Scott Sumner  

The smart against the dumb: The new Cold War

Paul Krugman: David Henderson ... Zycher on Gruber...

Consider the following story:

A suicide bomber has killed at least 48 students at a high school assembly in northeastern Nigeria, witnesses say.

. . .

The region has been in the grip of fighting between government forces and Boko Haram, whose name, roughly translated, means "Western education is forbidden." A suicide bomber last week killed 30 people in the same city, Potiskum, the Yobe state capital.

This story is emblematic of something I've noticed seems increasingly common in the 21st century---political movements that appear exceedingly stupid. Before exploring this idea, let me concede that the second half of the 20th century had many similar examples. Idi Amin in Uganda, the anti-intellectualism of the Khmer Rouge and indeed to a lesser extent the entire Chinese Cultural Revolution. And let's not even talk about the first half. That's why I italicized "seems."

Nonetheless, something about the 21st century seems radically different from the period of my youth (the 1960s and 1970s.) In the 20th century there was a global battle of ideas, roughly capitalism vs. socialism. This battle took many forms in many different places, but one common theme was that there was pretty widespread intellectual support for both sides of the struggle. Not both sides in each and every case, but as a philosophical struggle for the future of mankind.

The world is still filled with struggle, but here are some things that seem different to me today:

1. Most intellectuals now buy into the mixed economy, liberal democratic structure of Europe, North America, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Much of Latin America is edging in that direction as well, but there are obvious exceptions. The big debate in Chile is about how to fund education, not the merits of Marxism.

2. Throughout the rest of the world there is a generalized anti-western feeling, at least in many governments and terrorist groups. But these groups often have absolutely nothing in common with each other. Here are a few recent alternatives to the liberal democratic model:

1. Chavez's soft authoritarian socialism
2. Putin's soft authoritarian right-wing nationalism
3. Ahmadinejad's Islamic fundamentalism
4. Mugabe's corrupt racism
5. Kim's Marxist monarchy

These models are mostly unrelated (although of course there is some overlap--two are socialist and two or three are racist.) In the 20th century they would have despised each other. But today they are united by a common anti-western inclination. Thus you often see alliances between these strange bedfellows on foreign policy issues that never would have occurred at the height of the Cold War. Instead, during the Cold War the "right wing" outliers would have been allied with the US and the "left wing" outliers would have been allied with the Soviet Union.

3. To an educated westerner the statements made by the anti-western leaders (as well as terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram) don't just seem offensive, they seem extremely stupid. I've talked to Venezuelans who told me that Chavez would give long speeches on TV that were almost mind-bogglingly stupid. Anyone who has read the various laughable claims made for the Kim family in North Korea has to wonder what the North Korean people make of the absurd propaganda. Just to be clear, I am not arguing that the leaders of these countries are stupid at a personal level, indeed Putin seems like a very wily and shrewd politician. Perhaps the others are (or were) as well. But I don't recall ever reading any public statement by Putin that did not insult one's intelligence with its obvious dishonesty or mean-spiritedness.

4. Of course in the days of the Cold War there were lots of dishonest and foolish things said by various governments, but nonetheless there was always the sense that most were at least trying to appeal to idealistic global opinion. Both the US and Soviets, as well as their allies, at least tried to make their political models look appealing to the nonaligned countries, and to intellectuals. And to some extent they succeeded--lots of western intellectuals were on each side of the debate. There is almost no western intellectual support for the militarism and gay bashing of Putin, or the racism of Mugabe, or the stoning to death of adulterers and homosexuals. Nor for the kidnapping of school girls that get sold into slavery. The North Korean dynasty is treated like a bad joke. Only Chavez had a bit of support among western intellectuals, and that's mostly gone now, as Venezuela keeps deteriorating under his replacement.

5. Why do such dissimilar leaders of outcast countries align with each other? Perhaps they share resentment at being looked down upon, at being on the losing side of history. If the western liberal democratic model is correct, if it is the "end of history," then places where history is still playing out are naturally seen as being inferior in some sense. I don't think that perception is correct, but I understand why it occurs. (For conservatives of the "civilization vs. barbarism" variety, I can't help pointing out that as recently as the 1940s Europe and East Asia were far more barbaric than the Middle East. Does that mean that Arab civilization was in some fundamental sense "superior" to Western civilization in the 1940s?)

