02.21.08 at 5:36 pm

Dictatorships are accountable too – Louis XVI, for example, lost his head.

I think on the sweetness continuum I prefer honey to small chunks of potassium.

29

abb1 02.21.08 at 5:56 pm

Heh.

30

Donald Johnson 02.21.08 at 6:20 pm

“I amazes me that everything in these arguments comes down to simple dichotomies and binary logic. It’s stupid. The debate is more about ego (and taboos) than anything: Who is closer to sainthood? “Well, not you obviously!!”

I’m one of the guilty parties here, but I think Seth has a point. Overstated, maybe, but he’s at least partly right about me and some others I could name (but won’t).

31

Seth Edenbaum 02.21.08 at 6:27 pm

categories categories categories. “Axis” Binary bipolar…

If the imposition of a universal good results in a backlash that reverses that imposition and delays the final social acceptance of that good for generations, then the imposition of that good was a mistake. However if the imposition of that good was accompanied with other actions of such force and violence as to reshape the landscape entirely over time [20? 30? 100 years?] then historians who did not live through the bloodshed sometimes look back impressed. The exception to that would be totalitarianism which is a very specific subset of extreme authoritarianism.

We look back with respect or more at those regimes that allowed or exhibited a vibrant social culture within their restrictive rule, and such situations occur when there are measurable, and large, distinctions between inside and outside, citizen and foreigner. Mass murder outside the walls of the city seems worse to us than mass murder within them: that’s where taboo comes in. But that applies to the culture itself not just our perceptions of it. We are more likely to admire the Duomo and the Sistine Chapel regardless of the crimes of the Church than we are the works of Albert Speer, Arno Brecker or Stalin’s portraitists. The work is simply better, more complex, more subtle. More free.

32

richard 02.21.08 at 7:22 pm

re 31: oforgodsake. We (smug historians) look back with favour on those regimes of the past that seem to accord with our current values or are bound up somehow with our current self-image (eg. through being appropriated by previous generations of historians and other political speakers as support for various ideological points). We frown on regimes that deviate from the evolutionary path that we see stretching from our own feet back into the past. “Totalitarian” is a label we reserve for a subset of those regimes we consider irreconcilable with our own path: claiming it’s an exception is a kind of tautology.

Vibrant social culture is the kind of vague value judgment that many art historians are embarrassed about these days: it confuses history with art criticism, or appreciation. simply better, more complex, more subtle. More free is a moral judgment dressed up as an aesthetic one and, I’ll bet, hard to break down into anything approaching an argument.

Mass murder outside the walls of the city seems worse to us than mass murder within them. I beg to differ. Or are you insisting that Auschwitz was not a city but a factory? How about Batavia, Nanking, Dresden or Hiroshima?

33

Marko Attila Hoare 02.21.08 at 7:29 pm

Jamie,

“The implication of this is that no policy or action can be thought of as good in itself if it is a) enacted by a dictatorship and b)repealed by an elected successor government. The fact that women could get educated free of religous harrassment under Saddam in no way justifies his regime but in itself it is better than the religous orthodoxy increasingly forced on women by the elected successor state. It has an inherent value independent of the kind of government that enacts or repeals it.”

I don’t agree. When one looks at the state of health-care in Castro’s Cuba, or of women’s emancipation in Saddam’s Iraq, one can’t simply assume that those ‘gains’, such as they are, are absolute or permanent. Sustainable health-care or women’s emancipation is worth more than transient health-care or women’s emancipation. And such social ‘gains’ that rest upon a dictatorship are very likely to be transient, because the dictatorship itself is transient.

As surely as day follows night, the present order in Cuba will eventually fall, and Cuba will become a democracy. What is the point of having a wonderful system of social welfare in Cuba if a lot of it is going to be swept away after the inevitable transition to democracy ?

By the way, I don’t believe the Cuban social welfare system is as wonderful as Castro sympathisers make out; or that what there is is all going to disappear totally after democratisation. But such as it is, it rests on much less secure foundations than the welfare states of the capitalist West, which are underpinned by democratic legitimacy.

34

abb1 02.21.08 at 7:59 pm

Marko, you seem to a proponent of Fukuyama’s “end of history” theory:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

But I don’t think most people find this theory very convincing, evolution doesn’t just stop like that. Thus Castro’s Cuba or Saddam’s Iraq might, possibly, evolve into something different than the end-point you envision. Well, obviously not Saddam’s Iraq, but Cuba still represents it’s own branch; sure, probably a dead-end, but who knows…

35

Alan Bostick 02.21.08 at 8:57 pm

ajay@6: Tito died in 1980; Yugoslavia remained unbloody and non-hellish for the rest of the decade, with the wars only breaking out in 1991. I don’t think they were the result of “ancient ethnic hatreds” so much as the product of the desire by the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government to keep hold of bits of the country that wanted to secede.

Whether or not it was the death of Tito or the collapse of the Soviet system, ancient ethnic hatreds were and are very much present in the lands that make up the former Yugoslavia. A teacher of mine has done peacemaking and community-rebuilding work in post-war Croatia. He tells the story of an interaction between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims in which one party said, “You did such-and-such to us in this war!” “Oh yeah, well you guys did something-or-other to us during the Nazi occupation!” “But you guys shafted us during the First World War!” and so forth, until in a very few minutes they were arguing over who did what to whom in the fourteenth century.

