Short answer: only in the early stages of developmentby George Magnus / March 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who was re-elected (unsurprisingly) over the weekend, and China’s Xi Jinping, who has just been confirmed as President without term limits by the Chinese Communist Party, are the leading figureheads in an unsettling world of rising authoritarianism that sits in sharp contrast to the one in which most of us grew up. About two-fifths of states deemed to be autocratic nowadays are “strongman” regimes, and most of the world’s population now lives in states that are deemed to be not free or only partly free. Welcome to the world of “bad emperors.”
The so-called “bad emperor” problem originated in China. It is not so much about autocracy, per se, because benevolent and wise autocratic rulers can do good things. The devilish question is how to guarantee a persistent supply of good rulers, and the answer is that it is impossible. The political dynamics of bad emperors or strongman regimes include a tendency to unpredictability, the pursuit of policies that are likely to be volatile, and a greater possibility of the initiation of conflict and tension abroad.
Bad emperors are on the rise. Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan are good examples, and though neither is constitutionally president for life, both may yet contrive to be. In China, term limits were introduced after Mao Zedong in 1982 in order to mitgate the risk of bad emperors and ensure an orderly succession of leaders, but these have just been thrown out of the window. Health, bullets and opponents notwithstanding, Xi and the others could be around for a long time.