Democracy and the Authoritarian Ill Winds

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Democracy and the Authoritarian Ill Winds

DATE: 3:00pm-4:00pm, 27th June 2019

VENUE: Millbank Tower 21-24 Millbank, London SW1P 4QP

SPEAKER: Larry Diamond

EVENT CHAIR: Dr. Rakib Ehsan


Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Okay ladies and gentlemen, if we could make a start. I’d like to thank you all for joining us for this topical and interesting event, here at Henry Jackson Society, where we’ll be discussing matters related to, well we could say democratic sustainability and the threat of authoritarian illiberalism across the world. In recent times, the world has been in what we could say maybe perhaps overall a democratic recession. Now, for this period while this recession we could say is shallow and even disputed, generating only modest overall global decline in political rights and civil liberties, you could say that the basic contours of democratic predominance in the world has been unchanged. But if you actually look more closely, looking at particularly strategic large scale nation-states such as Turkey and Russia, you can see that it tells a different story, that this, you could say almost democratic backsliding in certain countries needs to be taken more notice of. Now over the past decade, we’ve seen liberal democratic freedoms in EU member states such as Hungary coming under increasing strain. There are things that we can do in the West to encourage democratic promotion in other countries. We could also see that in cases such as Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, that there are also debates to be had over our own democracies and how we can re-invigorate them and improve our own democratic, political systems. Now discussing such themes, we, at the Henry Jackson Society, are delighted to host Larry Diamond as our main speaker for today’s event. Larry is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Quite a mouthful. For more than six years, he directed the FSI’s Centre on Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law, where he now leads its Program on Arab Reform and Democracy and its Global Digital Policy Incubator. He is the founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and also serves as a Senior Consultant at the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy. His research focuses on democratic trends and conditions around the world, and on policies and reforms to defend and advance democracy on a global scale. His 2016 book, In Search of Democracy, explores the challenges confronting democracy and also discusses themes surrounding democratic promotion, gathering together three decades of writing and research, particularly focusing on Africa and Asia. He has just completed a new book on what he calls a global crisis of democracy, which will be…

Larry Diamond: which has been published and is available from Amazon.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Fantastic. So now, I leave it to Larry Diamond to discuss some of these themes in more detail.

Larry Diamond: Okay well, good afternoon on this beautiful London summer day, my goodness. Really delighted to be on the 26th floor of this tower with this view, but more so to be at the Henry Jackson Society because there really could not be, I think, a better fit between a book and its theme, and an organisation and its spirit, its memorial, spirit in the person of Henry Jackson, who as you know in the United States was a great admirer of Winston Churchill and a great defender of the cause of freedom and democracy around the world, and was a very clear-eyed, sober-minded combination of realism and idealism in understanding a) that we would be more secure if there were a more democratic and free world but b) that we faced real security threats in the world that threaten freedom, and we couldn’t confront those threats without a robust defence and a very vigorous and sustained Western alliance. And you know, I didn’t request to speak here but I probably should’ve, because the themes of my book fit so well with the predominant foreign policy and national security themes of Henry Jackson’s distinguished career in the United States Congress. The title of my book is Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency. So already, you have three ill winds that I argue in the book are blowing against freedom in the world.

One is a resurgent and increasingly, I think, aggressive and malevolent Russian regime under the leadership of Vladimir Putin that seeks to restore, not the Soviet Union as such, though let us recall that Vladimir Putin did say that the worst thing that happened in the 20th century was the demise of the Soviet Union, and I think he said that not so much because he was by then still any kind of admirer or defender of communism as such, but because he certainly was a big defender and admirer of Russian domination and the Russian empire, and I think it’s very clear by all of the things that he and the Kremlin elite, the KGB successor elite, the oligarchical elite around him have been doing, I think it’s very clear that he means to restore as much of that empire and as much of that domination, at least in the arena that stretches around the perimeter of Russia from Central Asia through the Caucasus and all the way to Central and Eastern Europe. I believe that if you’re here at the Henry Jackson Society, it should not be a controversial proposition to argue that Vladimir Putin has as his goal, first of all, the destruction of the Western alliance, the evisceration of and ideally termination of NATO, and the fracturing if not termination of the European Union. I think he’s clearly, by the kinds of candidates he’s tried to support in European elections both nationally and for the European Parliament, clearly revealed himself to have that goal, and of course by what he’s been doing to intervene in American elections in 2016 and again in 2020, which I would be happy to discuss at greater length. But more generally, he has a goal of trying to confuse, divide, further polarise and dirty the image of democracy as an idea in the world. If you will, I think this is a very important way of understanding how Putin and the Kremlin elite are engaging in the world, and what is driving them, and what is the logic behind the variety of their interventions – hard power, soft power, RTs, disinformation activity, the cynical intervention in social media campaigns to make the world safe for autocracy. Putin is a deeply and I think properly anxious figure. He is not a secure figure, and he was very unnerved by the protests that greeted the rigging of the parliamentary elections in 2011, and he thought Hillary Clinton was behind those protests. That was part of the reason he intervened to try to defeat Hillary Clinton in the American 2015 2016 presidential election cycle. Every time there’s a demonstration in Russia, he worries that it could get out of control and could gather the kind of steam that could lead to a Colour Revolution. This is why he needs to de-mobilise and marginalise his now principal political opponent in the country. I’m not going to allege without clear evidence that he was responsible for the murder of his most important electoral rival who could’ve been a serious opposition candidate for president in free and fair election, Boris Nemtsov, two or three years ago a hundred metres from the Kremlin walls. But it sure worked to his advantage that Nemtsov was removed from the scene, and what we have now to complete this thought about the first ill wind I’m mentioning is a Russian regime that is increasingly a global presence in the world working to undermine, and confront, confuse, and subvert democracy and freedom around the world. All of this is familiar in some ways. It’s using more modern techniques but it’s building on this spirit of Soviet disinformation activities, and the dedicated global Soviet effort to subvert, penetrate, and undermine democracies around the world, and challenge the very ideas of freedom.