36

john c. halasz 02.21.08 at 9:38 pm

Re Yugoslavia, try tracing the troubles to the IMF imposed “shock therapy” in 1988-89, which destroyed the workers’ self-management system and resulted in mass unemployment. That Tito did manage, partly through repressive means, to forge a relatively unified and functional multi-ethnic society out of the internecine conflicts of WW2 would constitute a cautionary counter-example to the easy assumption of the virtues of “democracy” trumping the evils of dictatorship, especially since it was the interventions and abandonments of outside “democracies” that contributed so much to the troubles.

37

John Quiggin 02.21.08 at 9:58 pm

From my recollection, a further problem was that the foreign policy establishments of the European powers tended to side with their “historic allies” in the early stages of the conflict, the Germans being pro-Croat and the French and British pro-Serb. In that sense, very similar to the story in #35.

38

Laleh 02.21.08 at 10:23 pm

Re: “Ancient Hatreds” canard in Yugoslavia (and elsewhere). Historic memories of injustice have to be dredged up (or sometimes made up) and are made into a coherent narrative (from a bunch of incoherent fragments) and they have to be told and retold for them to become “common sense”. This is how nations are made, and communities (and their enemies) are imagined. Of course people doing peace-keeping after the war are going to find these narratives there. It doesn’t mean that the hatreds are “ancient”.

Re: Saddam and women. Actually, it was the Ba’ath party that brought not only women’s rights, but also one of the most progressive public health and education system in the Arab world in the 1970s. When Saddam came to power in 1979, both through direct action and indirect [and unexpected] consequences, many of these gains were rolled back.

Re: democracy, I am with Christian H. at #10. I don’t believe a “democracy” can be designated through a simple “yes/no” binary, nor that it can be assessed simply as something exercised within the interior of one’s boundaries. The definition has to be much more precise than the simple negation of dictatorship. In fact, if the US is such a democracy, how come the people most directly and catastrophically affected by its decision-making (in places like Colombia, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) have no say WHATSOEVER in the way these decisions are made? What sort of democracy is that? In fact, haven’t there been a number of political theorists and historians who have written about the ways in which “democracy” in the Metropole was bought (or legitimated) through the exploitation of the colonies?

Finally, the argument about whether or not social goods enduring after the end of a regime are an indication of how good (or bad) that regime was is a fallacious way of looking at historical/political transformations. These transformations are constant processes, born of struggle between a whole series of competing and opposing forces, sometimes defined by intention, more often through unintended consequences. Whether an institution endures or doesn’t has as much to do with today’s struggles as it does with yesterday’s pasts.

39

Seth Edenbaum 02.21.08 at 10:46 pm

marko attila hoare, read comment #24: “Iran under the Shah, Afghanistan under Najibullah and the Soviets, and Turkey.”
The questions concern whether or not those changes can be maintained, and whether or not modernity can or should be imposed, any more than democracy can or should be. The Shah’s modernity did not hold. Perhaps if it had been better managed, even with the repression and the torture, it would have, and the rule of his son or grandson would have been overthrown in a democratic revolution. Be that as it may, modernity will hold this time. That’s why Iran as a culture is not as unstable as Saudi Arabia.

alan bostik, the reactionary nationalists in Serbia and Croatia played up divisions in order to strengthen their own position, and other countries, notably Helmut Kohl’s Germany encouraged them. The same games were played without violence in Czechoslovakia, where the result was very much not inevitable. I think the same holds true for Yugoslavia.

richard, don’t talk to me about art historians; especially those who argue “there’s no such thing as great art” because some great philosopher says so. I’ve been hearing those rationalist arguments for 3o years and I’ve been sick of them for just as long. The government and people of the United States are directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of somewhere near one million Iraqis, but people around the world still listen to Hip Hop, watch MTV, and the Sopranos. “Bling Bling Bang Bang.”
Being a defender of republican forms of government, I’m not big a fan of the Emperors of China, but walking through the Forbidden City, I was impressed. It’s a beautiful example [manifestation] of a sort of philosophy I’m opposed to. History does not condemn violence, it condemns self-pity and insecure, pompous, bloviating hypocrisy. It won’t condemn Snoop Dogg but it will condemn George Bush. The monuments to the criminals of Vatican City are marvelous. The monuments to Hitler (not to his crimes) those that are left, are embarrassing: as banal as the dreams that produced them.
“Mass murder outside the walls of the city seems worse to us than mass murder within them.” Naking was not in Japan and Dresden was not in England. If they were they’d be in another category of horror. Other than gentile guilt, Israeli moralizing is taken as seriously as it is because Israel is a state and the Palestinians are stateless, and a state is considered more inviolable than a population. Similarly suicide bombing, which is responsible for less destruction than israeli helicopter gunships [hovering over apartment blocks!] is responded to with operatic horror only because of taboos about the body. There’s a linguistic and moral equivalence between the body and the state.

Finally on art in general: art is description before or without naming. That’s the definition of literature. Philosophy is the reverse. Names and naming bring recognition, status and authority. Namelessness removes it. The anti-modern backlash is made by the nameless against the naming. My criticism of posts here is about the constant naming and using of categories based on assumption: simplification not for clarity but to avoid the moral imperatives of observation.

40

Righteous Bubba 02.21.08 at 10:50 pm

History does not condemn violence, it condemns self-pity and insecure, pompous, bloviating hypocrisy. It won’t condemn Snoop Dogg but it will condemn George Bush.

Sir I submit to you that you know nothing about Snoop Dogg.

41

jamie k 02.21.08 at 11:02 pm

“By the way, I don’t believe the Cuban social welfare system is as wonderful as Castro sympathisers make out; or that what there is is all going to disappear totally after democratisation. But such as it is, it rests on much less secure foundations than the welfare states of the capitalist West, which are underpinned by democratic legitimacy.”

