Authoritarian great power capitalism
Before I forget -- a while back I read a terrific Foreign Affairs article, The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers. The argument is, just a century or so ago, states based on authoritarian capitalism were very powerful in the world; e.g. imperial Japan and Germany. They got plenty of the economic benefits of capitalism but not so much the democratic effects people like to talk about today. (And there are interesting points that the failure of fascism in the second world war was contingent and not inherent to the ideology.) The author argues this looks like the future: Russia and China are becoming economically strong world powers but keeping solidly non-democratic ways of governance. The period of liberal democracy we live in, with all its overhyped speculation about the inevitable spread democracy and free market capitalism -- say, an "end of history" -- might just be that, a moment caused by the vagaries of 20th century history.
After I read the article last June, I actually saw Mr. End of History himself, Francis Fukuyama, speak at the good ol' Long Now seminar series. He pointed out several challenges to liberal democracy, admitting:
China and Russia will be a test of his thesis, Fukuyama said. They are getting wealthier. If they democratize in the next twenty years, he’s right. If they remain authoritarian, he’s wrong.
But this only posed it as a test, not addressing this particular point -- that authoritarian capitalism could be efficient and powerful enough to beat out liberal democracy's hegemony. Maybe it's secondary to clashes of civilizations or environmental catastrophe, but it seems something's there.