Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century
By Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman
Princeton University, 2022, 360 pp.
Guriev and Treisman offer a deeply researched tour d’horizon of the evolving dark arts of authoritarian politics. The old model of dictatorship was embodied in the violence and brutality of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China, regimes built on coercion, fear, and the gulag. Authoritarianism today manifests in the “low-intensity coercion” of regimes on both the left and the right, exemplified by the governments of Hungary, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, and Venezuela. The goal of dictatorship remains the same: dominance and control over society. But the method of the new breed of autocrats is not to be feared but to become popular through the control and manipulation of information. They wrap their regimes in the symbols and rhetoric of democracy, while using the powers of the state to incrementally weaken and silence opposition. The new dictatorships are harder to combat because they tend to operate within the framework of constitutional and parliamentary systems. But the good news is that these regimes are also vulnerable to push back from antiauthoritarian actors: lawyers, judges, civil servants, activists, and journalists.