I am just getting around to posting this one even though it is a few days old. William Dobson makes a pretty clear argument regarding the forms and methods of today’s authoritarian states, which are able to hide behind a narrow sheen of minimal imitations of democracy and rule of law.
Modern strongmen are more sophisticated and cunning then their twentieth-century predecessors.
These savvy authoritarians eschew the most heavy-handed methods — mass executions, disappearances, brutal crackdowns — as an extreme last resort. Instead, subtle forms of coercion are preferred. Rather than have its activists roughed up, a human rights organization is more likely to be shuttered for fire-code violations.
These regimes are fluent in the language of democracy and human rights, and may even establish human rights commissions — despite being the chief perpetrators of any abuses. Laws are written in vague terms and then applied capriciously against those who question the regime’s ways.
And fear is always a potent weapon. “My father used to say that he would rather live in a dictatorship like Cuba,” one Venezuelan activist told me. “At least there you know if you criticized the government, they would put you in prison. Here they rule through uncertainty.”