6. Or maybe this is all "realpolitik," the cynical manipulation of not very well-informed populations by calculating politicians.

PS. I anticipate that people will point out how I oversimplify the differences between the 20th and the 21st century. Guilty as charged. As I noted earlier, there are lots of similarities between the anti-intellectualism of the Khmer Rouge and Boko Haram. Perhaps what has actually changed isn't so much the world itself, but rather the world as perceived in the imagination of Western intellectuals. You can find quotes from lots of respectable western intellectuals praising Mao, even at the height of the Cultural Revolution. I doubt you can find any western intellectuals praising Boko Haram.

PPS. Modern China is an interesting case, with a foot in each camp. I suspect that one difference between China and the other outcasts is that China really believes it can beat the West at its own game, that it can become the greatest economic power in the world. Hence less resentment at being on the losing side of history.

PPPS. Castro is one 20th century leader who lived into the 21st century. He and his brother seem totally out of place today.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (31 to date)
gregorylent writes:

not just globally, but in my neighborhood, or perhaps even in the comments to this post .. smart vs dumb is everywhere ..

side notes .. the dumb don't think they are dumb .. there are some "new age" explanations for what you note, but traditional mysticism is of little help .. science is no help at all .. spiral dynamics is a great model for understanding the differences, though not their cause

Grant Gould writes:

I was once told -- though I cannot find the authority to cite -- that a better translation of the 'boko' in Boko Haram is "inauthenticity", and that it was a epithet applied to people who preferred western ways to customary tribal life and values.

I think this inauthentic/traditional dichotomy is a more productive framing than smart/dumb. What we are seeing is a rebellion of some societies against modern, western intellectual traditions that supplant local traditions merely because those local traditions are ignorant, counterproductive, oppressive, and factually false. To value knowledge, productivity, freedom, and truth over a society's traditional values is profoundly radical and not obviously virtuous; it should not surprise us that from time to time groups violently resent it and authoritarians make use of those resentments.

A related idea in the West can be found in the conservative-populist anti-"new class" literature which rejects cosmopolitanism ("deracination") and intellectual curiosity's challenges to the local "folkways" of race and anti-intellectual religiosity. This view prefers a sort of intellectual locovorism where any source of knowledge too far away to be seen from one's front porch is suspect.

Progress forces us to be "inauthentic" to our roots; some people will always resent that, because it is nearly impossible for a culture to embrace inauthenticity as a positive value.

Marco writes:
indeed Putin seems like a very wily and shrewd politician

Will we end up regretting our anti-Assad position as naive (if not actually stupid) and his as realistic? That a democratic alternative there and elsewhere in the Near East is likely to result in replacing an authoritarian regimes with a totalitarian one, to our regret?

MikeDC writes:

A few points to consider:

1. Most of these conflicts can be explained as either artifacts of the long ideological struggle against communism or as deeply influenced by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as an ideology.

* Chavez, Mugabe, and Kim were effectively Soviet inspired, although they've "survived" the fall of communism.

* At the middle of the two ideologies, Putin's somehow seeks to disclaim communism but maintain themselves as the descendants of an alternative way to the West. At the same time, Putin has come into a much more direct and brutal form of conflict with the Islamic fundamentalists than the West has.

* And the rest, I think are very obviously part and parcel of the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism.

2. Thus, there is an ideological conflict, but it's largely turning from a debate about class that's largely ideological in nature (capitalism vs socialism, with the latter arguing for class conflict) to a debate about ideology that's largely class based (the rich and decadent intellectuals of the West vs. the poor true believers of the Islamic world).

Ruy Diaz writes:
This story is emblematic of something I've noticed seems increasingly common in the 21st century---political movements that appear exceedingly stupid.

I challenge your assumption. The purpose of the political movements you mention is to obtain and keep political power. From the standpoint of attaining its goals, those movements are not stupid at all.

RogC writes:

I believe Scott that you are simply noticing the stupidity when it comes from a different tribe and overlooking it when it comes from your own or a culturally close tribe. For almost any nonsense ever uttered by Chavez or Mugabe, you can find a US congressman/EU parlimentarian calling for the same policies. What policy in North Korea is really any more idiotic than the NHS in the UK or more damaging economically than the inane US taxation of income earned in other regions.