But what is enacted by one elected government can be done away with by another, so democratic legitimacy doesn’t necessarily make the foundations for any measure more secure. And anyway, the security of a particular measure says nothing about its value. “Putting the baby in the bathwater in the first place” is one of the weakest accusations you can make against a dictatorship.

42

Marko Attila Hoare 02.21.08 at 11:12 pm

“From my recollection, a further problem was that the foreign policy establishments of the European powers tended to side with their “historic allies” in the early stages of the conflict, the Germans being pro-Croat and the French and British pro-Serb.”

John, it’s a myth that the Germans and Croats were ‘historic allies’. Hitler supported a unified Yugoslavia and opposed Croat separatism right up to March 1941. He dismembered Yugoslavia as his ‘Plan B’, after a British-backed coup in Belgrade. Even then, he was more interested in Serbia than in Croatia, and kept Serbia in his exclusive sphere, while assigning Croatia to the role of Italo-German condominium and buffer-state.

The ‘historic German-Croatian friendship’ is a myth for which lazy and ignorant journalists in the West are largely responsible.

43

Seth Edenbaum 02.21.08 at 11:23 pm

Sir I submit to you…
that “Father Hood” is getting great ratings.

44

Quo Vadis 02.22.08 at 12:08 am

Seth @16

I think you’re trivializing this debate on the basis of the context of this debate. For some people these are not blog arguments or contests for sainthood, they are debates over policy that can affect the lives of millions or billions of people. Do you impose an embargo or ‘blockade’ on an undesirable regime or do you make them a ‘puppet’? When it comes to an economic, political and military power as influential as the US, there seems to be little middle ground. While there may be an opportunity to make all manner of moral judgments, there are, at the core, much more significant matters at stake.

On what basis should policy makers base these decisions? National self interest is the easy answer because it frees you from having to take a position on matters that are often not simply black or white. But as you demonstrate, the cynical choice has consequences.

There is no need to defend dictators and dictators or dictatorships to understand that societies at some point have to make their own way to political maturity.

No nation has ever had the opportunity to ‘make their own way to political maturity’. It is impossible to create an environment that is free from external influence or consequences. Furthermore since foreign policy is one of the outcomes of the political process, I’m not sure how your statement makes sense.

45

John Quiggin 02.22.08 at 12:58 am

#42 Most such claims are mythical, but that doesn’t stop people, like the German government, believing and acting on them. In this case, I think the real genesis of the myth is in the 1914-18 War.

46

Seth Edenbaum 02.22.08 at 1:15 am

“Do you impose an embargo or ‘blockade’ on an undesirable regime or do you make them a ‘puppet’? When it comes to an economic, political and military power as influential as the US, there seems to be little middle ground.”

“No nation has ever had the opportunity to ‘make their own way to political maturity’. It is impossible to create an environment that is free from external influence or consequences.”

The first quote says we’re the policeman who’s responsible for the block. The next one says we’re just a neighbor.

Which is it? And why?
They’re both wrong of course.

47

Quo Vadis 02.22.08 at 1:48 am

Seth @46

They’re both wrong of course.

Of course.

There is no way to do ‘nothing’. Whatever you do, you do something. When you are the US, anything you do will take on a significance beyond intention.

48

Seth Edenbaum 02.22.08 at 2:13 am

“When you are the US, anything you do will take on a significance beyond intention.”

Look up the Platt Amendment. Look up the history of economic relations between the US and Cuba, and look at the lease for Guantanamo. Ask yourself why others respond cynically to US professions of good will.
If you’re a neighbor you try to avoid unilateral action. If you’re a big man behave like a wise man not a bully. Of course in the real world things aren’t so simple. America acts like a bully and claims to be a wise man; what do you expect?
Not much. But I’m not going sit and listen to bullshit and lies.
Power corrupts, that’s why we have laws. Big men should follow them even when they have more guns than the cops. It makes things safer for all of us.
The US never embargoed Guatemala, did it?

49

SG 02.22.08 at 3:42 am

quo vadis, is that the modern version of “white man’s burden”?

50

Quo Vadis 02.22.08 at 4:22 am

sg @49

‘that’?

You may be taking the significance of my post beyond intention.

51

Roy Belmont 02.22.08 at 4:57 am

“…If, thirty or forty years ago, Castro had managed a transition to democracy in Cuba, instead of being determined to keep his regime in power indefinitely, one might evaluate…”

Lumumba, Arbenz, Mossadeq, Sukarno, Nkrumah, Sihanouk, Allende. That takes us up to 30 yrs ago.
Each name a national leader by democratic election, each overthrown by or with the specific encouragement and instruction of the same government that’s been shrieking insane propaganda a few hours boat ride north of Castro’s Cuba. None of those crimes were ever prosecuted, or admitted to, and they remain mostly unheard of by the people whose tax monies funded them.
The US multinational thug-apparatus tried a bunch of times to take Castro down. See esp. the gloriously malevolent Dr. Sidney Gottlieb and his grotesquely cartoonish exploding cigars. After you’re through chuckling about that check out Gottlieb’s scuttling trip to the Congo, and the consequent death of Patrice Lumumba.
At least somewhat because of the security of what his opponents call Cuban “dictatorship”, the US attempts on Castro’s life were all unsuccessful. Not for lack of trying, though.
Given that provable context, it isn’t just specious to suggest Castro, and through him Cuba, failed democracy’s main principles, it’s sadistic.

52

abb1 02.22.08 at 7:58 am

…it’s sadistic

Only under the assumption that Cuba is entitled to pursue anti-neoliberal socio-economic policies. It appears that the less you’re willing to submit to the neoliberal juggernaut, the less you’re compatible with what’s called “liberal democracy”.