Somewhat newer is the global role of the second ill wind, the Chinese Communist Party state and the People’s Republic of China, which is I think no longer a rising superpower. It is a risen superpower. It is now engaged in a global effort to penetrate democratic societies, to promote its own propaganda and disinformation in a 10-billion-dollar annual effort that’s been brought together in something called the ‘Voice of China’, uniting China global television, China radio international, the Xinhua news agency and all of the other China state information and disinformation activities, in an effort to control the global narrative about China, build a line about China’s benign and globally friendly rise to superpower status, and the wonderful things that the Belt and Road Initiative can do to help countries develop and build infrastructure, and unite the world in global commerce without paying attention to a) the massive pile of debt it’s leaving these countries in when it lends them – because that’s the way the aid is flowing – the money to build this infrastructure at commercial, not preferential rates, and then countries like Sri Lanka wake up one day and as you know find themselves in massive debt, which the Chinese regime kindly offers to very partially relieve by taking a 99 year lease on, in this case, the strategic port of Hambantota at the southern tip of Sri Lanka facing deep into the Indian Ocean. That would be disturbing enough if it were not the case that China is doing this in so many other ports around the world in Greece, in Australia, in a variety of different types of arrangements all with I think, a kind of global strategic ambition here that has not only commercial but I think really disturbing military and national security potential. I document in my book, but we document at much greater length in a report that was more or less produced simultaneously and released in November of last year by the Hoover Institution where I work as a senior fellow in partnership with the Asia Society in New York, and this report is called Chinese Influence and American Interest, but there are case studies of European and other countries as well. China has a far-flung campaign to penetrate the deep tissues of democratic societies, universities, think tanks, mass media, corporations, even local politics, certainly the technology sector which is of course very hot now, and to disable resistance to China’s rise or anything that would counter it or expose both China’s strategic intentions that would question its unilateral claims to control all of the South China Sea, and the speed and energy and I think alarming militarisation with which it is building islands out of water in the South China Sea by dredging up the sand, and then of course as you know building landing strips and naval bases and other things with the potential to threaten the global sea-lanes that pass through there and ultimately feed a considerable portion, at least a quarter of total global international trade. This has progressed to the point, I really don’t have the time to go into details now but I’d be happy to discuss it, where there are very few Chinese language publications, almost none, that aren’t affiliated with the Fangang network that aren’t controlled in the United States, or in Australia, or in New Zealand by the Chinese Communist Party directly or indirectly. They’ve been buying up Chinese language media, radio stations, TV stations in this country. They have been turning others in friendly directions. They have been deeply penetrating the politics and the media sphere of a variety of democracies around the world to try and, again, control the narrative and ease their way, clear their path to an unchallenged rise to dominance, at least initially within Asia and I think there is a larger ambition there. Part of this necessarily must be to project a different narrative about the world about which kind of regime and what kind of values really are most compelling in the world. I think not enough attention has been paid to a very significant shift in the public projection of norms and values on the international stage by the Chinese Communist Party. It is no longer the argument that well, ‘each country should have its own type of political system and you have yours and we have ours’. It’s no longer ‘we’re a democracy, we’re just a different kind of democracy, a people’s democracy’. It really is now ‘we have an authoritarian method of political control that transcends all the messiness and division, deadlock, paralysis, inaction of your democracies in Europe and the United States, and this is a superior form of government’, and this argument is starting to resonate in different parts of the world – Asia, Africa, Latin America in particular – particularly with ruling elites in some cases who come to power through elections who would like to be relieved of the necessity of having to put their mandate to a test in a future democratic election. It’s very convenient to have one of the two most powerful countries in the world saying, ‘no actually authoritarian rule and not the messiness of democracy is the better way of governing’, and there are a lot of elites in the world from Erdoğan in Turkey, Chavez and his successor Maduro in Venezuela, and so on that are rallying to this, and if you look now at China’s posture in specific places in the world, what you find is that they are coming to the financial and in some cases military and certainly symbolically geopolitical assistance of embattled authoritarian regimes in for example, Khartoum right now in Sudan, in Venezuela where they are helping to throw a life-line to the flailing Maduro government and so on and so forth. Increasingly, the People’s Republic of China is not just a separate authoritarian state. It’s an authoritarian challenger to the very idea of freedom and democracy, and I haven’t even gotten into all the technology and social media implications of this.

