Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, former Ambassador to the United Nations under Ronald Reagan, is the author of one of the three most famous essays in the history of American foreign policy, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," Commentary (November 1979)--the other two being George F. Kennan's call for "containment" of the Soviet Union and The End of History by Francis Fukuyama. In it she argued that it was incumbent on the United States to differentiate between authoritarian regimes and totalitarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes she argued, like Iran and Nicaragua, though they obviously did not meet our preferred standards of democratization, were fundamentally just harsh, but traditional, governments of countries which had known no other type of government and were perhaps not yet ready for democracy :
"Traditional autocrats leave in place existing allocations of wealth, power, status, and other
resources, which in most traditional societies favor an affluent few and maintain masses in poverty.
But they worship traditional gods and observe traditional taboos. They do not disturb the habitual
rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal
Essentially, the autocracies protect their own power and wealth, but leave most other aspects of life relatively untouched. As the name implies, they are more concerned with who in society will wield authority, i.e. themselves, than with imposing any particular ideology. Because this is the case, they in fact preserve many of the institutions upon which democracy can later be built, whether the Church or corporations or other civic organizations.Read more ›
This collection of work expanded my understanding of governing systems, institutions and the leaders that run them. It's not an easy read and you may want a dictionary at your side, but the complex thoughts benefit greatly from the rich vocabulary. Much of the subject matter is history that I've lived through like most Americans born during and just after the "baby boom." I can't say this book is a "must read" for everyone. However, I'm sure you'll enjoy it if you're looking for new perspective or just curious to learn a bit more about how the person you just voted for may think!
Kirkpatrick wrote a book that deserves to be more widely read.
The title refers to the American tendency which has never left us, even during supposedly conservative eras, of assuming that all dictatorships are alike or that so called right wing dictatorships are worse than socialist or communist dictatorships. The chapter dealing with that issue is the most famous.
She draws a distinction between autocrats and totalitarian rulers. The former are not democratic and can be brutal. Their brutality aims to keep them in power and maintain their privileges. But they don't just use force. The rulers have familial and often historic ties to the ruled. They create patronage and dispense largesse. Unless seriously opposed, they generally leave people alone to do business, worship, and conduct family life. They often allow some measure of freedom of the press and tolerate some criticism. Generally, they only notice those who try to overthrow them.
Life continues for most people as it always have. They live by tradition and custom. This means that most are poor and that life is bounded by the family, the village, the ethnicity, and the religion. There is a lot of injustice, especially by modern western standards. But life is not totally arbitrary. There is law. There is custom by which the people can protect and exercise such rights as they have. Their situation is akin to that in Europe when it was ruled by kings and most were peasants. It is possible that such societies can become richer, raise the living standard, and become more democratic.
Totalitarian rulers, however, are not just content to have power. They want the state to own everything and all loyalty to be to the state.Read more ›