53

Marko Attila Hoare 02.22.08 at 9:16 am

#45 “Most such claims are mythical, but that doesn’t stop people, like the German government, believing and acting on them. In this case, I think the real genesis of the myth is in the 1914-18 War.”

John, can you provide a single piece of evidence to suggest that the German government’s policy toward the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was motivated by memories of a German-Croat alliance, real or mythical ?

To talk about a ‘German-Croatian’ alliance in the 1914-18 war makes about as much sense as talking about a German-Polish, German-Czech or, for that matter, German-Serb alliance in that war. Germany was allied with Austria-Hungary, and Austria-Hungary ruled over the Croats, Czechs and large numbers of Serbs and Poles, so yes, plenty of Serbs, Croats, Czechs, Poles and others fought alongside the Germans in World War I. But to suggest that this led to a German belief in a historic ‘German-Croat’ alliance seems a bit far fetched, particularly since there is no evidence to support it.

54

Jack 02.22.08 at 10:25 am

Marko, you are wrong about the German-Croatian alliance. Bavaria is full of weekend warriors who would drive to Croatia to fight with the Croats in the early 90s. I’ve seen the videos.

Whether it is 1914-1918, the Catholic Church or memories of summer holidays I couldn’t say but there is a strong current in Germany on the side of Croatia and a partial description of Hitler’s policies is no kind of refutation of such a claim.

55

novakant 02.22.08 at 10:29 am

I think only Hans-Dietrich Genscher would be able to answer this question conclusively (he’s written two memoirs, so there’s probably something in there). Still, I always found the talk about a German Croat friendship a bit dubious, especially since Germany also recognized Slovenia at the same time. Also, Genscher never struck me as a guy who would pay much attention to age-old ‘friendships’ between nations or peoples. I think it’s a fair bet that he just saw the Serbs as oppressive and was supporting the right of peoples to self-determination.

56

novakant 02.22.08 at 10:43 am

Jack, there certainly is a seedy underbelly of German history which can be readily exploited by Bavarian weekend warriors and other people stuck in the past, but I’ve seen no evidence that the actions of the German foreign office were determined by it.

57

Tracy W 02.22.08 at 10:50 am

If you’re a neighbor you try to avoid unilateral action.

Really? Not my experience with neighbours.

If you’re a big man behave like a wise man not a bully.

The problem is figuring out the difference.

General advice to “behave like a wise man” is useless. No one would ever advise someone to “behave like a stupid man”. The reasons we do stupid things are complex and myarid, not simply that no one ever told us not to do stupid things.

58

Marko Attila Hoare 02.22.08 at 11:07 am

“Marko, you are wrong about the German-Croatian alliance. Bavaria is full of weekend warriors who would drive to Croatia to fight with the Croats in the early 90s. I’ve seen the videos.

Whether it is 1914-1918, the Catholic Church or memories of summer holidays I couldn’t say but there is a strong current in Germany on the side of Croatia and a partial description of Hitler’s policies is no kind of refutation of such a claim.”

It’s certainly true that Germany provided diplomatic support for Croatia in the autumn of 1991. The point is, this support had nothing to do with any supposed ‘historic German-Croatian friendship’, because there never was such friendship. Rather than seriously analyse the reasons for German support for Croatia in 1991, a lot of journalists just fell back on lazy Basil-Fawlty-style stereotypes about Germans and Hitler. And the stereotypes have unfortunately stuck.

59

freshlysqueezedcynic 02.22.08 at 11:28 am

As surely as day follows night, the present order in Cuba will eventually fall, and Cuba will become a democracy.

Forgive my cynicism, but isn’t this what they said about Russia in the 90s? That “inevitability” lasted… oh, maybe a decade, maybe less if you count the constitutional crisis under Yeltsin. Our history ended! But it somehow started again.

60

Jack 02.22.08 at 11:53 am

Marko, a politician’s response but I’m not being Paxman. I’m talking about actual individual Germans going to fight for Croatia voluntarily and from the early days. If that’s not a sign of allegiance I don’t know what is.

I don’t follow your logic. I’m sure there is plenty of superficial journalism (which is not always reflective of laziness) but that doesn’t mean it was all wrong. Their fixation may not have been entirely random.

I’m also curious to know if you really only believe that something actually counts as a good thing if it is permanent in an absolute sense. Does that also apply to bad things?

61

novakant 02.22.08 at 12:05 pm

I’m talking about actual individual Germans going to fight for Croatia voluntarily and from the early days. If that’s not a sign of allegiance I don’t know what is.

Again, I would urge you to make a distinction between a few rightwing nutcases, the German population at large and the German foreign policy establishment.

62

wengler 02.22.08 at 12:15 pm

I am going to say very unequivocally that democratic regimes are better than dictatorships. And with the same brazen assurance, I will say that a country can’t be considered a democratic regime if some derivative of capitalist economic policy is practiced.

We have here in this country a plutocratic class that has devolved into electing a dictator to four-year terms. While the full extent of power for a President of the United States is fluid, it is currently not consistent with any prior precedent in law and has no conceivable limits that are not self-imposed. Namely, Bush has had several gross violations of the established law with no official sanction. What further violations he could impose are at his discretion, and are probably calculated by what he thinks is right and what he thinks he could get away with.

People seem to look at these concepts in very simple ways and avoid all the messy details that are the most important features of any conceptual framework. Cuba right now has a one-party state that propounds a socialist ideology with state control of most assets. What if this was changed to a multi-party state that propounds a socialist ideology with assets being controlled by the state, localities, and individuals in concordance with the laws passed by the party in power. From the perspective of the US plutocrat would this be democracy?