The third ill wind when I talk about American complacency, I could intend it to mean several things, and I really intend it to mean all of those things. First of all, has been the decline in the quality of American democracy as a result of the really intensifying and now, I’d say periodically paralysing polarisation of the American political system – real deadlock and inability to move on critical policy challenges facing the United States. With this has been the unedifying spectacle of the polarisation in our politics and now the rise of an illiberal (inaudible – 27:54) with autocratic tendencies to the presidency of the United States. I fully agree with Madeleine Albright that this represents for the first time – certainly in the modern history of the United States, maybe simply in the history of the United States – where we’ve had a president who is not committed to democratic principles, and who in this case, evidences it on an almost daily basis with a lavish praise and even love he bestows on autocrats and tyrants around the world, and there is no more tyrannical figure in the world of course than the man whom he has said he loves, Kim Jong Un, while of course keeping cynical distance if not hostility and contempt on many of our democratic allies in Canada and Europe, scepticism about the NATO alliance and so on. I don’t think that American democracy in the near term is threatened in terms of its survival. But to have an increasingly polarised and complacent United States where the quality of democracy is steadily declining and where the example of American democracy is increasingly not inspiring imitation or modelling or following in those tracks is very worrisome and of course, other leading democracies including this one are hardly any longer inspiring models of what we would like democracy to be.

There is a fourth ill wind blowing, you know you really can’t fit more than three in the sub-title, but it’s really an extension of the last one, and in some ways precedes it or certainly parallels it, and that is the broader ill wind of illiberal authoritarianism sweeping through Europe in a variety of ways. The most striking and I think alarming of which is the triumph, completely now, of Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz his party in Hungary. I think it’s very important to understand that Hungary is not an illiberal democracy any longer. It is now an illiberal non-democracy and the failure of the European Union to act early and decisively to address this, and enforce the conditions of the treaty of Lisbon and prior European Union instruments that require its member states to be liberal democracies, I think has opened the way to deterioration in the democratic fabric of Europe. I want to close by saying that this is not a pessimistic book and it’s not a despairing book. My friends who’ve only read the first part of the book or who’ve heard me say everything I’ve said to this point say or feel in themselves, ‘well you must be very depressed, we’re all very depressed, it’s extremely depressing to have twelve years of steady decline in the freedom house ratings, it’s depressing to see these thugs like Chavez and Maduro, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the generals hanging on in Khartoum, Putin, Xi, all the rest persisting and advancing the way they are’. But in fact, I think it’s important to emphasise first of all, that the authoritarian regimes including Putin and including Chinese Communist State have their own serious vulnerabilities, which I think many of us are aware of, because of their endemic corruption and their lack of intrinsic legitimacy. It’s all based on performance and control. Secondly, I think there are many things, concrete things we can do to reverse these ill winds in terms of resuming, which in our complacency surrendered, the battle of ideas and values around the world. I call for restoring the US information agency, in terms of confronting geopolitically, militarily, informationally, analytically these Chinese and Russian propaganda, disinformation and what we call ‘sharp-power efforts’ to penetrate and subvert democracies around the world, and in terms of reforming and renewing our democracies so we can once again make them models worthy of emulation. I actually have a lot of practical ideas for doing that in the United States. The single most important one is the one you all had an opportunity to embrace in the United Kingdom some few years ago, which if you had done so – I’m not blaming you in this room, I’m simply noting it analytically – I think would have saved the United Kingdom possibly from the growing agonies of democracy that it is experiencing now, and that is rank choice voting or what we call the alternative vote. So with that, I leave it to you to moderate the rest of the discussion.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Thank you Larry. So now we’re going to be opening the floor to questions. We’re going to take questions in blocks of three. Before you ask your question, I kindly ask that you state your name and your formal affiliation. Gentleman at the front.

Audience Member: Thanks. A question. You don’t seem to like Trump…

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: So could you kindly introduce yourself?

Audience Member: (Inaudible – 34:16) and I’m retired to do my own research. You don’t seem to like Trump very much. But don’t you think Trump has actually put what I’ve called “the cracker up the bum of world politics” and shaken it up so dramatically that what was before 2016 is no longer normal. You know, the whole illiberal Chinese and Russian situation, even the way he talks to Kim, has changed the whole face of politics.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Okay thank you. Next question. Gentleman there in the black suit please.