In Russia, Putin confiscates an entire company by declaring the owner a criminal, in the US you confiscate 16 billion from shareholders of a bank and don't even bother to charge a single employee or owner with a crime. Any difference is at most a matter of degree.

In many of these countries education is prohibited except to a chosen few. In the US everyone goes to school but only a few are educated nonetheless. Some places are more brutal, some are very sophisticated but the differences are less than we all care to really think about.

ThomasH writes:

@Mke D
You give the Soviet Union too much credit. Chávez was inspired by nothing more than muddleheaded 70s leftist rhetoric.

Scott Sumner writes:

Ruy, I think you kind of missed the point of the post. I specifically said there is no reason to assume the leaders of these movements are stupid.

RogC, You also completely missed the point. I'd suggest you spend some time reading the statements made by the various Kims, and then the statements made by Western leaders. Then I think you'll see my point.

Here's one:

"According to North Korean historical literature, Kim Jong Il was born in a log cabin inside a secret base on Korea’s most sacred mountain, Mt. Paekdu. At the moment of his birth, a bright star lit up the sky, the seasons spontaneously changed from winter to spring, and rainbows appeared. This contradicts way less interesting Western accounts of his birth, which state the dictator was born in a guerilla camp in Russia, while his father was on the run from the Japanese."

And another:

"In 1994, it was reported by Pyongyang media outlets that Kim Jong Il shot 38 under par on a regulation 18-hole golf course – including 5 holes in one! That score is 25 shots better than the best round in history, and is made even more amazing by the fact that it was his first time playing the sport. It’s said Kim Jong Il would routinely sink 3 or 4 holes in one per round of golf, and – lucky for the PGA – he has since given it up."

Andrew_FL writes:

Unfortunately, many North Koreans probably believe the absurd claims of the regime. My understand is the people there are raised from birth to believe that Kim Il-sung was literally God on Earth.

Scott, you've written a thought provoking post here but:

In the 20th century there was a global battle of ideas, roughly capitalism vs. socialism.

This is a little too rough for my liking. True, at least rhetorically, the late end of the Cold War was a struggle between Socialism and Communism. The early conflicts of the Twentieth Century, however, were wars between socialists.


For conservatives of the "civilization vs. barbarism" variety, I can't help pointing out that as recently as the 1940s Europe and East Asia were far more barbaric than the Middle East. Does that mean that Arab civilization was in some fundamental sense "superior" to Western civilization in the 1940s?

This is the problem with lumping all of Europe together with the United States as "Western Civilization." But if one insists on the term then only Britain and the Free French (and arguably Switzerland (Spain can claim to have not been involved in genocide (or foreign war), as it happens, but wouldn't in fact count as civilized, by the standards according to which the Soviets were not) counted as civilized in Europe during the period. But yes. It's not the fact that "Westerners" are western that makes them civilized. Any people are capable of civilization, this was the whole point of trying (and failing) to spread democracy to the Middle East. The problem is they have to want to be civilized. In retrospect it appears that the people of the Middle East at the present time do not want to be civilized. Not unlike the Germans, yes. So I guess the short answer to this question is yes.

Yancey Ward writes:

[Comment removed for being rude and ad hominem.--Econlib Ed.]

Andrew_FL writes:

@Andrew_FL-"struggle between Socialism and Communism" while a funny joke, was supposed to be "Socialism and Capitalism"

Tom West writes:

I think these movements are reactions to:

(1) many people who are regularly exposed to just how bad their standard of living compared to others find life intolerable. Hardship that one used to be able to take pride in ("I survived that") is rendered meaningless when there's ample option to avoid it, at the cost of giving up one's culture.

(2) many people who either voluntarily or are forced to give up their culture in order to improve their standard of living find life intolerable.

Thus the very existence of the West together with global media make life intolerable for a large number of people, and some percentage of them (given sufficiently inspiring leadership) will take up arms, follow stupid movements, etc.

After all, they're already doomed to either (now) pointless suffering or giving up their soul. Why not follow a movement that gives them some hope in either this world or at the very least, the next.

RH writes:
But I don't recall ever reading any public statement by Putin that did not insult one's intelligence with its obvious dishonesty or mean-spiritedness.

Really? Are you sure you're just not reading the sentence or two provided by the AP or NYT taken out of the context of a much longer speech? How many statements of Putin do you actually read in full?