Unreformed(19th century) US capitalist ideology promotes individual and private control of all aspects of the economy. This has also been combined with an elected government to fixed-terms to form the core of what most people in this country consider ‘democracy’. Yet there are only two major political parties in the entire country and the turnover of elected officials on the national level is extremely low. Concordantly, the US government would much rather support a rightwing dictator that promotes individual control of all aspects of the economy(a Pinochet) over a democratically-elected socialist regime, even if the US mainstream has moved away from unreformed capitalist ideology.

Capitalist republics will therefore always react in a disproportionate way to those that hold the capital in their society. Capitalist power structures are much more similar to rightwing dictatorships then they are to very democratic societies, since in the end democratic control is a huge inefficiency in the decisionmaking process that is better to be avoided when running a money-making operation.

Thus the premise of the question is largely void because it presumes that we have a sizeable sample of nations within which to examine the facts. As international norms have trended away from autocratic power, it has been important for many regimes to retain at least the facade of electoral consent. One party states still have elections, especially if they are autthoritarian/totalitarian leftwing parties, and even extreme rightwing nationalist dictators like Saddam held mock referendums on his regime. But if this topic is to be considered on the true foundations of what democracies and dictatorships mean- distributed power versus centralized power- then I have to say that there is never a situation where dictatorship is preferable. A true democratic process doesn’t allow for the harassment and death of any national minority as small squads of individuals conform to mini-dictatorships. That might be a false tautology, but when arguing in the abstract the only system of governance that preserves the decency of individual and collective power is that of democracy.

63

Jack 02.22.08 at 12:22 pm

Novakant, I don’t really disagree about Genscher save that he was a politician and therefore subject to German popular opinion and the element of familiarity with and understanding of Croatia that did not extend equally to Serbia.

There are also people in foreign policy circles who will come off the fence early and in a predictable direction and with less impeccably dry feelings. So, no treaty, doctrine or historical sentimentality among senior decision makers I take as given but they aren’t the only things that count. There was also a feeling that Germany should be more assertive at the time. Remember also that Tudjman and the Mostar crew were pretty hard to like themselves.

I think the Holbrooke diaries might also shed some light.

64

Alex 02.22.08 at 12:32 pm

Bavaria is full of weekend warriors who would drive to Croatia to fight with the Croats in the early 90s. I’ve seen the videos.

Ockham’s Razor sez: Croatian emigrants going back to do their bit/wave their willies/clean up on ciggie smuggling deals.

65

Jack 02.22.08 at 2:03 pm

Surely but not only. Those I am aware of were neither Croats nor extreme in their domestic politics. I don’t mean to exaggerate its significance, just point out that Marko is too sweeping in his dismissal. It is easy to underestimate how near the Balkans feel to people used to driving there every summer.

66

Marko Attila Hoare 02.22.08 at 2:22 pm

Jack, for the third time, the activities of weekend warriors from Germany in Croatia in the 1990s have no bearing whatever on whether there was or was not a ‘historic German-Croatian alliance’.

If, as you say, the German weekend warriors were motivated by their experience of holidaying in Croatia, then that obviously had nothing to do with any supposed ‘historical alliance’.

67

Jack 02.22.08 at 3:30 pm

Marko, only if you interpret your claim so narrowly that it would be irrelevant to John’s point.

What are you trying to imply by suggesting that many Serbs fought on the German side in WWI? That there was no significant nationalist aspect of the conflict?

68

Marko Attila Hoare 02.22.08 at 4:03 pm

Jack, if you or John or anyone else has any proof that there was a ‘historic German-Croatian alliance’ then please do let us have it. The presence of German weekend-warriors in 1990s Croatia does not prove this.

“What are you trying to imply by suggesting that many Serbs fought on the German side in WWI? That there was no significant nationalist aspect of the conflict?”

That’s a non-sequitur if ever there were one.

Since large numbers of both Serbs and Croats fought on the German side in World War I, it makes no sense to attribute German diplomatic support for Croatia against Serbia in 1991 to any German memory of WW1 alliances.

69

Jack 02.22.08 at 4:14 pm

It relates to a point you made earlier and I think your conclusion that Serbia and Croatia were not significantly on different sides in WWI is perverse to say the least.

I do think it makes sense to attribute German diplomatic support for Croatia in 1991 in part to their understanding and stronger links with Croatia in contrast to Serbia as it does for Russia in the opposite direction. I do, with you, doubt that the German diplomatic corps were motivated by an explicit desire to stick with their WWI allies but I don’t think it is coinicidence that they ended up coming down on the same side both times.

70

Cian 02.22.08 at 4:52 pm

Atilla Hoare sez:
Well, if a dictatorship makes certain ‘reforms’ that lack popular acceptance, and an elected successor regime then reverses those reforms on the basis of a popular mandate, then I don’t think those transient reforms can have justified the abuses that the dictatorship involved.

What if those reforms did have popular acceptance, but an elected successor regime abolishes them anyway? You seem to be assuming that elected regimes with a “popular mandate” (a weasel set of words, I’ve always thought) will always act with the will of the people. But we’ve seen plenty of liberal democratic regimes that have abolished popular institutions, or implemented reforms that were unpopular. You have the whole neoliberal New Zealand mess, the extremely unpopular pushing of private initiatives/PFI into the NHS in the UK to name but two (preceded by some extremely unpopular privatisations). Currently we are seeing another example of “democracy” with the European constitution which is being passed by elected parliaments, despite the fact that a pretty similar version was rejected by popular referendums.
In the third world this is far more common, sometimes with IMF connivance, sometimes without.