Audience Member: Thank you very much. (Inaudible – 35.01) Grant, I’m a former law enforcement officer. I’ve subsequently worked in Ukraine, other ex-Soviet states, and various One Belt One Road countries. My question is, how… I’m very worried about one aspect of what you say, simply that you are an American. Can the United States, together with the Anglo-sphere, carry this? Or put it different way, are the European countries pulling their weight? Because I’ve worked for European commission programs. I would be very pessimistic about the way they are currently stepping up to this. They’re relying far, far too much on America and to a certain extent, the Five Eyes. Thank you.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Thank you for your question.

Audience Member: I’m (inaudible – 36:03) from the University of Leeds. I think Larry knows I’m likely to ask him about Southeast Asia. You talk about the big powers. Where is somewhere like Southeast Asia where you’ve got a rather mixed picture – a relatively positive Indonesian election, a relatively positive Malaysian election last year, but then much darker things in Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines. Are you seeing what’s happening in countries like that as a subset of these three major powers, or is everything rising simultaneously along similar patterns out of parallel internal logic, or is there any pattern of cause and effect in this?

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Thank you for your question.

Larry Diamond: Okay. All excellent questions. Thank you very much. So I think, I’ve heard colourful formulations to describe how Donald Trump has shaken up world politics before, but none more colourful than yours. So I’ve taken it down verbatim, so that I can make future reference to it. Thank you very much for that. I think that it’s important to be more fine-grained in analysing how Trump has shaken up world politics and what are the necessary and valuable things he’s done in that regard. What are some of the things that are counter-productive, I’d say not only from the standpoint of defending and reviving the cause of freedom in the world, but also even pursuing the objectives he says he has. I think the big positive, the biggest positive thing he’s done – I’m tempted to say the principal positive thing he’s done – is to finally stand up to the People’s Republic of China, and to its growing projection of power and influence, and to its brazen theft of high technology in Europe, Australia, the United States, and so on. This was long-overdue. There is tremendous gratitude in much of Asia for him doing so. About ten months ago, I had a long tour in Asia, in India, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong. I found a lot of appreciation for what Trump was doing even then, to confront and, I’m sorry to use the word but let’s be honest here, contain China’s rise, and in particular not with the purpose of trying to keep China – this should not be our purpose – from being a major power in the world or even a superpower, but to contain it from being an aggressive and domineering superpower that aims to control in an imperial way at least the Indo Pacific region, which is, I think to my mind, unambiguously their aim. So I think I’m not sure if it’s necessary to frame the trade confrontation with the PRC quite as diffusely as President Trump has done, but to call attention to this basket of issues and to China’s counterproductive behaviour in terms of a world that wants to be kind of commercially integrated and at peace, but freedom aside for a minute, I think it’s been long overdue. That’s been a positive thing. I think some of the other things have really been counterproductive because if you want to confront the malevolent aspects of China’s rise and its penetration of democracies and even semi-free societies in Asia and around the world, and if you want to do the same with Russia, you need alliances, and you need both to embrace and deepen the existing military and political alliances, and you need to even foster new alliances. Trump’s unilateralism, his arrogance, his gratuitous talk of ‘America First’, which many people in the world particularly in Europe I think hear as ‘America alone’ or ‘America is what matters’ and ‘get on our page or get out of our way’, this is simply, you know, not constructive in terms of building the unified front among democracies of the world and I’d say societies that may not be democracies like Singapore but at least they’re inclined to want to align with the pluralist countries of the West. It’s not productive to do it that way, and so there are some respects in which “putting a cracker up the bum of world politics” – questioning assumptions shall we put it that way – and taking a new and more assertive approach is long overdue and very welcome, and essential in fact, to rebalancing things. But there are other respects in which it’s counterproductive, and I believe it has been very counterproductive with respective to Iran. Even those military officials, most of them, including some of those who’ve now left the Trump administration who were opposed at the time to the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, felt it was a mistake to withdraw from it. Now you see Iran racing possibly out of its nuclear box, to move ahead, to develop a nuclear weapon. We had them in a box for at least 15 years, and now there’s a danger of them breaking out of it. We are at real risk here. Real risk. Much greater than I think most people realise, of fighting a major war with Iran that didn’t need to happen because of this kind of, I think, gratuitous and reckless action.

In terms of the comment you raised, sorry and thank you for your services. A law enforcement officer, I think that’s very important, and if you had anything to do with the money laundering aspect of our challenges, I just want to say there’s a whole chapter of my book about confronting kleptocracy, and I think it’s an urgent…

Audience Member: That was part of my role.

Larry Diamond: Okay, well thank you for your service on that front.