Jeff writes:

I'm not sure whether public pronouncements by anti-western political leaders really are dumber than they were forty years ago or not, but your post brought to mind this quote from Theodore Dalrymple that might be relevant:

In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.

For non-state actors like Boko Haram, perhaps the function of dumb propaganda is something like a loyalty test: spout a bunch of obvious balderdash and watch to see who repeats it with fervor and who doesn't, which helps the leaders discern who they can trust.

On the other hand, maybe stupid is part of their business model, so to speak. Like how email scams often include absurd Nigerian prince scenarios and intentional misspellings and grammatical errors in order to screen out people who are too smart to just hand over their bank account numbers to a stranger over the internet.

ZC writes:

@RogC, I agree with your thoughts.

Scott Sumner tries to take you to task with examples of absurdities that a populace allegedly believes to support his claims. Let's turn the tables on him and look at similar absurd claims for popular political consumption closer to home.

- "If you like your health plan, you'll be able to keep your health plan." President of the United States Obama. -- Spreading absurd lies about Kim's golf abilities is undoubtedly less harmful to his countryman than a president boldly lying repeatedly to a national audience in hopes of building support for enacting a policy change that would redistribute billions of dollars in resources over the ensuing years is to him. Just ask any of the millions of people and families who's individual health insurance plans have been cancelled because of the law.

- “We got back every dime we used to rescue the banks with interest." -- Another blatant lie about billions of dollars for political purposes. Must be from North Korea, right? Nope, right here in the good ol' US of A.

- "Read my lips, no new taxes." -- One of the most well known Presidential absurdities ever.

Most politicians lie (or at least distort the truth) to achieve their ends. I'm not sure that the fact that our politicians tell more convincing lies than the absurdities uttered in the world's hellholes is any consolation. It's actually more terrifying.

Ruy Diaz writes:

Okay, let me look at the post with fresh eyes.

There is something very wrong with the regimes Scott mentions.

* North Korea is a bag of nuttiness. The stories in praise of whichever Royal Kim is in power defy belief (my favorite being Kim Jong Il's amazing golfing abilities.) I think the dumb stories are by design. By saying something outrageous (Kim Jong Il is like the Sun!), the person proves his devotion: a person willing to debase himself that way is no threat to the regime.

* I know a bit more about Venezuela. The whole 'Bolivarian' movement is a personality cult around the thankfully departed Hugo Chavez. The dumb here starts at the top: Chavez wasn't very smart, and his successor Nicolas Maduro is plain dumb. The man has a middle school education, and looks like he struggled to get it.

* Russia is a different case. Putin is a ruthless psychopath, not doing what is best for Russia or the Russian people, but what brings him enjoyment.

I'll omit Iran and China, as this comment begins to rival War and Peace. My main point is this: there is plenty of organized dumb in our country. We are not that smart. Something like sixty percent of the population believes there was a conspiracy surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination. People pay double or triple for food labeled organic. We are witnessing the birth of a political movement based around the idea that there is a rape epidemic in college campuses when the sexual assault rate has dropped by about sixty percent over the last twenty years. And on, and on, and on....

I conclude that smart and dumb, are diffuse, not discrete. The conflict between smart and dumb simply does not exist.

Thomas writes:

The "stupidity" of 21st century political movements may be because there is no advantage to having a philosophical/ideological underpinning.

In the 20th century a guy like Chavez could have spouted slightly more coherent speeches and been bankrolled by the Soviet Union (whether or not he believed it/cared). Had he refused to do this, he probably would have been toppled by someone more willing to participate in the ideological struggle since they would gain the advantage of Soviet or US backing.

In the 21st century, if you want to run a terrible government (as presented in any of the examples) you don't get much advantage for an ideological underpinning. China is more pragmatic (as long as you have resources to provide on reasonable terms, they don't really care what you believe). The US doesn't need to back a deranged political movement just for pretending to believe in capitalism. The closest analogy that still exists is that the US will give some support to Muslim nations for not terrorizing the US.

Damien writes:

"Why do such dissimilar leaders of outcast countries align with each other? "

For the same reasons that dissimilar leaders of other countries align with each other. For instance, Western politicians routinely praise Saudi Arabia in their speeches, even though this country is much worse than Iran by any reasonable standard. And yet they're our allies.