71

Cian 02.22.08 at 4:52 pm

Incidentally, where does Singapore fit into all this moral condemnation of dictatorships? Do we really believe that Yeltsin’s democratic Russia was better than Putin’s semi-dictatorship? Or is there some room for shades of gray here?

72

seth edenbaum 02.22.08 at 4:58 pm

If Kohl was not playing into ethnic religious tension by design it seems he did so nonetheless. And Bush is doing the same thing in Kosovo. The same stupidity.

tracy w, #57 “General advice to “behave like a wise man” is useless.”
It’s generally assumed and for good reason that if you’re the big kid on the block, violence on your part is unnecessary. Ask a bouncer who’s good at his job. He’ll explain. If you’re interested in more than peacemaking, if you’re interested in control, that changes things. “Of course in the real world things aren’t so simple. America acts like a bully and claims to be a wise man; what do you expect? Not much. But I’m not going sit and listen to bullshit and lies.”
I guess you’d have me do just that.

73

abb1 02.22.08 at 6:08 pm

I will say that a country can’t be considered a democratic regime if some derivative of capitalist economic policy is practiced.

This sounds like a bit of overstatement. I don’t think capitalism and democracy are incompatible, it’s just that the bastards need to be kept in their place, prevented from taking over the aspects of life that aren’t their business.

That’s not easy, especially now as they managed to get control of an armed to the teeth superstate. But theoretically I don’t think it’s impossible.

74

Marko Attila Hoare 02.22.08 at 6:30 pm

“It relates to a point you made earlier and I think your conclusion that Serbia and Croatia were not significantly on different sides in WWI is perverse to say the least.”

Jack, with all due respect, you obviously know nothing about the ethnic geography or history of the former Yugoslavia. Are you even aware that there is a substantial Serb population outside of Serbia ?

The Serb population of Croatia, present-day Vojvodina and Bosnia lived in Austria-Hungary at the time of World War I. Consequently, large numbers of Serbs as well as Croats fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army, many of them very loyally, on Germany’s side in World War I.

“I do, with you, doubt that the German diplomatic corps were motivated by an explicit desire to stick with their WWI allies but I don’t think it is coinicidence that they ended up coming down on the same side both times.”

There was no ‘German-Croatian alliance’ in World War I, because Croatia did not exist as an independent state at the time of World War I. It’s like saying that there was a ‘Russian-Irish alliance’ in World War I.

75

John Quiggin 02.22.08 at 8:29 pm

I’m happy to admit that I’m much more convinced that the British and French foreign policy establishment was motivated by the view of Serbia as a historic ally than that the converse was true of Germany and Croatia.

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Detlef 02.22.08 at 10:18 pm

Jack,

“Marko, you are wrong about the German-Croatian alliance. Bavaria is full of weekend warriors who would drive to Croatia to fight with the Croats in the early 90s. I’ve seen the videos.

Really?
Where did you see the videos? And how many people were in it?
Somehow I don´t remember any media reports telling me most young German men of military age departed Bavaria on weekends to fight in Croatia?
Girls and young women surely would have complained? :)

If you´re telling me that some Germans might have done so, okay. Likewise, if you´re telling me that Croatian immigrants in Germany have done it.

But “Bavaria is full of weekend warriors who would drive to Croatia to fight with the Croats”?
My job requires a lot of “away from home” work. Including weekends. Believe me, a sudden large surplus of lonely young women wouldn´t have escaped me. :)

77

Scott Hughes 02.23.08 at 12:21 am

No single person can run a country. Dictators are men made by the times, empowered by their crew and the passivity of the people. I’m not sure that democracies are inherently any more effective at bringing about freedom or reducing violence. Democratic states can be violent and restrictive too. But in the end, it is the masses who really make the decisions.

78

Jack 02.23.08 at 10:57 am

Marko,
The Serb population in the Austro Hungarian Empire was not without its discontents I believe.
Would you use the fact that Jovan Divjak is a Serb to dismiss any talk of an ethnic divide in Bosnia? Do you really mean to suggest that the Serbs were as much for and the Croats as much against Austro Hungarian rule as each other? You might as well use British rule over Ireland as proof of Irish loyalty to Britain.

Detlef,
In a college room at a British university. “Full” is definitely hyperbolae but my feeling was that there were probably hundreds and that they had an order of magnitude more sympathisers and they in turn held a strong version of a more popular view and therefore that they reflected strong current of opinion not mirrored on the other side and that it also indicated the default bias at least of that part of Germany. I’m fairly sure that the pattern was repeated in Austria.

79

Marko Attila Hoare 02.23.08 at 12:36 pm

“Do you really mean to suggest that the Serbs were as much for and the Croats as much against Austro Hungarian rule as each other?”

That wasn’t the point I was making. But broadly speaking, yes.

80

Katherine 02.23.08 at 6:12 pm

I rather spent all my anti-dictator energy on the last thread about Castro, but just a thought. It is possible for a democracy to exist without requiring abuse of its populace. Whereas, and I’m happy to be proved wrong on this, it seems to be a prerequisite of dictatorship that it is repressive and abusive of human rights. Anyone have an example of a dictatorship that doesn’t fit that mould?

81

abb1 02.23.08 at 7:13 pm

Katherine, even if true (democracy is dictatorship of a majority, after all), that is not the point. Of course theoretically democracy is a better system. But can you demonstrate that for any given population under any circumstances democracy would produce a better human rights situation than dictatorship?

In Iraq, for example, dictatorship was recently replaced by a democracy, yet the human rights situation is (arguably) worse.

82

Katherine 02.23.08 at 9:15 pm

So I take it the answer to my question then is “no”.