Audience Member: Although I was working on a European program, I found it much easier working with US embassy

Larry Diamond: Okay, yes, I’ll come to that and I’d love to hear more. Perhaps we could continue offline. But my point is that the defence of the global rule of law is vital to the defence of freedom and democracy. That’s the first point. The second point is that the scope that Europe and the United States offer, in somewhat different ways, to launder kleptocratically acquired and mobilised funds and channel it, wash it through the money-laundering processes that all of Bullough? and others describe in their work, and then wash it onto our shores, into our banking systems, our real-estate systems, and then gain respectability, and then make contributions to think tanks and universities, and then gain influence, is a threat to our democracies and has heightened our vulnerability to these sharp-power penetration efforts. The third point I want to make is that they have a vulnerability on the other end, as I said these very, very corrupt regimes. If we can expose their corruption and close off these kleptocratic flows of money and influence, we can put them on the defensive while reducing our own vulnerability. I have about 10 or 11 steps that I propose but I’ll mention three obvious ones. No more anonymous shell corporations. We should eliminate them. It’ll be interesting to see how the leading democratic presidential candidate in the United States will respond to this proposition in the extremely unlikely event that he is asked it in a presidential debate, since his home state of Delaware is the leading host to register anonymous shell corporations in the United States. Secondly, no more anonymous real estate purchases, period. I’d say in the United States or anywhere else in the Western world. Third, I think we really need to rein in these golden visa programs that are enabling Russian and other dubious kleptocrats, some from China as well, basically to buy their way to citizenship. This, I think, is a national security threat for the European Union and it’s a little more difficult in the US, but you know it often turns out not that much more difficult. Are the EU countries carrying their weight? No, absolutely, I agree the rest… well, with your question. I now responded to a question that was only implicit in what you said, and I think…

Audience Member: That’s the best kind of answer

Larry Diamond: I want to say, however, that we’re not going to get there by browbeating them. We have to make the case, not only with leaders like Angela Merkel, but with… These are democracies. They have to be responsible to the popular will, and in here too. I think that if you demean their leaders, and you demean their people, and you demean our collective effort to maintain security through NATO and so on, it’s not productive in terms of getting to where we need to be. So I’d say both on the intelligence sphere and the geopolitics of this, and on the military side of this where I think Trump is not wrong to say that the NATO members all have to get to that 2 percent of GDP target…

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Shall we move on to Duncan’s…

Larry Diamond: With respect to Southeast Asia, you should know, you will know, we’ll send you the draft, that our colleagues who have drafted the article on post-election Indonesia for the Journal of Democracy in the same issue where your distinguished article will appear in October, have taken a somewhat more sceptical view of what’s going on there, and worry, not that the election was rigged – Prabowo’s claims here are ludicrous on their face – but that the polarisation between religious and pluralistic, you know, more secular forces in Indonesia has become so serious that even Jokowi himself has been, this is the argument somewhat defecting from democratic norms. The problem is it’s hard to find in Southeast Asia a shining case of real democratic success. Now the fact that democracy has survived at all in the world’s largest Muslim majority state, I think is a point in favour of hope for democracy, and the fact that the ruling alliance in Malaysia for the first time in 60+ years suffered the staggering electoral defeat that it did, again, as a result in large measure of its staggering corruption, particularly the 1MDB scandal and through the Prime Minister Najib, that was a major breakthrough at least toward democracy and a major kind of sign of hope for democratic progress in Southeast Asia. I think you can tell us whether you know there’s hope for the full restoration of democracy in Thailand at some point or whether we’re in a kind of long term cul-de-sac in terms of just reviving the shell of pseudo democracy or semi-democracy. Maybe shell is not a sufficiently appreciative term, but something well short of real, genuine electoral democracy – the kind of thing in between that Thailand had in the 1980s. If it’s only that, that’s a big step backwards.

I just want to say two other things about Southeast Asia. One is that, I think the fact that there is so much anxiety about China’s rise and China’s hegemonic ambitions in Southeast Asia provides opportunity, potentially inspiration, and leverage to move democracy forward, to accelerate progress towards democracy, because these societies do not want to be client states of the People’s Republic of China. That can give us some leverage to try and at least encourage democratic change. We had that in I think historic fashion, through the instrument of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, and we just threw it away. First by the societal gathering up of frustration with freer trade that even led Hillary Clinton to say that she opposed it though privately she favoured it, and then of course we get the anti-free trader, Donald Trump. I think there will come another moment for the TPP, driven not by economic free trade considerations, but driven by geostrategic considerations. That is the way it will have to be argued for, and I think if it is argued for that way – that it’s creating a kind of seed of a community of pluralistic-leaning or aspiring states that will be an alternative to Chinese hegemony – I think maybe we’ll get another bite at the apple in terms of pushing up forward.

Rakib Ehsan: Thank you Larry. Can we have the next batch of three questions please. Gentleman here please.