The people listed are no threat to each other and are not interested in exporting their ideology to the other countries on the list. But they are all concerned that foreign intervention will make it harder for them to achieve their objectives, whether personal or nationalistic. Why then would they not align with each other?

Scott Sumner writes:

Andrew, I agree with the first part of your comment. But I think it's a mistake to view cultures as reflecting the will of the people who make up the culture. That's too simple. I doubt North and South Koreans have very different preferences, if you look deep enough.

ZC, I think you completely missed the point. I never said North Koreans believe his claims about golf, nor did I suggest these claims are more harmful than Obamacare.

Nor did i claim that the fact that lies told by our leaders are more convincing was any sort of "consolation."

Don't read things into the post that I did not say.

Ruy, You said:

"My main point is this: there is plenty of organized dumb in our country."

This has no bearing on my post, I was not discussing the intelligence of the population of various countries.

Damien, That's also my view.

mbka writes:

All it takes for "dumb" to succeed is a restricted media landscape. That means, either no pluralistic media access for most, or no media at all, or media largely controlled by one entity.

When I first saw original documents from the Nazi era, such as newspapers, speeches, pseudo-science reports, party manifestos, I found them ridiculously stupid. It didn't make sense to me that anyone ever fell for this. But think about it this way: what if you never thought about how the world works? Especially, about what's causing all your troubles? And then one fine day, someone shows up with a story that seems to explain it all. You have no access to an alternative story. Maybe, just maybe, you would just believe it.

In fact you can see how much people stick to the narratives of their own political tribes in, say, the U.S. (or any other pluralistic society). They have access to other narratives but it seems many still stick to the one they first fell for.

NZ writes:

Could it be that in this Fukayaman age of global mixed economic social democracy, the only populations left outside are either backward low-IQ dictatorships or nutty ex-Soviet outposts?

Vivian Darkbloom writes:

It is not true that there is "very little in common" among the examples listed in the original post. It is not clear why Sumner has chosen to use "authoritarian" as a descriptor in the first two examples, but not in the last three. Of course, all five are authoritarian. For example, Mugabe is a racist, but not "authoritarian"?

Once you succeed in establishing an authoritarian regime, differences certainly emerge (not all authoritarian leaders are subject to the same whims and fancies, particularly regarding economic systems which are here conflated with political ones). Every authoritarian regime is unhappy in its own way. Leaders of authoritarian regimes are usually not stupid (they need a certain type of intelligence to obtain and retain power); however, none of them are wise.

mico writes:

I think different things look stupid to different people.

Islam looks stupid because we don't accept their moral imperative to enforce the revealed Shariah holy law. Maybe this really is stupid; we think so because it results in lower material living standards and less fun stuff like alcohol and fornication.

On the other hand, they think we are stupid for allowing them to be citizens of our countries and proselytize freely, something which they do not reciprocate. No doubt you will robustly defend our practices - but your rhetoric will be grounded in your morality, not dispassionate desire for maximisation of our material living standards, which are not increased by the spread of Islam in our societies.

Brett writes:

1. Chavez was a charismatic buffoon (and his successor is just a buffoon), but the movement did channel some real issues in the Venezuelan economy. Venezuela has the same problem as a lot of South American economies: heavily resource-extraction-based, small class of business-owners/professionals/etc that dominated both major parties in the government for decades, large disaffected poor population that got little out of the regime. If you want to see what that type of movement looks like in the hands of much more competent leadership, go look at Evo Morales' Bolivia.

2. People always overrate Putin for some reason. The guy is pretty clearly listening only to select advisers, jumping from decision to decision on a short-term basis, and wholly dependent on Russia's oil revenues and lingering military power. The only reason he's even in power is because his rivals are mostly worse.

3. I would put Mugabe, Kim, the Castro Bros, and the Iranian leadership in the same boat. They're all just long-past-sell-date regimes whose only purpose in the present is to preserve their political power and privileges.

MikeDC writes:

After re-reading this post, I'd it could be reinterpreted critically:

1. Most intellectuals refuse to engage in much speech or research about Islamic fundamentalism. Better it to be a sympathetic unknown than an unsympathetic known entity.