83

seth edenbaum 02.23.08 at 9:58 pm

“It is possible for a democracy to exist without requiring abuse of its populace.”

It is also possible for a democracy to exist without requiring the abuse of a foreign populace, but that is not the history of American policy in South and Central America. Look up the history of American involvement in Cuba. Therefore the question becomes whether or not the citizens of a country would prefer a native dictator (one who is not a murdering psychopath) to the dominance of a foreign democracy. The majority of Cubans have made a choice. The US did not invade 40 years ago because the populace would have fought back. The US based minority have a PR campaign and not much else. But does this make dictatorship an ideal? No.

Can you imagine that it might have weakened Castro if the US had recognized his government and not backed fascist nutjobs in Florida? Can you imagine that moralizing idealism is often but not always[!] actually counterproductive? I can understand arguments about Cuba, I can’t even comprehend any more the arguments by people who refuse to understand the ad hoc nature of politics and life in the world; who argue against context and for rules over responsibilities as if there were never a tension between them. Without that tension there are no responsibilities at all.

84

abb1 02.23.08 at 11:11 pm

Therefore the question becomes whether or not the citizens of a country would prefer a native dictator (one who is not a murdering psychopath) to the dominance of a foreign democracy.

But, you see, the neocon types will argue that the foreign dominance will come in the form of democracy for the local population, albeit within certain parameters (required degree of neoliberalism). They will also claim that these parameters are objectively in the best interests of the population, which is, of course, a universal authoritarian argument. Sophistry, of course, but apparently quite convincing.

85

christian h. 02.23.08 at 11:58 pm

You might want to read about a large pile of democracy in this piece in the Times magazine. It’s about bringing democracy to Afghanistan, complete with officers “signing off on collateral damage” and all that stuff. You know, the good war. Capitalist democracy in its pure form – where you have the choice between a guy who wants to kill more Afghans, and a guy who wants “change”, meaning killing more Afghans and some Pakistanis, too.

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Quo Vadis 02.24.08 at 12:05 am

Democracy institutionalizes an orderly process for regime change that favors the majority. Dictatorship institutionalizes resistance to regime change and so favors those who can force or resist change through intimidation or violence. That’s why most dictators wear military uniforms.

It is difficult to imagine a situation where members of the majority would be intrinsically better off under a dictatorship.

87

seth edenbaum 02.24.08 at 2:15 am

quo,
Did you vote for Nader? Did you do so on the principle that he was better than any other candidate in the race? Because in my opinion he was better than any other candidate, by far. But you know what?
I didn’t vote for him.

The American military like all militaries, is a dictatorship. And as in many other countries that dictatorship is in the service of democracy. Kind of makes your head spin doesn’t it? Every soldier in the US army should have the reality of that contradiction drilled into them from the first day of service. It isn’t, and I’m pretty sure that many of the soldiers in our army don’t have the faintest idea what they’re supposed to be defending, I think that’s disgusting. Almost as disgusting as realizing how many civilians don’t recognize it either.
Ignorance is not good for the republic.

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abb1 02.24.08 at 9:48 am

Dictatorship institutionalizes resistance to regime change…

I think that’s right.

Democracy institutionalizes an orderly process for regime change that favors the majority.

I don’t think it’s true that it favors the majority, necessarily. What typically happens is that the population, pre-conditioned by the mass-media, is given the choice of two directions; for example, they can choose between ‘bear right’ and ‘sharp right’. Perhaps the course that favors the majority is ‘sharp left’ but that can’t be facilitated by democracy because the electoral process, mass-media, and other powerful institutions (internal and external) all favor the direction ‘right’. If the population still refuses to follow recommended direction, they can be convinced by more direct means: sabotaging their economy, military attacks, terrorism, etc.

89

harold 02.24.08 at 5:38 pm

Re-Croatia — South German ties:

Croatia Religions:

Roman Catholic 87.8%, Orthodox 4.4%, other Christian 0.4%, Muslim 1.3%, other and unspecified 0.9%, none 5.2% (2001 census) –CIA Handbook

Um, Cardinal Stepniac?

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Roy Belmont 02.24.08 at 7:00 pm

Over time the majority itself can be shaped, is shaped, or bred if you want to get Darwinian. The same processes that created the Dachshund out of the Dobermann are at work on human beings, as they are on every organism. This is maybe why so much resistance to the idea of evolution occurs in the demographic it does. A turning away from that awful thing in the mirror.
Given enough time under the right conditions the majority will be what was once a minority. Dramatic examples being the US in the 17th c., the US now, Australia 18th c. and now, etc.
It’s too obvious to run away from without schizoid self-delusion when it’s locational like that. When minority qualities are induced and enforced into becoming qualities of the majority, like shades of orchid, it’s more than subtle enough to be ignored, especially since looking at it directly’s so scary. Given cowardice is one of the more desirable attributes in a slave population that not-seeing will be reinforced, where slaves are the goal.
Which brings us around to Edenbaum’s “Ignorance is not good for the republic.”
True, but as with domestic animals, because it makes them malleable and less likely to rebel, ignorance and cowardice are sought-after qualities in slaves. And slaves are good for empire.

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Katherine 02.24.08 at 7:21 pm

“f…or example, they can choose between ‘bear right’ and ‘sharp right’. Perhaps the course that favors the majority is ‘sharp left’ but that can’t be facilitated by democracy because the electoral process, mass-media, and other powerful institutions (internal and external) all favor the direction ‘right’. If the population still refuses to follow recommended direction, they can be convinced by more direct means: sabotaging their economy, military attacks, terrorism, etc.”