Audience Member: My name is David (Inaudible – 52:32). You take Donald Trump (Inaudible – 52:39) for his slogan ‘Make American Great’ which you say has not played well internationally, but of course the slogan was in connection with the electoral campaign of 2016, and he was playing sort of domestic…audience. If you take, I think he’s a fellow colleague from yours from the Hoover Institution, Victor Davis Hanson, he argues actually that, if you like, that Trump has fostered democracy in America through the campaign he did because it was a constituency which the elites in the established parties of the Democrats and the Republican mainstream had ignored at their expense through a whole series of globalist, internationalist policies that he then voiced that slogan to challenge, and in that sense he has actually, you know could be argued to have championed democracy. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: I think the industrial mid-west would be quite an important constituency to discuss. Next question please. Lady in the blue top.

Audience Member: My name is (inaudible – 53:56). I’m retired but I belong to a voluntary organisation called Campaign for Truth. In my view anyway, the liberal left have worshipped the holy grail of globalisation. The dirty word now is not (inaudible – 54:14), I would change that to community. If we all have a stake in our own communities, democracy will thrive. Just one last thing, without proportional representation, Hitler would never have been voted in.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Very interesting analysis. Okay, could we have the gentleman here.

Audience Member: Hi, David (inaudible – 54:42) I’m self-employed. To (inaudible – 54:45) large countries that you haven’t mentioned, maybe you could throw out briefly short, medium, and long term impacts, views and their impacts on democracy of Brazil and India.

Larry Diamond: Okay, such wonderful questions. I’m really enjoying this. I think that…

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: So David’s point is, Trump’s election…

Larry Diamond: I know exactly what his point is. Victor is my colleague. I know what his point is too. I think there’s a lot of truth in the argument that Trump was giving voice to and representation to a ironically, because it’s been historically the majority of the country, but kind of marginalised community, and the marginalised community that saw itself as marginalised, disrespected, looked down upon by the knowledge elite, the cosmopolitan, globalising elites of the two coasts, the Washington establishment and so on. The ordinary, predominantly white working class voters, particularly males but many women also felt this way and voted for him, completely ignoring his alleged misogyny which we’ll leave aside for now. This was a democratic phenomenon and this is the way democracy works. A country leans one way and kind of embraces a certain segment of the electorate and the society and so on, and maybe favours it, and then there’s a reaction against the people that it’s ignoring or disfavouring or diminishing in its policies and its kind of symbolic posture and rhetoric and so on. So there is truth in this, and there is a lesson in this as well, I think an obvious lesson for the democratic party, which I keep saying privately to many of my friends as well as publicly acknowledge – there’s nothing secret about it. That if the democratic party doesn’t pay attention to why Donald Trump appealed to that segment of the electorate and was able to pull away in some cases traditional democratic voters, including white working class voters who now are alleged to be “racist” or something like this by voting for Trump but who twice we know from the social science data voted for Barack Obama, that if the democrats don’t appreciate that and ponder that and incorporate that into their messaging, into their policy offerings, into their policy proposals on immigration among other things, maybe a little bit on abortion as well, and just in terms of their tone of who they’re about, then they will lose the election again. But now the second part of my point. Almost certainly, if they lose the election again, it will be the exact same way that they lost it the last time – by winning the popular vote, and losing the electoral college. Now you can debate, I have my own views on this which you can probably infer, about whether that’s democratic. Personally, I think it’s not. I think the electoral college is an undemocratic abomination and should have been eliminated long ago. But the point is, it’s there, it’s the system, it’s in the constitution, and if someone wins by that means, it’s a constitutionally legitimate victory – which by the way I want to say, almost all democrats did not dispute, they accepted it. If this had happened in reverse, if Hillary Clinton had won the electoral college and lost the popular vote by three million votes, I am quite certain that there would’ve been mass protests by many of Trump supporters, denying the legitimacy of the election. I simply note that parenthetically. But the underlying thrust of your question is there’s an arrogance to the liberal elite, Trump was a kind of democratic corrective to that, and I think with the caveats I’ve articulated, you are right.

On the question about… well you had two points. I want to respond to both of them. One is how you frame this, and if it’s all world government, globalisation, and so on. It’s kind of maybe not the way even democracies want to live and want to head. I think Brexit has a lot of that message in it in a way, and the whole reaction against, again, the liberal cosmopolitan elitist top-down undemocratic arrogance of what’s called the Brussels bureaucracy right? It’s not only Britain that is reacting against that. It’s driving a lot of the populist reaction throughout Europe. So I think I want to extend your point about community for a moment and add the word ‘national’ in front of it, and I don’t think there is an unbridgeable tension between reaffirming a commitment to the legitimacy and indeed necessity of a ‘national community’ and pride in the national community, and the symbols and flag and civic spirit of a national community, and favouring international or European – frame it as you wish – solidarity and cooperation among shared values. There is, I’d say, a fresh argument which Henry Jackson would have really rallied to, about indeed the necessity to have vigorous, sustained, liberal democracy – a kind of civic nationalism that is not ethnic, that’s not exclusive, that’s not disparaging of legitimate immigrants, but based on shared values. Very important point in Frank Fukuyama’s new book about identity.

