Authoritarianism. A primer

“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”
(Eagles, Hotel California)

As a sequel to “The sides” explain you a couple of things you ignored… here is a brief of “All you wanted to know about human rights, democracy and freedom but you were afraid to ask,” a sort of primer on authoritarianism.

1. US Hegemony and Its Perils

The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of The People Republic of China has just published a report exposing the US Hegemony and Its Perils.

Since becoming the world’s most powerful country after the two world wars and the Cold War, the United States has acted more boldly to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, pursue, maintain and abuse hegemony, advance subversion and infiltration, and willfully wage wars, bringing harm to the international community.

In brief, they affirm that The United States of America…

  • In the name of “promoting democracy,” it practiced a “Neo-Monroe Doctrine” in Latin America, instigated “color revolutions” in Eurasia, and orchestrated the “Arab Spring” in West Asia and North Africa, bringing chaos and disaster to many countries.
  • … exercises double standards on international rules.
  • … has been forcing an “Indo-Pacific Strategy” onto the Asia-Pacific region, assembling exclusive clubs like the Five Eyes, the Quad and AUKUS, and forcing regional countries to take sides.
  • … arbitrarily passes judgment on democracy in other countries, and fabricates a false narrative of “democracy versus authoritarianism”
  • … is undoubtedly the most warlike nation in the history of the world.
  • Its military hegemony has caused humanitarian tragedies.
  • … exploits the world’s wealth with the help of “seigniorage.” It enjoys exorbitant privilege and deficit without tears created by its dollar, and uses the worthless paper note to plunder the resources and factories of other nations.
  • Its dollar is the main source of instability and uncertainty in the world economy.
  • … imposes additional conditions to their assistance to other countries. In order to reduce obstacles to U.S. capital inflow and speculation,
  • … willfully suppresses its opponents with economic coercion.
  • Its economic and financial hegemony has become a geopolitical weapon.
  • monopolizes intellectual property in the name of protection.
  • … politicizes, weaponizes technological issues and uses them as ideological tools.
  • … solidifies its technological monopoly in the name of protecting democracy.
  • … abuses its technological hegemony by carrying out cyber-attacks and eavesdropping.
  • … embeds American values in its products such as movies. American values and lifestyle are a tied product to its movies and TV shows, publications, media content, and programs by the government-funded non-profit cultural institutions.
  • Its dominated Western media has a particularly important role in shaping global public opinion in favor of U.S. meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.
  • practices double standards on the freedom of the press.
  • … abuses its cultural hegemony to instigate “peaceful evolution” in socialist countries.

2. The “China Model” is Superior, isn’t it?

Is the message above eloquent enough?

In a recent paper1 by Daniel Mattingly et. al. we find a thought provoking answer to the question.

We conduct a randomized experiment in 19 countries across 6 continents exposing a global audience to real messages from the Chinese and American governments’ external media arms.We also collect comprehensive data on the Chinese and American government’s external propaganda. Our experiment shows that exposure to a representative set of Chinese messages strengthens perceptions that the CCP delivers growth, stability, and competent leadership.

Scholars are divided about whether an autocracy like China or Russia can effectively sell the merits of non-democratic political and economic systems. They use experiments replicated across different countries all over the world to examine how external propaganda from China and the United States changes public opinion. They find that Chinese propaganda promoting its system to a global audience is strikingly successful.

viewing real Chinese propaganda doubles support for China’s political and economic models, causing a majority of citizens to prefer China’s authoritarian model over the American democratic model. Moreover, in head-to-head match-ups with American messaging, global audiences move towards China.

Let me summarize the paper with four charts:

How Does China Promote the “China Model”?

Frequent topics about China’s political and economic models (Fig. 1 Op. Cit.)

How Does the United States Promote Democracy?

Frequent topics about America’s political and economic models (Fig. 2 Op. Cit.)

They exposed audiences to real propaganda messages from the Chinese and United States governments touting their respective systems. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions with equal probability: China, US, Competition and a Control Group (they see no propaganda, but 2 nature videos).

Sketch of Experimental Design (Fig. 4 Op. Cit.)

And the result is…

Distributions of primary outcomes by treatment condition (Fig. 5 Op. Cit.)

Do global audiences find authoritarian models attractive?

Our surveys showed that exposure to real Chinese propaganda led to very large increases in support for China’s authoritarian economic and political model. The results were striking: we find that propaganda grows global support for China’s economic model from 16 percent to 54 percent.

When a global audience views competing messages from democracies and autocracies selling the merits of their political systems, which messages are most persuasive? Despite skepticism about the ability of the Chinese government’s media operations, The study finds that Chinese messages are generally more persuasive than American efforts. When a global audience is exposed to real messages from both governments touting their systems, they move in the direction of preferring the China model.

Our experiments show that Chinese propaganda does not move audiences very much on thinking the Chinese system is somehow democratic but rather persuades audiences that the system is responsive and effective at delivering economic growth. While audiences value civil liberties and democracy, they also find messages about the per formance of the Chinese government convincing. The Chinese government’s self-professed ability to select competent leaders, foster growth, maintain stability, and respond to citizen demands make the system attractive.

3. The finnishing touch. It’s all about complexity

Karen Stenner is a political scientist specializing in political psychology who has studied the political activation of authoritarian personality types. Her thesis, in brief, is the following:

Authoritarianism is one’s conception of the appropriate balance between group authority and conformity vs. individual freedom and difference. About a third of the population is predisposed to authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is about 50% heritable.

There appear to be two critical determinants of authoritarianism. The first is lack of “openness to experience” (one of the ‘Big Five’ personality dimensions, itself substantially heritable). The second is best described as cognitive incapacity.

A sizeable portion of the electorate seems to want government involved not merely in redistributing wealth and providing social services, but also in coercing and controlling individuals to enforce oneness and sameness, in all domains: racial, moral and political. The world is too complex for a large portion of the population to navigate without experiencing exhaustion or alarm. Some people will never live comfortably in a modern liberal democracy.

Karen’s conclusion is that a true democracy ought to be able to accommodate this:

We have to provide authoritarians the assistance they require to live in peace and comfort with the rest of us. This will likely require significant re-design of social and political processes to reduce what I earlier described as the “cacophony of modern liberal democracy”.

I’m not sure if this is the way to take a deep dive into the paradox of tolerance

Just to be clear. You’d better take all this information with two, three, or more pinches of salt.

I am prone to believe every single word in the US Foreing Affair Report copied above (except the final unpalatable cloying conclusion, not included here). But I can hear the final words of Hotel California in my head, and I say to myself: I will never ever accept the Chinese Authoritarian Model as an alternative. You may call this the anarchoutopian paradox.

And you? What do you think?


(1) Mattingly, Daniel, Trevor Incerti, Changwook Ju, Colin Moreshead, Seiki Tanaka, and Hikaru Yamagishi. ‘Chinese State Media Persuades a Global Audience That the “China Model” Is Superior: Evidence From A 19-Country Experiment’. OSF Preprints, 25 August 2022. CC-By Attribution 4.0 International

Featured Image: “A cyberpunk style painting of the Great Wall of China” by DALL-E

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.