Kal Raustiala 0:03
Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Kal Raustiala, director of the UCLA Burkle Center. And it's my pleasure to welcome you back to another one of our Zoom sessions. Today, I have the pleasure of having as our guest colleague, Dan Triesman of our own UCLA political science department, though Dan is zooming in from Stanford, where he's spending this year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, also known as CASBS. Dan is a longtime student of Russia, and Russian politics, the author of several books, including The Return: Russia's Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev. And he has published his work in many, many outlets. The current book, which we're going to talk about, in a moment, I'm going to hold up to I don't think you can see it, unfortunately, with the blurred background is titled Spin Dictators, and just came out last month written with colleague, Sergei Guriev, but Dan will correct me. And I'm happy to invite Dan on now to present a bit about the book. He'll have some slides and then I will return to have a conversation with Dan and moderate the q&a. So Dan, take it away.
Daniel Treisman 1:18
Thank you, Kal. Let me just find my slides. Okay, great. Um, so as Kal said, this book Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century, which I wrote together with a colleague, the economist Sergei Guriev just came out from Princeton University Press. And the observation that Sergei and I started from when we began working on this book was that there had been some quite dramatic changes in the nature of dictatorship in recent decades. So if you think about dictators, and focus on the 20th century, the image that probably comes to mind is someone like Stalin, Hitler or Mao, these leaders ruled with a huge amount of violent repression, putting millions of people in jail, killing millions. And they combined that with an official ideology. Even the 20th century dictators, who didn't have such a pronounced ideology nevertheless, were almost always not always but almost always pretty violent, so 1000s of people, if not hundreds of 1000s killed for political reasons. But if we look at some of the authoritarian leaders around today or around in recent decades, they look a bit different. So here we have Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Viktor Orban of Hungary. First, of course, you see, they tend to dress in expensive suits rather than military uniforms. We argue that these guys achieve a similar concentration of power, they managed to eliminate checks and balances, and consolidate monopolize political power. But they do so with much less violence or even fear. They tend to have no official ideology, although there's often an element of anti Western resentment in their rhetoric. They imitate democracy, they hold elections, but they make sure that they always win them. And, in general, this type of dictator tends to have at least in some periods, genuine popular support. Now we want to be clear, we're not saying that there are no old style very violent dictators left, here are a couple. And we're also not saying that there were no nonviolent or less violent dictators in earlier periods. What we are saying is that the balance has shifted from what we call fear dictators, to spin dictators. And the central idea of spin dictatorship, this new model is that instead, instead of terrifying people into obedience, the dictator can get the same results by manipulating information to project an image of competent leadership. So the idea is to promote an image of competent democratic leadership so that people actually support the dictator. Although the support is based on distorted information flows. Now, in our research we came up with a metric for measuring for distinguishing the types of dictators using various data. And this is a graph that we have in the book, which essentially just shows that, since about the 1970s, or 1980s, successive cohorts of dictators have become much less likely to be fear dictators in our definition, much more likely to be spin dictators. So, what are the differences? Well, at a very basic level fear dictatorships, fear dictators rule through fear. They tried to intimidate the public into obedience, spin dictators rule through deception. And in the book, we show with data that we collected ourselves that since the 1970s, or 1980s, fewer leaders in authoritarian states have overseen very large numbers of political killings, fewer have held large numbers of political prisoners, and fewer have been accused of torturing political prisoners. The proportion that are accused of that is still depressingly high, about 74% in the 2000s. But that's down from about 95% accused of torturing political prisoners in the 1980s cohort. Fear dictatorships, it's not just that they're extremely violent. They deliberately publicize their violence if you're trying to intimidate the public to scare the public into a obedience you need to make the repression visible. And so they sometimes hold public executions. Sometimes, some dictators leave corpses of kill killed opposition activists in the streets, they want people to know that they're living under a brutal dictatorship. By contrast, spin dictators when they do use violence, try to conceal it. And just to give you two kind of illustrations, so a classic fear dictator is Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. And Gaddafi, at one point was talking about how he dealt with his opponents. And he made fun of leaders who tried to keep things secret, who had their political enemies run over by cars or poisoned. Gaddafi said, we do not do that he whom we have executed, we have executed on television. And that's almost like a motto of the fear dictator, do it publicly. But then, consider Vladimir Putin in 2015. The opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered, shot right outside the Kremlin. Did the Kremlin have anything to do with this? No. According to Putin. We need to finally read Russia disgraces and tragedies, like the provocative murder of Boris Nemtsov right in the center of the Capitol. So Putin was was deeply shocked. Now, how do spin dictators manage to monopolize power and dominate the population or maintain the support within the