On the Nazis and the electoral systems, of course you’re absolutely right, and it’s a point Juan Linz? made in his famous book on the breakdown of democracy, and that I’ve made in much of my writing. It’s not just that the Weimar Republic had proportional representation. It’s that it had an extremely fragmenting form of proportional representation in which anyone could win seats and you wind up with eight, ten, twelve parties, and it’s very hard to form coalitions, and then you open the door to what political scientists have called polarised pluralism. I do want to say just so there’s no confusion here, the form of preferential or ranking voting that I was advocating, and the form that is as I understand it was on the ballot in Britain a few years ago, was not in multi-member (inaudible – 1:02:55) with PR as is used in Ireland, it is at least it’s what I favour in the United States. The Australian system for the lower house of Parliament, which is retaining single member districts and requiring that whoever wins a constituency, win by a majority of the vote, and if no-one wins a majority, then the losers are eliminated and votes are transferred to second, or if need be, third choices until somebody wins. So Brazil, India, I guess we could just go on with the big countries of the world since we’ve already talked about Indonesia. We’ll leave South Africa aside. I think it remains to be seen to what extent Bolsonaro, whose comments, rhetoric, and values are really disturbingly illiberal and authoritarian, will be matched by action that eclipses freedom and ultimately potentially democracy. There’s a very important lesson in my book and I think in the empirical reality, about the slide that a country can go through, a political system can go through, if it starts down the path of movement from liberal democracy, again not in the sense of, you know, the extent of rights, you know, abortion rights versus the right to life. I’m not talking about liberal in that sense. I’m talking about liberal in the sense of rule of law and protection for civil liberties and traditional independence and so on. If you start eclipsing that, we see from what Putin did in Russia – I’m not saying it’s the same – from what Chavez did in Venezuela, from what Orban did in Hungary, and from what Duterte is doing in the Philippines now, is that it’s a slippery slope to eclipsing democracy altogether. I think Brazil is now a strong enough democracy so that that’s not going to happen in Brazil, and that there will be counterweights and Bolsonaro doesn’t have his party anywhere near majority in the Parliament, but it’s a… I’m worried about it. I don’t want to be complacent (inaudible – 1:05:42) And by the same token, I’m actually more worried about India. Because there, Modi does have a Parliament majority now, and I think he has shown signs – of course he’s been in power now much longer than Bolsonaro has been – he has shown signs of eclipsing the liberal aspects of democracy in terms of rights of descent, social media pluralism. And in terms of the pluralism of the media, a lot of people don’t realise that media independence and pluralism in India have been gradually diminishing as allies of the BJP have gradually bought up many of the newspapers, and the newspapers and major media outlets have gradually aligned themselves more in unquestioning sympathy, or not very much questioning sympathy, toward Modi and the BJP. And what makes matters worse are two other aspects. One there is a religious chauvinist dimension of this, which is very, very, deeply illiberal and dangerous. And secondly, the Hindu chauvinism of the BJP is embedded in and advanced by a kind of allied party set of activist, or a kind of allied set of shock troops, which is the RSS. This, I think, is a very, very dangerous phenomenon for liberal democracy that is likely to get a widened lease on activity in the second term of BJP rule that is likely to go further in embedding Hindu chauvinism into the school curriculum of India and into the national symbols of India, and I think it’s got disserving implications for religious tolerance and civil liberties.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Thank you. Larry would you be happy just to take a couple of extra questions? Technically, we are out of time but I think it’d be good to just…

Larry Diamond: Yeah I’ll try and be brief.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Yeah, please do.

Audience member: Thank you. My name is Alexander (inaudible – 1:08:25), an independent businessman. Reading about what’s going on in America, particularly in democratic parties, I was just recently reading that 53% of democratic electorate prefer socialism and only 47 prefer capitalism. That kind of worries, and given the state of some democratic potential candidates, some of them are clearly so far to the left. Two questions in that respect. One, why do you think it’s happening. Are these people, shall I say, ill-advised? That’s a polite way to put it. Not to use stronger terms. Or something else? And second question, what the implications are for America, for American democracy, and American economists?

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Okay thank you very much.

Audience member: (inaudible – 1:09:24) Matthews. I’m a Master’s student at King’s College London. So we’re commonly told that we’re about going into a new era, or that we already are in one of great power competition. I want to ask you, what do you think the last period of great power competition USSR-USA would tell us about the coming great power competition between China and the US, bearing in mind we have lots of other dimensions like technology and greater trade integration.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Great question to finish on.

