Understanding the Rise of Global Authoritarianism: US Exports and the Emergence of a New Global Movement
At the end of the Cold War, America thought it had made significant progress in terms of democracy and freedom.
The Berlin Wall was dismantled and Eastern Europe was liberated.
But over time, it became clear that post-Cold War America was somehow contributing to a rise in authoritarianism around the world.
In her book After the Fall, Elizabeth Cady Stanton takes a hard look at how US policy and technology have enabled oppressive regimes abroad.
In particular, she examines how the US War on Terror emboldened authoritarian powers, as well as how American technology created opportunities for Chinese Xi Jinping’s authoritarian system to keep its grip on web services.
Stanton’s chilling insight reveals just how insidious these threats can be when left unchecked.
The Fall of American Exceptionalism – How Post-Cold War America Lost Its Way
The end of the Cold War left America in a new and uncertain world.
Without the threat of communism, US citizens were left to ponder their place in the global order.
It soon became clear that the strength and power wielded by the USA was not as great as many had previously believed.
The collapse of communism meant that creating and promoting democracy was no longer a clear purpose for America, with economic opportunity taking priority over personal freedoms and democracy.
This caused people living in recently liberated countries like Hungary or Russia to be wary of America’s capitalist ideals, particularly when evidence revealed severe economic inequality between rich and poor.
To make matters worse, the financial crisis at the start of the 21st century showed just how dangerous such an unequal system could be if mishandled, while America’s seemingly never-ending War on Terror enhanced this negative view.
Not only did it cost both money and lives, but it also inspired more extremism throughout the world while spreading violence and poverty worldwide – instead of freedom and prosperity like many had once assumed.
How Nationalism and Identity Politics Undermine Democracy: Viktor Orbán’s Shockingly Effective Authoritarian Playbook
Viktor Orbán, the leader of Hungary, has shown us a clear example of how nationalism and authoritarianism go hand-in-hand.
His reign started in 2010 when he transformed himself from a left-leaning politician into a nationalistic, populist one.
This move was an attempt to rally his country around him and return to its traditional Christian values, as well as tighten its borders against outside influence.
Orbán’s plan was effective; his party Fidesz won two-thirds control of parliament and he passed over a thousand new laws.
These laws changed the voting system, co-opted major television outlets, rewrote the constitution, and limited free press – all of which aimed were to make it harder for opposing voices to be heard.
This case shows us how Viktor Orbán used identity politics and nationalism to propel himself back into power – combining both tactics to create an authoritarian regime that is still in place today.
The Rise of Putin and the Weaponization of Nationalism: From Humiliation to Hostility
It was the end of the Cold War that allowed for Vladimir Putin to rise to power in Russia.
The fall of the Iron Curtain changed everything, as Boris Yeltsin had stumbled to move his country away from Communism.
This led to an economy struggling under corruption and a growing resentment toward Western ideologies.
Putin was carefully chosen by Yeltsin as a successor in 1999 after he made a deal that he wouldn’t face charges for his corruptions.
With United Russia party members now hand-selected, Putin began manipulating the Russian media and setting up pro-government messaging and nationalistic fervor that silenced all opposing voices.
Wealthy individuals like Mikhail Khodorkovsky quickly found themselves in prison, while those close to Putin, such as Igor Sechin, became even more wealthy due to their control over Russia’s resources such as Yukos oil company.
Unfortunately, any dissenting opinions were met with intense force—those who spoke out against Putin often faced threats, exile or even death like Boris Nemtsov who was shot dead within blocks of the Kremlin or Alexei Navalny who was poisoned and hospitalized in 2020 despite meeting with the author during research gathering.
How America’s War on Terror Helped Strengthen Authoritarian Regimes Abroad
The events of September 11, 2001 were certainly life-altering, not only for the United States but also for the world.
After this incident, the US reacted in a way that was decidedly militaristic and nationalistic, resulting in legislation like the PATRIOT Act that eroded civil liberties and sanctioned the invasion of several countries with little-to-no participation in 9/11 attacks.