That may well be the case currently within the UK and the US, but it certainly isn’t inherent to democracy. Witness, for example, the setting up of the welfare state and the NHS in Britain after WWII. Britain was at that time, I do believe, a democracy. I think it is fair to say that that was a sharp turn leftwards.

I note that for all the discussions about the failures of democracy, most of which I agree with, the answer to my question is still no.

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abb1 02.24.08 at 9:04 pm

Well, wikipedia suggests Napoleon Bonaparte, Anwar Sadat, Kenneth Kaunda, Józef Piłsudski, Omar Torrijos, Juan and Eva Peron and Fidel Castro as benevolent dictators, so there you go.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictator#.22The_benevolent_dictator.22

But, again, there might be some confusion of cause and effect here. In a place like Noway where there’s little tension of any kind – ethnic, class, religious or whatever – there’s, naturally, little need for coercion, violation of human rights, or dictatorship. But in a place/situation with high level of tensions and contradictions it just may be inevitable.

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geo 02.25.08 at 3:07 am

#80:it seems to be a prerequisite of dictatorship that it is repressive and abusive of human rights

Someone on a previous thread eloquently reminded us that not all human rights are political rights. Some are welfare rights, like health care, economic security, a clean environment, education for one’s children, etc. Some dictators, like Lee Kuan Yew (sp.?), Suharto, and the examples mentioned in #92, do seem to have done a better job securing some welfare rights, at least some of the time, than some purely formally democratic regimes.

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Roy Belmont 02.25.08 at 6:06 am

#92 – I got stuck in Noway once. Man, it was hard to get out of there.

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abb1 02.25.08 at 7:05 am

Norway, Norway.

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Katherine 02.25.08 at 10:21 am

Geo, once again I’m going to have to point out that my point was not that democracies always secure all rights (political, civil or economic), but that it seems to be inevitable that a dictatorship will stamp on some or all of them.

On that note, I’m going to have to snort derisively at the Wikipedia list of “benevolent dictators” if it includes Castro on the list. With all the toing and froing on this and the previous thread about how bad or how inevitable Castro was or wasn’t, I never heard anyone deny that he had stomped on various, even numerous, human rights, unless those 69 political prisoners were suddenly freed while I wasn’t looking.

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SamChevre 02.25.08 at 2:11 pm

Welll–it seems pretty clear that a dictatorship will deprive people of democratic political rights. I would say that for “non-democratic states that protected civil and economic rights well”, Singapore and Hong Kong would come rapidly to mind.

The flip side of your question would be, “Can you name a democracy that protected the rights of stable, identifiable minorities well?”

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Tracy W 02.25.08 at 4:19 pm

“General advice to “behave like a wise man” is useless.”
It’s generally assumed and for good reason that if you’re the big kid on the block, violence on your part is unnecessary. Ask a bouncer who’s good at his job. He’ll explain. If you’re interested in more than peacemaking, if you’re interested in control, that changes things.

Cool – let’s hand over international relations to a bouncer! ‘Cos there is absolutely no difference between controlling a bunch of drunken louts in a bar and managing relationships with a foreign dictatorship whose first concern is staying in power – and whom you are very likely going to have to deal with again not just tomorrow for years and years.

Oh, and you don’t just want to keep them from beating up your neighbours, you have to worry about climate change policy and deforestration and them supporting groups of people who are trying to attack your government, and you also have to worry about the other neighbours, and your own government is dependent on votes from people who have strong opinions about what should be happening in the dictatorship country (there are a lot of Pacific Islanders in NZ).

Nope, foreign policy is absolutely dead simple, and anyone who doesn’t immediately appreciate the obvious brilliance of advice like “act like a wise man” is simply expecting you to waste your time listening to bullshit and lies. Simple slogans and talking to bouncers is the way to go!

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Katherine 02.25.08 at 4:21 pm

Re Hong Kong, under British rule, it was perfectly legal to pay people differently according to their race. Large companies would routinely pay their ex-pat, British employees far more than their Chinese employees, both in terms of salary and in terms of perks. That is in breach of both civil and economic rights in my books.

As for the flipside question – dunno, will have to think on that one.

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harold 02.25.08 at 6:03 pm

What the Romans did for us was to introduce the idea of a universal citizenry with equality under the law (however much this may have been honored in the breach). There is much confusion in the posts above with legitimate governments and dictatorships (tyranny). Under dictatorships there is no rule of law.

The law may often be an ass, it may be applied imperfectly, but on the whole it is preferable to lawlessness.

In Monarchies the rule of law is above all, even the king, though some quibbled that he was bound only by God’s law (in Catholic lands interpreted by the Pope and enforced threat of excommunication and/or regime change as directed by the Papacy.)

Despite its officially sanctioned racism and other grave defects, such sanctioning the opium trade, it is my impression that the British Empire did bring a (relatively less corrupt than previously) Rule of Law to, say, British Hong Kong (mentioned above) and that this was one benefit that the inhabitants were grateful for.

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seth edenbaum 02.25.08 at 6:34 pm

“In Monarchies the rule of law is above all, even the king…”
I’m always surprised there’s not more discussion of that in discussions of justice. The rule of law and the rule of law in a republic are two different things.

And as to the the brits and HK. I posted a comment on this post at Delong’s site making the point that DL was simply making a case against nationalist logic as such. “Shorter Brad DeLong: we’d be better off if colonial subjects had put off their nationalist aspirations for a century of so.” I posted in and he removed it. I restructured it as a question and he removed it again. There’s a logical reasoned case to be made for patience, but DeLong is only willing to make it in the context of his own moralizing pedantry. Why someone points out the implications he runs away.

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harold 02.25.08 at 10:43 pm

The little tin gods of academe.

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