Larry Diamond: Okay with regard to… again, very high quality questions here. I am less worried, I am worried, but I think a little less worried than you are about the spectre that you have articulated. I think there is only one genuine socialist candidate in the democratic… Well, there’s only one serious one. There are a couple of other flakes who I think probably are… But there is only one serious one, and that’s Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even a registered democrat he says. He’s an independent and he describes himself as an independent socialist. I think Sanders… well you look at some of the statements going back and praising the Soviet Union… it’s just… I’ll just say wow. But I think it is extremely unlikely that Bernie Sanders will be the democratic candidate in 2020, extremely unlikely. I’m not dismissing it. One reason is, now this may not reassure you, given the likely perspective you have. One reason why I think is the momentum Elizabeth Warren has mobilised. It’s hard to be the insurgent twice around. Donald Trump may pull it off if he gets as his democratic opponent someone who’s even older than him and someone who spent almost his entire life in government service. But for Bernie Sanders facing a field with so many new and fresh alternative candidates, it’s hard to be the insurgent the second time around, and I think Warren has more energy. She’s got more programs, she’s got more ideas, she’s got more momentum, and my prediction is she will eclipse Sanders in the early primaries and be one of the main candidates for the democratic nomination. If you look at her proposals carefully and you look at what she’s articulated carefully, it’s possible to make the argument – this would be a matter of debate – that she would be too left to be elected. It’s possible to make the argument based on the last election and the current rhetoric that she’ll be branded as Pocahontas, and from a kind of standpoint of running against multiculturalism, Trump will win as well. It’s not possible to make the argument that she’s a socialist. She’s been quite clear in saying she favours capitalism. I mean, you know, most of the democratic candidates even if they’re calling for Medicare for all or British style health insurance system in the United States, they’re not socialists. Now you get back to the poll and what does it mean? I think what it means is, most young people in the United States have no awareness or understanding of what socialism is. Most of them have no awareness of what real socialism did to destroy freedom and prosperity in a number of countries in the world. So there is a lot of ignorance. I think there is no chance that even…

Audience Member: Ill-advised

Audience Member: Or not well-read

Larry Diamond: Well of course. In the absence of another economic calamity like the 2008 financial crisis but even worse that gives the democratic party veto, you know, unilateral control of the entire government, more than… 60 or more votes in the Senate and probably more, firm control of the House of Representatives and a very left-leaning President, we’ve got no prospect of even moving in this direction. Because the Republicans will you know, block it and at least temper the policies in the House of Representatives. Keep in mind, there are a lot of democrats who got elected in 2016, 2018 sorry, when the democrats regained control of the House of Representatives. From swing districts in the United States that are not socialist districts – they’re not Madison-Wisconsin and Berkeley California – and if they were to go to too far to the left toward big government and depreciating free enterprise, they would be punished in the next election. So I think a lot of the national constrains of the American political system and checks and balances will, you know, make it impossible to move in a socialist direction even if it were a good idea, which I think you can gather from my comments, I don’t think it is.

Finally, in terms of the era of great power competition, again and what we learned, we learned so many things that I don’t have the time to recount them all. The first and most important thing we learned I think is that these kinds of principles do matter, and that resolve, toughness, solidarity, and the enduring commitment to principals and ideas is very important to winning a great power competition against an authoritarian, and really I would say now neo-totalitarian rival. If it was another democracy, it wouldn’t matter so much okay? Particularly if China was a liberal democracy, I would still want the United States to you know, to succeed to some extent in the economic and social competition but it wouldn’t be an existential matter. It is an existential matter, again, because we are entering into a new power, a new era of not only great power, I would say superpower competition against a deeply authoritarian, I’d say neo-imperial and neo-totalitarian superpower rival. So all of the lessons we learned about conviction, about the importance of values and ideas and norms and the collective solidarity in free societies are very important. But two more things I think I will note because there’s no more time than that. My host is getting nervous. One is that you can still do business and need to do business on other practical issues even while the superpower competition or great power competition is going on. I mean come on, look and what’s going on in Europe now with 42-degree weather in June in the middle of Europe. We have entered a period of gathering crisis in terms of climate change in the world and we’re not going to … and to deny it is morally irresponsible as well as you know, just self-destructive. So we have practical business we need to do with China and a lot of collaboration, valuable collaboration, and global cooperation needs to be mobilised to meet I think and go beyond in my opinion, the targets in the Paris climate agreement. And the other thing I would note is, let’s remember that from the last round of superpower competition, now kind of tilting the emphasis a little bit, we didn’t want our superpower rival, Russia or the Soviet Union, to ally with and find undying common cause with its communist friend and neighbour China, and there was a value in the competition to try and separate them. Now I think we find that Kissinger-ian lesson again in a somewhat different form with a rising power, superpower China trying to use its renewed friendship with Russia to play off against the West. I think we need to be a little bit savvy in thinking strategically about that again.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Larry it was fantastic having you, and I’d like to thank everyone for attending this event. Everyone please show your appreciation for Larry.


Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here