What works better? Dictatorships versus democracy



Interview conducted by Jaime Ortega.



Natasha Ezrow 

She is an Undergraduate Director at Essex University; Division Manager, BA International Development, BA International Relations, BA Politics with Human Rights, MA/MSc Conflict Resolution, MA/MSc International Relations, MA International Relations and the Media, Mres International Relations

1) People are afraid of autocratic governments because in many cases it subdues the will of the majority. Can dictatorships be a better solution in some cases than seeking a western democratic solution?

The variance of performance with dictatorship is higher.  Some dictatorships perform well economically like Singapore and China, while others are dismal like Chad and Cameroon.  Solid democracies will not have as many poor performers.

It’s also important to clarify that dictators vary by who holds power.  If it is a single –party, the performance may not be that terrible.  If power is concentrated in the hands of one individual, known as a personalist dictatorship, the results are disastrous. Personalist dictatorships do not perform well economically, have horrible human rights records, are really corrupt and have more erratic foreign policies.

2)  Do some countries need dictatorships to run more efficiently or should all be run democratically?

Not all countries should be run democratically—as in having fair and competitive elections.  But all countries need political parties that are well institutionalized, along with legislatures.  This enables discussion to focus on policies and not patronage politics, which is about distributing to loyal clients.  Parties are really important to managing dissent, aggregating interests and using technocratic know how in order to come up with the best policies for a country.  The ideal type again, is Singapore.  There are very few Singapores in the world, however.

3) Dictatorship is regarded as something negative for most people. What is the biggest public misconception regarding dictatorships? 

Some people prefer stability over democracy.  Dictatorships are not all the same.  Some are able to implement tough policies that are needed to promote growth.  There is also a lot of democracy within dictatorships.

4) Democracy allows all voters from different social classes and backgrounds to elect leaders. If the majority of the voters has no idea about national or international policies, and yet have the rights to cast votes, isn’t that equally harmful for a nation than an autocratic run state?

Democracies that allow for free media enable the public to provide a check on leadership that authoritarian regimes don’t provide. This is critical to curbing corruption and preventing mass human rights abuses from taking place.

5) Just because a country is run by a pseudo-dictator, or a dictator is that always means it’s a totalitarian state? 

Very few regimes today or historically have ever been totalitarian.  That implies total control over both the state and society. Few dictatorships today (with the exception of North Korea) have the institutional power to control people’s thoughts and have the motivation to want to atomize society and activate them under one ideology.  Most dictatorships are not totalitarian because they prefer to ensure that the public is apathetic.  The basic idea is that as long as the public does not try to challenge the leader’s power, people are relatively free to live their lives.

6) In your opinion what has been the most catastrophic dictatorship to rule Europe? And what has been the most successful?

The most catastrophic was Hitler, for obvious reasons.  The most successful was Tito.  This is not because he was great—but because he managed to keep the former Yugoslavia together, and when he died, not long after the country fell apart.  The communist regimes were not catastrophic, but there is not one that I could say was successful.  I don’t view Spain under Franco and Portugal under Salazar as successful even though economic growth took place.  That would have happened naturally after WWII.

7) Dictatorships tend to rely on the military to achieve a successful putsch when these feel threatened by the government. It seems as if the military has a separate agenda than the ruling government and the people. Why do dictatorships depend so heavily on the military? Most democratic powers fear giving the military any power of official verdicts and rely exclusively on parliament (legislature), the executive and judicial branch to make decisions, in your opinion could that backfire at one point in time? 

The military is critical to the dictator’s success. They must have control over it because the military maintains the regime.  In general it is best to keep the military out of politics.  They have a horrible track record when they get involved in politics.

8) Spain represents an interesting political paradox. Spain using democracy voted for the Popular Front party to combat CEDA (Spanish conservatives), right before the civil war, which consisted of an alliance of UGT, a socialist party and the CNT-FAI Anarcho-Syndicate, POUM a Marxist Party and the Communist party that sweep during elections. The Spanish Generals overseeing the problematic results rebelled against the new system in what turned out to be a brutal war. Given the political circumstances, General Francisco Franco won the war and executed all his enemies. The dilemma is that Spain during Franco’s reign made Spain financially one of the most prosperous countries in the world, a growth never to be replicated again. If Franco would have not intervened in the Civil War, would Spain ended like the Soviet Stalin or in total anarchy? Is it safe to conclude, Franco’s dictatorship was justified to oppose democracy preventing a greater evil?

After WWII economic growth was going to take place in Spain, regardless of whether or not Franco was in charge or not.  The economic success of Spain under Franco was not due to his economic expertise.  I would not give him too much credit.

– Unlike Franco, Adolf Hitler used democracy as a tool for his sweeping election. Hitler resembled the attributes of a dictator. Germany was recovering from WW1, and the previous government had poorly managed Germany. Unlike the former councilor, Hitler ended unemployment right away. Despite Hitler’s delusional expansionist dogmas, his national policies succeeded with incredible effectiveness. He even made Germany a safer place. Was Germany an example of how democracy and dictatorship type leaders can work together for a greater national good? 

As Hitler was responsible for genocide, it’s hard to justify his rule.

9) The United States trying to set western standards in Iraq, removed Saddam Hussein who wheeled a tight authoritarian grip over Kurds, Shias, Sunnies, Yaziris, Christians, and other tribes. After the removal of Saddam Hussein, the country emerged into total sectarian and tribal chaos, proving a complete disaster for democracies sake, leading to what is now the Islamic State. Do you believe Saddam’s tyrannical reign proved more effective than western democracy?

Western imposed democracy rarely works.  Democracy works best when it comes from within, with outside help to assist with electoral assistance and support for judicial institutions.  Currently Iraq is in worse shape than when Saddam Hussein was in power.

10) The Arab Spring, originally praised by most western governments became a wider turmoil after the overthrow of most dictatorships. Why did Democracy fail, and should have the dictatorships of Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak, Assad… and others remained?

The region has had absolute no experience with institutionalized moderate parties— literally none whatsoever, with the exception of Tunisia.  And Tunisia’s democracy will eventually take hold.  The institutions in the Middle East are incredibly weak and that makes an automatic transition to democracy impossible.  Also, countries that experienced years of personalist rule (like Libya under Qaddafi and Iraq under Hussein) will become failed states after the leader is ousted.  The international community, the West, and especially the US were ill prepared to deal with the black holes that resulted.  This is a situation ripe for violent non-state actors to take over.  The conflict and instability and security void in Iraq enabled the Syrian protests to become a full blown conflict.

11) Will dictatorships disappear if countries that hold a democratic system fail to control the economy giving rise to catastrophic unemployment levels which cause crime to spread at the same time other ideological systems form and provoke civil unrest that might interfere with the country’s stability? In other words can democracy parturition dictatorship?

It’s very easy for dictatorship to return.  The first years of democracy are very unstable and much of the time these countries backslide into dictatorship due to high levels of dissatisfaction and disappointment.

12) Will Europe one day go back to the old days of dictatorial states given the present rising of economic upheavals?  What would it take for the US to ever encounter a autocratic run state?

No for both— the public has no interest in it.

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