A loyal MR reader asks:

Is authoritarianism excusable or permissible – for any length of time – if it is justified by a need for economic growth/reform (e.g. Lee Kwan Yew, Pinochet, Park Chung Hee)?   

"Compared to what" is the first question.  At the margin, individuals favoring democratization did the right thing in opposing those dictators.  More democratic versions of those regimes would have been better.  That said, I don’t think absolute majoritarian democracy in Singapore, from day one, would have been better than the reign of Lee.  It would have led to ethnic voting and the quick end of democracy, in destabilizing fashion.  Yet now Singapore, a successful and well-established country, can and should become more democratic.  When it comes to Pinochet, we should condemn part of the regime and praise some of the parts concerning economic policy.  Viewing Pinochet purely as an individual moral agent, he was quite wrong to act the way he did.  If you ask "would I be willing to endanger the good economic reforms by eschewing torture to enforce the rule of the regime," the answer is yes I would want to immediately end the torture and take that risk.

#43 in a series of 50.


Comments for this post are closed