These are my notes for the third set of lectures about Democratic to Authoritarian Rule at the University of Michigan. The rest of my notes can be found here.
The third set of lectures, Tools of Authoritarianism, begins with a set of lectures by Juan Cole, a Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He speaks about the Arab Spring of the 2010s. The Arab Spring took place because the post-colonial Arab world was ruled mainly by presidents-for-life. The Millennials became angry and scared because the colonial times that these presidents had saved their countries from had been long before the Millennials were born – the Millennials couldn’t remember and therefore couldn’t relate. Some of these presidents-for-life were setting up their children to take over for them, and the Millennials wanted a democratic vote. They mobilized by word-of-mouth and social media and managed to overthrow their governments. However, the presidents who were voted in during the Arab Spring also had authoritarian tendencies, such as arresting dissenters and suppressing gatherings using military force. These presidents had learned their lessons about social media and began to monitor it. Professor Cole warns against ignoring such prying into our private documents here in the US.
The third set of lectures continues with a commentary by Brian Porter-Szucs, a Profesor of History at the University of Michigan. He talks about everyday authoritarianism in today’s Poland. Poland is ruled by the party that is in control, rather than by the President or Prime Minister per se. That means the leader of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is the authoritarian ruler of Poland. Porter-Szucs points out that in any political argument, someone always gets compared to Stalin or Hitler, and says that this is usually an overstatement. However, he also points out that to MOST people during Stalin or Hitler’s regimes, life went on like normal. They went to work, fell in love, hung out with their friends, dreamed their dreams. It was the minorities targeted by these regimes that mainly suffered. Porter-Szucs’ point is that it is easy to ignore what is going on around you, and to not even realize that an authoritarian regime is being built.
Pauline Jones, the Director of the University of Michigan’s International Institute and a Professor of Political Science, completes the third set of lectures by describing Putin’s Russia. He came to power through what seems to be a fair democratic vote, but soon started changing the laws so that the country became an autocracy. For instance, he increased the length of time he could be in power before another vote. He also indirectly supported assaults against, and assassinations of, journalists who disagreed with his regime. Professor Jones’ main point was how easy and often legal it is for a person in power to begin the first steps to create an autocracy.
The third set of lectures ends with this discussion question: Extreme polarization in a democratic society is viewed as many researchers as an early sign of authoritarian rule. Do you agree and why?
I guess I can see how extreme polarization could be one of the first signs of authoritarian rule – because authoritarian leaders use media to spread propaganda which people either believe or strongly disagree with. However, I don’t think it is necessarily a sign of authoritarian rule. In the US, politics began to get very polarized and started down a slippery slope during George W. Bush’s, then Obama’s, then Trump’s administrations. I wouldn’t say any of these leaders (as of yet) is authoritarian – although I see why people would believe any of the three of these leaders WAS authoritarian.