population with less overt repression? Well, in the book, we talk about a whole bunch of tricks that they use some techniques they use, but just a few examples, old style dictators, which arrest political prisoners and put them in labor camps for sometimes 10s of years. Spin dictators realize that you can often obtain the same objectives reach and reach the same objectives by repeatedly imprisoning political opponents for short spells. Often right before a protest is planned, you simply round up the organizers, and you put them in detention until after the protest has passed. So this guy Ilya Yashin in Russia, was arrested five times in a row for short turns when he tried to run for Moscow City Council. Another technique is to arrest political opponents for ostensibly non political crimes. So in Turkey, Erdogan who in his early years was another spin dictator. He had this Kurdish politician Nurettin Demirtaş arrested for allegedly using a fake health certificate to avoid military service. So this is classic spin dictator technique, not just arrest your opponent for a non political offense, but pick one that will be embarrassing. That will perhaps discredit him with his base. You know, in this case, it suggests that this guy is a coward. Now authoritarian, so the new type of authoritarian regime spin dictators put a lot of energy and effort into manipulating the like elections, they hold elections, but they make sure they win. So how do they do that? Well, this shows some data on changes in the way that manipulation of elections takes place. This is data from Hyde and Marinov. And we see here that in the 1980s, a pretty high proportion of authoritarian regimes that held elections, were banning opposition candidates outright, that went down pretty sharply from the early 1990s. So what did they do instead? Well, we see an increase in evidence of harassment of opposition candidates by the regime, and an increase in alleged media bias. Are there differences? Well, unlike many fear dictators, spin spin dictators have no official ideology, they don't force everybody to, at least on the surface adopt some strange, exotic social philosophy. And in their speeches, they tend to use a rhetoric of competence, rather than a rhetoric of fear. Fear dictators in their speeches, were trying to spread anxiety to scare the general public, either to to make them nervous about external enemies, or to directly deter them from political action by threatening to use repression against that. Okay, but the spin dictator, his goal is to present himself as a benevolent, effective Democratic politician. So scary language doesn't help, it undercuts that message. Instead, they fill their speeches with rhetoric associated with performance with providing public goods and managing the economy. Well, okay, so how do we know this? Well, we did some analysis of speeches by 18 dictators of sorry, 18 leaders at different times, this included Democrats, Democratic leaders, both from recent decades and from longer ago, fear dictators, and spin dictators. And we did a very simple text analysis, we looked at what, what was the frequency of words in these public speeches of the leaders? What was the frequency of words related to violence, and what was the frequency of words related to economic performance and public services. And here on the graph, we've simply plotted the frequencies for these different leaders in the speeches that we examined. And we see that the fear dictators in red in the red boxes, tended to have quite a lot of vocabulary or violence. The Democrats had much less of that and more words related to economic performance and public services. And the real question for us was where would the spin dictators that's the ones in green metallics, where where would they fit and as we expect it, they blend in with the Democrats. And in fact, Lee Kuan Yew and Nursultan Nazarbayev end up with even more rhetoric of public service provision and economic performance than the Democratic leaders. Okay, so we see this, this shift in the in the predominant style of authoritarian government. In many dimensions, there are many different aspects to this. So why is it happening? Well, we argue in the book that what's driving this is a combination of modernization and globalization. In highly educated societies, with more and more people are working in information technology in the information economy rather than in old fashioned industry or agriculture. In a world in which countries are interconnected where there's a global media, global human rights organizations, it's much harder to to get by using force and fear and repression without suffering major economic costs, and without spiking backlash from the poor population. Now, of course, political scientists talk a lot about modernization theory, this sort of school of thought, which says that monetization and to some extent globalization, lead to democracy. And we basically agree with that school of thought. But we add two, I think key points. First of all, it's not just monetization within a given country, that leads to this kind of regime change towards first spin dictatorship, and ultimately, democracy. Modernisation worldwide, also has an effect even on those countries that are relatively less modernized, because the more countries worldwide, that are modernizing, the more, you start to see global movements and global media organizations like Amnesty International, operating worldwide, CNN global, global media that are making transparent what dictators around the world to doing. So that's the first point, it's not just modernization within a given country, its modernization worldwide, which can drive the process of regime change. And the second key point is, is the central one here, it's that dictators, when they come under this pressure, of modernization and globalization, they can respond by adopting the techniques of spin dictatorship, and in that way, delay a transition to democracy for a while. It's harder to control knowledge economies through terror, but they can be manipulated, at least for some time. So with if we're right, that there's been this dramatic shift in the dominant model of dictatorship. Where do we go from here? So are we going to see more spin dictatorship? Are we going