Why Authoritarian Societies Flounder and Fail

Many people believe that the West progressed because of some magical combination of race and other special ingredients. I think otherwise-

The main reason behind the rise of the West (after the renaissance) and the stagnation of Asian societies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years comes down to the degree of authoritarianism in those societies.

To put it another way, the ability of a society to progress is inversely proportional to the degree of authoritarianism within it.

While authoritarianism can provide stability in the short term, it carries a particularly nasty feature that sacrifices the future of that system. Human beings can be motivated by reward and fear, however using fear to run systems results in a particular set of problems.

Fear can only motivate people to do the bare minimum necessary for survival. Hence, societies which use fear are characterized by low productivity, paranoia, hoarding and lack of cohesion. They are very unpleasant places to live in and ripe targets for attack by outsiders as there are many in that society who would like to see it fall. Even rich authoritarian societies such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan are not known for innovation, personal happiness and only survive because of massive ritualized coercion supplemented by mercantile policies. These societies would be rapidly impoverished and destabilized if countries who buy stuff from them did not do so.

Since ruling with authority has little to do with actual competence and everything to do with making others fear you, they are also optimal for the rise of impressive but incompetent sociopaths. If you don’t believe me- look at large corporations and businesses which are often run into the ground by such impressive but incompetent snake oil salesmen. Authoritarian societies are almost always ruled by petty despots and their ass-kissers until they run out of luck or resources.

Another problem associated with authoritarianism is its negative effect of law, contracts, trust and resource allocation. Because these societies are full of paranoia and strong arm tactics, concepts like ‘rule of law’ and ‘independent and effective contract arbitration’ are effectively meaningless. Since each despot tries to use their power to maximize terror and rent extraction, laws are frequently altered or are effectively tilted towards the ruler’s ass-kissers and supporters. Similarly, contracts are meaningless if the system is not seen as a generally fair arbitrator between two parties. These societies are also characterized by low interpersonal trust and rampant power abuses. Consequently commerce is difficult and unstable under the best of conditions.

Authoritarian societies are also characterized by excessive rent-seeking by rulers and their supporters. However money gained through rent-seeking is often removed from the system, rather than recirculated, it results in a shrinking real economy and even more intensive attempts to extract rent. Such societies are also prone to divert an ever increasing proportion of their income into the security and coercion apparatus. Ultimately the only ways to become rich in such a society are: be the rulers, their ass-kissers, supporters or part of the security-coercion apparatus.

It does not take a genius to figure out that such societies are doomed to fail or flounder (if they are lucky) while destroying the lives of most people living in them. On a related note, aren’t most western countries (especially the USA) moving towards Authoritarianism?


  1. July 26, 2011 at 5:05 am

    “Since each despot tries to use their power to maximize terror and rent extraction, laws are frequently altered or are effectively tilted towards the ruler’s ass-kissers and supporters.”

    What’s the difference between laws frequently altered by a despot and laws frequently altered by a parliament? While laws issued by parliaments pass through the judgement of different persons not just one person, at the end a law will either pass or will not, so there is no difference between a shitty law issued by a despot and one issued by a parliament.

    My study of laws through history shows that in the modern era of democracy, laws are more frequently altered than in previous eras.

    Kleptocracies such as the USA in the last 20 years are far closer to ‘true’ Authoritarian societies than many would admit.

    Societies are defined by how they function, rather than their self-image.

  2. demirogue
    July 26, 2011 at 6:51 am

    And in the last 20 years, more laws controlling certain behaviors have been allowed to pass than ever before especially here in the USA. From smoking bans, to gun bans, to seat belt laws to homeland security laws. Is that a sign of an authoritarian government or one where the populace is so dumbed down that they need to be controlled? And has it changed society for the better or worse? On one hand they want to regulate certain behaviors but then they turn around and pay for the consequences of others that affect society at much larger levels.

    It really doesn’t make sense unless there’s something to be gained by it.

  3. July 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Ironically, the productivity of companies is increasing while wages for workers stagnate and unemployment is still high… this can only go on for so long, I believe part of what is sustaining this is that those currently employed fear the UI line and will put up and shut up….

  4. July 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Not sure where I read this, but recently someone wrote something like: “Dictatorships are ruled using anger and fear. Democracies are ruled using cynicism and despair.”

    • July 27, 2011 at 3:19 am

      fear of death,
      fear of diseases,
      fear of cramps,
      fear of natural changes,
      fear of climate,
      fear of the food you eat,
      working 24/24 for some useless pleasures and luxuries (or are they really luxuries?),
      lsting day and night over fiat money that can be infinitely produced and that has no real value etc. etc.

  1. July 31, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: