Sunday, May 14, 2006

No to Dictators

Writing in the London Sunday Times in advance of Hugo Chávez's visit to London, which begins today and continues through tomorrow, Ian Buruma has some words of warning for Western intellectuals and "progressives" who warm to dictators. Just as Stalin attracted Western admirers like the Webbs (Beatrice and Sidney), and just as Western followers of radical fashion lined up to pay homage to Mao and Castro, so Chávez is proving to be a focus for privileged discontent with the world of Western democracy:
That Chavez is applauded by many people, especially the poor, is not necessarily a sign of democracy; many revolutionary leaders are popular, at least in the beginning of their rule, before their promises have ended in misery and bloodshed.

The left has a proud tradition of defending political freedoms, at home and abroad. But this tradition is in danger of being lost when western intellectuals indulge in power worship. Applause for autocrats undermines the morale of people who insist on fighting for their freedoms. Leftists were largely sympathetic, and rightly so, to critics of Berlusconi and Thaksin, even though neither was a dictator. Both did, of course, support American foreign policy. But when democracy is endangered, the left should be equally hard on rulers who oppose the US. Failure to do so encourages authoritarianism everywhere, including in the West itself, where the frivolous behaviour of a dogmatic left has already allowed neoconservatives to steal all the best lines.
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