April 23, 2023


Illiberal Regimes Hate Modernity But Can't Live Without It: This dilemma makes them unsustainable in the long run but dangerous in the short run (SAMANTHA HANCOX-LI, APR 22, 2023, The UnPopulist)

In January of this year, rightwing media personality Matt Walsh tweeted "Singapore is able to have nice things in part because they execute drug dealers by hanging and arrest even petty vandals and thieves and beat them with a cane until they bleed. We don't have nice things because we aren't willing to do what is required to maintain them." What is striking about this claim is the degree to which even illiberal activists like Walsh, who have made it their mission to oppose the modern world and return us to pre-modern structures of hierarchy and domination, are irretrievably infected by the logic of modernity. On an emotional level, he thinks, "Drug dealers are sinners and should be scourged," But even to himself, he wraps this up in a materialist logic: "Drug dealers should be scourged because that will bring us prosperity."

Everybody wants what modernity offers. And all the illiberals are tying themselves in knots trying to fit their own philosophy to it--hence the bizarre association of technological progress with caning people for smoking weed. Meanwhile, in the America that actually exists, weed is big business: the increasing legalization of marijuana has transformed it into a hundred-billion-dollar a year industry.

I want to explore this tension. My claim is that all contemporary illiberal movements face a fundamental problem: The illiberal's dilemma. On the one hand, everybody wants what modern prosperity offers--power, comfort, security, wealth. On the other hand, illiberals reject what makes modern prosperity possible--freedom, diversity, the continual churn of change. We can taxonomize different varieties of illiberalism according to how they attempt to square this circle--from the herrenvolk democracies to the petro-dictators to the authoritarian capitalists. And perhaps we liberals can take our own lessons from their failures.

The misapprehension of the End of History is so persistent you have to assume much of it is willful.  The point is not that no alternatives to liberal democracy exist, only that they are ineffective. 

Posted by at April 23, 2023 12:00 AM