So how did this effect global politics? By providing an example of what it is not to be a “moral authority,” such actions gave other leaders around the world something to rally behind – namely more authoritarian rule.
In particular, leaders such as Vladimir Putin used America’s War on Terror to their advantage to justify war and introduce laws that strengthened his control over people.
However, this isn’t where America’s support for authoritarianism stopped.
It was aided even further by powerful social media technology, previously thought to help democracy spread through organized protests in countries like Egypt and Ukraine.
However, many have since employed tools from Facebook or Twitter as weapons against democracy more than anything else – Russia included – by actively attacking dissidents and furthering conspiracy theories while trying its hardest to sow division.
How The End of the Cold War Led to a State of Authoritarianism in Modern China
When the Cold War ended, China was left with an existential dilemma.
The Chinese Communist Party acted to prevent a collapse similar to that of the Soviet Union, and they began to pursue economic reform while maintaining their authority over politics.
As a result of this combination of economic reform and growing nationalism, today’s modern oppressive China emerged.
Over time, nationalist tensions have risen in the country particularly after 2014 when Uighur Muslims staged an attack in Xinjiang Province.
This prompted China to initiate what is known as the “people’s war on terror” with a massive crackdown on the Uighur population, leading to detainment camps for over one million people.
Furthermore, technology has been used for both economic advances that helped raise people out of poverty as well its dark side with surveillance and oppression strategies across all aspects of the lives of citizens.
The Technology Exported from the US Is Now Being Used for Oppressive Ends in China
In After the Fall, author Adrian Daub illustrates how China has used American technology for oppressive ends.
It all began with the introduction of their social credit system, which involves using technology to monitor citizens’ actions and rewarding or punishing them accordingly.
In some cases, even the actions of a citizen’s relative outside of China could cause them to be targeted for detention.
The level of surveillance in Xinjiang Province is astonishing—cameras monitor every move people make, and innocuous activities like growing a beard can get someone arrested.
Even phone calls are monitored!
This extensive use of mass surveillance was made possible thanks to American technology that was exported before its full potential was understood.
China has used this technology for more than just oppression—it’s leveraged it to expand its global influence via the Belt and Road Initiative.
Add to that their attempts to gain control over Hong Kong, and you have a picture of a country with many powerful tools at its disposal.
And unfortunately, there are few organizations or companies willing to stand up against China due to their reliance on Chinese business.
However, as protests erupt on the streets of Hong Kong, this could be coming to an end soon.
Hoping for the Best Despite Global Fluctuations in Democracy and Authoritarianism
When it comes to the future of global democracy, there is really no clear answer.
We don’t know which way authoritarian regimes will lean.
But there are reasons for hope that these systems will fail.
This is a message Barack Obama shared with the author as he wrote his book about what’s happened around the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Obama argued that democracy and totalitarianism have always ebbed and flowed throughout history, and this era is no different.
He also pointed out that people like Alexei Navalny remain stubbornly hopeful that leadership based on consolidating power and money cannot last forever: every empire falls eventually.
People continue to protest in Budapest, Moscow, Hong Kong, and throughout America because they still believe that things can be done better than they are now.
The key takeaway is that truth, expert knowledge, and global unity are essential elements in fighting against authoritarian regimes – whether it be Mark Zuckerberg who needs to be held accountable for products such as Facebook or protesters continuing to fight for democracy in their respective countries.
Everyone globally has been affected by this pandemic in one way or another; maybe this event can help remind people how close we must stay together in order for democracies to flourish all over the world.
The overall message of After the Fall is one of warning.
We must not be complacent in the face of rising authoritarianism, or a drift away from democracy around the world.
The events that occurred after the fall of the Berlin Wall led to economic inequality and worsened America’s moral authority.
This, combined with the unjust war on terror and the power of social media platforms to spread disinformation and conspiracy theories, have only made matters worse.
But despite all this, there is still hope.
Political leadership built only on money and power are doomed to fail eventually and it’s up to all of us – as citizens – to make sure it does.