Ok, I admit it: I’m not big on totalitarian regimes and autocrat rulers. I’m a political scientist after all.
Sure, it’s fun to make memes about autocrats like Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but those memes are funny precisely because they are to some extent based in a cruel, despotic reality.
What I find particularly disturbing is the extent to which some of these regimes are being held up as models for what the West should aspire to by commentators with questionable motives. This adoration of the modern dictator stems in part from the failure of post-Saddam Iraq and post-Gaddafi Libya. Post-Mubarak Egypt hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park either.
Indeed, I’ve often bemoaned the extent to which Western interventions have devastated critical infrastructure, exacerbated divisions within societies, and gutted bureaucracies. In effect, Washington has on quite a few occasions reduced entire countries to smoldering piles of rubble with little to show for it in terms of “planting the seeds for democracy to flourish.”
Still, if you feel like there’s something a bit strange about pulling for Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s now six-year-old civil war you’d be right. By extension, cheering the Russians on as they turn Sunni rebels into ash from the sky probably isn’t the best approach to take when it comes to choosing sides in the conflict.
As The New Yorker wrote earlier this year, Syria is seen by the alt-Right as “a sign of the essential strength of authoritarian regimes and the weakness of democracies.” In reality, it’s a killing field and all sides deserve a share of the blame.
There are a lot of things you can say about Western democracies and there’s no shortage of conspiracy theories about the extent to which some of the West’s most well-known political leaders are in fact just as corruptible as anyone else. Still, I’m willing to bet that those who spend their days complaining about the inherent wickedness of the West’s liberal leaders wouldn’t be willing to spend even one day under the thumb of the authoritarian leaders they so vehemently champion.
As for those who have never known any different, well, that’s another story. Consider the following from the Washington Post which cites polling firm Levada on the way to noting that the majority of Russians regret the fall of the USSR:
On Dec. 26, 1991, the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist. Its flag, with its famous hammer and sickle, was lowered outside the Kremlin at 7:32 p.m. Within a half-hour, the red, white and blue Russian flag had been raised in its place.
For almost 70 years, the totalitarian Soviet Union had curtailed the free speech and human rights of its citizens. By the late 1980s, it was painfully obvious that its economic policies had led to a dramatically lower quality of life than in the West.
But even so, few celebrated its demise.
Look at data from the independent polling firm Levada and you’ll see that the percentage of Russians who regretted the Soviet collapse has dropped below 50 percent only once since 1992: in 2012, when it hit 49 percent. In the most recent polling, about 56 percent of Russians say they regret its fall.
It’s reasonable for anyone living in a democracy to wonder why anyone would regret the collapse of a totalitarian regime. Thankfully, Levada also asked those with regrets why they thought that way.
All I can say is this (and this applies to many Americans who have recently taken to idolizing totalitarian regimes): be careful what you wish for…
Finally, here’s some humor to lighten things up: