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20200906 – Democracy Versus Autocracy



The main idea of this book is that despite persistent pessimism of elite in democratic countries, the reality of theory and history is that Democracy provides for more powerful societies in all conceivable areas: economically, military, and diplomatically. Author supports this thesis by discussion of theory, presentation of history, and review of contemporary state of affairs.


Here author makes point that American economic, political, and military dominance maybe coming to the end due to the rise of China. Author, however, cautions everybody from jumping to conclusion because America is democracy, while China is autocracy and history indicates that democracies have multiple advantages in such competition. Author briefly refer to specific advantages and disadvantages of each system and present the structure of the book.   

PART I: Democracy versus Autocracy
This part lays out the central argument. It draws on ideas from the political philosophy canon and the latest social science research to advance the idea that democracies do better in long-run geopolitical competitions. It also considers and critiques the competing arguments about a possible autocratic advantage.

  1. The Democratic Advantages in Theory

Author begins this discussion with Machiavelli and discusses two forms of democracy: republican or representative vs. direct democracy. Then author continues with Montesquieu using as example history of Athens (direct democracy) and Rome (republic). Then author moves to discussion of modern theory of democracy: its forms, economic, diplomatic, and political advantages. At the end author provides a great graphic representation of his argument:

2. The Autocratic Advantage?

In this chapter author moves to discuss the Autocratic Advantage, but he marks it with big question. He starts with reference to Tocqueville’s comparison American democracy and its seemingly big deficiencies with autocratic systems. Then he moves to contemporary views and presents a number of examples of awe of contemporary western “intellectuals” before efficiency of China’s communist system. He also looks under the hood of this systems and find that there so many deficiencies there that this awe is not much more justified than their historic excitement about Soviet system. Author lists autocracies’ specific supposedly superior features such as easy decision making, independence from public opinion, uncontrolled resource allocation, and absence of individual rights, could impede pursuit of common good, and so on. For each of these specifics author convincingly demonstrate why it is not so and why democratic approach to this specific is actually much better.

PART II: The Democratic Advantage in History
The second part of the book examines the empirical basis for this idea through simple quantitative analysis and a historical study of democratic and autocratic competitors from the ancient world to the present. Specifically, the book examines the following seven cases: Athens, Sparta, and Persia; the Roman Republic, Carthage, and Macedon; the Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and the Duchy of Milan; the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire; Britain and France in the 18th and 19th centuries; the United Kingdom and Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This section of the book does not show that democracies always achieve everlasting hegemony, but it does demonstrate that they tend to excel in great power rivalry and for the precise reasons identified by the theoretical framework

3. The Democratic Advantage by the Numbers

In this chapter author provides numbers demonstrating relative power of democracies vs. autocracies. Author notes that:” …the leading states in the international system for the past four hundred years (the timeframe of his study) have been: the Dutch Republic (1609–1713), Great Britain (1714–1945), and the United States (1945–present). These states were also among the most democratic of their time. According to this reckoning, therefore, liberal leviathans have led the world for the past four centuries and counting.”  Author looks in more details at current most powerful countries specifically USA comparatively with Russia and China:

After discussion overall pattern of Democracies being more powerful, in the next 6 chapters of this part author presents history of competition between Democracies and Autocracies:

4. Athens, Sparta, and Persia; 5. The Roman Republic, Carthage, and Macedon; 6. The Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and the Duchy of Milan; 7. The Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire; 8. Great Britain and France; 9. The United Kingdom and Germany; 10. The United States and the Soviet Union

PART III: The Democratic Advantage Today
This part is the real payoff of the book. What does all of this mean for contemporary international politics? This section examines the United States, Russia, and China. It studies how their domestic political systems prepare them for the coming competition and finds that U.S. institutions are a continuing source of strength, while Russian and Chinese institutions are dragging down their attempts to amass international wealth and power.

The next 3 chapters represent author’s summarization of contemporary key competitors:

11. The Russian Federation

“If Russia is a great power, it is barely one. Its autocratic system is undermining its economic, diplomatic, and military performance. Its economy is smaller than Italy’s. Its financial system is under serious strain. Russia lacks effective alliances and soft power and its aggressive behavior has provoked rival alliances to take countervailing measures. Its military is overly focused on domestic threats and is ill-equipped for the strategic-technological competitions of the 21st century.”

12. The People’s Republic of China

“China led by the CCP is unlikely to become the world’s leading state. Its Marxist-Leninist model is not well suited to building a world-beating, innovative economy, to winning friends and allies around the world, or to constructing a lethal military force with global power-projection capabilities. China’s autocratic system has undermined its competitiveness before, including under the Qing dynasty and Mao’s CCP. China did better when it followed Deng’s liberalizing economic guidance, but it is reverting to its old form of dysfunctional authoritarianism under President Xi.”

13. The United States of America

Here author characterizes American status as such:” In sum, America’s vibrant economy, its strong alliance relationships, and its unmatched military, all reflections of the U.S. domestic political system, will continue to provide a significant source of strategic advantage for the United States over its autocratic competitors in the years to come.”

PART IV: The Democratic Advantage in the Future
This part takes stock of what we have learned and draws out the implications for U.S. foreign policy and also looks ahead to the future. How can the United States best shore up its sources of strength? How can, or should, it seeks to exploit its opponents’ weaknesses? And, given the previous arguments, will the American era endure?

14. Implications for American Leadership

In this final chapter author discusses increasing competition between China and Russia, which accumulated significant economic and military power via massive investment and technology transfers these authoritarian regimes received from Democracies in early years of XXI century in hope that they would become full pledged Democracies – the happy outcome that did not happen. Author obviously convinced that the competition will end with victory if not for America then for Democracy:” Indeed, if or when the United States declines, it will most likely be overcome only by another democracy. Over the past four centuries, democratic hegemons have lost their positions exclusively to other democratic challengers. Autocrats have all tried and failed in their attempts. At present, a truly unified European Union, or possibly India, are the only democratic entities with enough power resources to plausibly rival the United States for global ascendance over the coming century. But a democratic transition in China would suddenly transform Beijing into a much more serious competitor.”


I absolutely agree that democracy is much better form of society than autocracy and I believe that outcome of current (summer of 2020) massive attack against democracy by leftist ideologues and their stormtroopers prompted by seemingly overwhelming opportunity provided by pandemic, will fail. The victory of Democracy in America will lead to significant upgrade of its foundational ideas to provide better immunity against similar attacks in the future. This immunity will be provided by prevention of unchallenged indoctrination into collectivistic, racist, and intolerant doctrines that currently occurs. I think that as soon as such ideas challenged at all levels starting in kindergarten, individuals who promote such ideas would have no chance to obtain such numbers of supporters as they have now inflicting mayhem on American live.

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