2. The generally unifying theme is Islamic fundamentalism, and pretending it's not there is absurd. Venezuela and North Korea are statistically insignificant outliers. The overwhelming majority of conflict in the world today centers around Islam. Not admitting it is sticking your head in the sand.

3. Again, most centrally cohesive "alternative" out there is Islamism. They have a relatively well-funded series of schools and platforms to disseminate their thought through the Muslim world. If it sounds stupid to us, I'd say it's because very few of us even go to church, much less memorize the Koran and go to a Mosque every day.

I also think most political statements, historically, look pretty crazy in retrospect, so I don't know that this is a change from the 20th or 19th centuries. Go try reading an actual political party platform... yeash.

4. We study very little of what the opposition says. Even moderately educated people in the 70s and 80s might have opinions on different factions of communists and particular leaders. there's very little understanding of Islamists in the same light, although they're likely more varied in their views.

5/6. Enemy of enemy = friend.

TSB writes:

NZ has it right, and Sumner's post possibly reflects a CNN-crisis selection biased view of the world. I think most of Asia (exclude Pakistan) most of Africa and most of South America are not particularly anti-Western and prefer fairly liberal mixed economies. Chinese, Malay, Hindu and Christian African cultures are all approaching a comfortable partial accommodation of European culture within their own histories.

The scattered, stupid, fundamentalist outlaws are not more stupid than those in the west; they just have more scope for action where government authority is weak. (It staggers me that the Nigerian government cannot police Boko Haram into oblivion.) Stupid governments may or may not be authoritarian and anti-Western; the last Australian government was profoundly stupid but only weakly authoritarian and strongly US-aligned diplomatically.

maynardGkeynes writes:

Perhaps the better word would have been "absurd" rather than "stupid," but point taken.

NZ writes:

A blunter way to put what I said earlier would be that in the past, there existed dissenting nations who were also intelligent and civilized. They came from places like Germany and Japan and Russia*--places with high average IQs, social cooperation, and so forth.

*I'm not really buying the lumping in of Putin with Kim or Mugabe. Scott, you provided some examples of ridiculous statements from North Korea. Do you have any similar examples from Russia?

RPLong writes:
(For conservatives of the "civilization vs. barbarism" variety, I can't help pointing out that as recently as the 1940s Europe and East Asia were far more barbaric than the Middle East. Does that mean that Arab civilization was in some fundamental sense "superior" to Western civilization in the 1940s?)
I can think of one important reason why conservatives would answer this question in the affirmative: British colonialism.

Disclaimer: I myself am not one such conservative.

J.V. Dubois writes:

I mostly agree with you except for one thing - lack of "intellectual" clash in this century. For me the true intellectual clash is more sophisticated and in a way it is the same as it was in 19th or 20th century. It is a clash between individualism as is represented by its longstanding champions in anglosphere and more conservative forces that stress different aspects of lives.

And I mean it is not only clash on the level of states, but also on a much deeper level. Market reforms have deep impact on society and they empower people that in the past would be kept in some state of dependency. Just one example - my aunt who is just 50 years old comes from farmer's family of 10 children. The family was main social and economic unit, with her father dictating everything that happens. For my aunt rebelling against her father was almost unthinkable even for tasks such as washing his feet when he came back from work. She was lucky that she "escaped" this world by going to university and building her own carrier. Such a life is almost unthinkable now in rich societies, where children have their choices open very early and where it is given that everybody is free to pursue her personal happiness - even if their choice is not to the liking of local community or even closest family.

I understand that these changes may scare many people in societies organized on other principles, such as religious, tribal, national etc. Compared to our ancestors they have benefit of knowledge where liberalization leads not only in terms of state governance but also in terms of social transformation. And they do not like what they see so defense is logical response.

So it does not surprise me at all when we see all these different groups in one bed. In the end it is only opportunistic alliance that can be dissolved at moment's notice. And I would also not overestimate and say that Cold war was a war of well defined ideologies. You could have very unlikely allies back than - such as USA supporting Taliban in its fight against Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. So while Taliban was temporarily fighting a proxy war on the side of the West, we all know how it ended once power shifted.

So I would not see it as clear cut. Even in a Rich country such as Hungary all it takes is 5-10 years and you can change constitution, crush civic society and give speeches touting advantages of "illiberal democracies" such as Russia or Turkey.

paul writes:

I think RogC is right. Its more a matter of degree than a difference in kind.

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