Exporting Authoritarianism

I wish I was as sanguine about the future of authoritarianism as Anne Applebaum, who breezily predicts that repressive regimes not named the People’s Republic of China will have a rough go of it in the coming decades. China, of course, is a pretty glaring exception, and I think Applebaum’s prognosis misses an important aspect of the relationship between authoritarianism in China and the vitality of other authoritarian regimes.

A smart person (whose identity, despite repeated Google searches, remains shrouded in mystery) once observed that China’s efforts to stay ahead of the new media curve are easily exportable to other, less technically adept authoritarian states, who can then free-ride off Chinese “innovation” to keep dissidents in line. Zimbabwe, Iran or Turkmenistan may not have the capacity to keep up with the social media revolution, but China certainly does, and I doubt the PRC will have any qualms about selectively sharing the architecture of repression.

It’s also worth noting that China has a pretty big incentive to disseminate the latest in repressive technology to like-minded despots. Foreign revolutions often inspire dissidents closer to home, and exporting the tools of authoritarianism to friendly regimes sounds eerily similar to China’s current relationship with client states across sub-Saharan Africa. Applebaum’s optimism notwithstanding, I think authoritarianism is here to stay, and not just in mainland China.

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3 thoughts on “Exporting Authoritarianism

  1. The downside of selling tech to (someone else) is that they might sell it to (yet someone else) who might sell it to (yet someone else) and it may eventually end up on slashdot with a request for programmers to help figure out workarounds.

    China may sell V1.4 to (someone else), but they won’t sell V2.0. They’ll keep that stuff locked up tight and proprietary where it will take longer than a fortnight to be cracked by some team of white knights who just had Cheeto’s gf run out to Costco for a couple of cases of Dew.

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  2. I’m a little more optimistic about the resurgence of liberty in the world. The era of the ideology-based 20th century megastate is over, and the human urge to see one’s own cultural values reflected in government continues to bring political organizations down to the human level. As smaller, more responsive governments replace the megastate, the capacity — not to mention the need — to control populations and wage war will diminish.

    And I would even bet China will succumb to this trend. Tibet, Taiwan, and Uighur independence will continue to put a damper on Beijing’s efforts to keep secular imperial rule on life support.

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