to see a reversion to more fear dictatorship? Well, if we're right about modernization and globalization being the drivers, then if they continue, that should, we should see continuing pressure on feared dictators to adopt spin and non spin dictators to actually democratize. But if modernization stalls, and if globalization reverses, which some people think is already happening, well, we may not see dictators coming under that sort of pressure. And we know from various examples that that when spin fails, when the dictator finds that society is simply too modern, to manage, even through sophisticated manipulation, or if there's an economic crisis, which throws the old model into into creates trouble for the old model, then spin dictators sometimes revert to fear to the old techniques. And we've seen this, for instance, in Venezuela with that transition from Chavez to Maduro. In Turkey, Erdogan, early on was a classic spin dictator. But after the coup in 2016, the failed coup attempt, he became much more repressive. And we've seen a similar transition will last few years in Russia. But controlling modern societies through fear is not easy. And it tends to have extremely negative economic consequences. All these countries are not doing well, economically, Venezuela, Turkey, and Russia. So it's not clear that that reversion to fear can really stabilize things in the long run. Okay, very quickly, how should Western democracies respond to the range of authoritarian governments that we now face? Well, in the book, we argue for an approach which we call adversarial engagement, that some people think that the West should simply decouple completely from the authoritarian world? We don't think that's possible, we don't think. We don't think you can simply stop interacting with it economically with countries like China and the world is global, whether we like it or not the pathogens, technologies, ideas are going to cross borders, regardless. So what we suggest is to continue interacting with the authoritarian world, but to do it in a smarter way than we have done in the past. And what that means is in part, we need to monitor better we need to have better country intelligence, cybersecurity, financial monitoring, we need to reform at home to strengthen ourselves against the negative impact of spin dictators, but also other kinds of dictators. We need to make sure our supply chains are resilient, we need to stop enabling dictators, so lobbyists, you know, serving their interests in Washington and Brussels and elsewhere, lawyers setting up shell companies for foreign oligarchs, bankers, helping them to launder money tech companies providing the surveillance programs to make their life easier. We need to deal with all of those ways in which we're actually helping authoritarian governments. And we need to repair our own democracy in order to have more, have more credibility when we tried to spread democracy elsewhere. We need to defend and reform international institutions. In the book, we talked about how some of these leaders like Viktor Orban and Putin have tried to undermine or at least exploit international institutions from inside. And we need to support democracy around the world democratically. So I don't think there's much evidence that trying to spread democracy by military force works. In fact, it doesn't. So I think we need to build an international coalition of democracies to support democracy around the world. But we need to do that democratically, this coalition should be democratic, internally in its decision making, it shouldn't just be led by the US and the US should cooperate as a participant in a democratically run organization, to spread democracy. Okay, so very briefly, just to wrap up, we believe that this model spin dictatorship is overtaking the model, the more traditional model based on fear, so less mass terror, less ideological brainwashing, more information manipulation, to boost popularity, these new spin dictators, fake democracy, but they manage elections in a way that leads to their victories, they employ this rhetoric of competence and effectiveness, rather than a rhetoric of fear. This model is spreading, we think because it's better adapted to life in a world with open borders, economic interdependence, global media, and highly educated populations. Eventually, those same trends, we think, make even this strategy unsustainable, then democracy is the only stable option. But still, dictators may try to avoid that to resist that by reverting to old style, repression, as we've seen in several places. So thank you very much. I'm delighted that thank you for coming and delighted to answer questions or talk more about any part of this.
Kal Raustiala 23:02
Great thank you, Dan, so much. And this is a super important and interesting topic. So I'm glad, I'm glad you wrote this. And I'm glad we got the opportunity to discuss it. So maybe what we could start off with is, you know, there's so I have a lot of questions. But first, just pressing you a little bit on defining the category of spin dictators, what's dictatorial about spin dictators in particular, so at times you kind of toggle in the book, and you did this in the presentation, too, between, and you addressed this in the book so I'm not implying that this is something you're not aware of, you directly address it. But some of what you describe feels like the typical behavior, or currently typical behavior of a lot of Democratic leaders, just exaggerated versions of it. And then other things like poisoning opposition leaders, or jailing them for bigotry, obviously, should not and are not generally part of what we think of as even exaggerated versions of like, Democratic leaders do so. So just say a little more about exactly what's dictatorial about it versus and how you how you balance those aspects.
Daniel Treisman 24:14
Right, well, what's dictatorial is essentially monopolizing power, so that all the other institutions or any independent source of political power is ineffective is unable to control or even sometimes monitor what the regime is doing. So that's essentially the point. And also, it's these regimes are undemocratic, in that the elections they hold are not free and fair elections. They're often completely unfree and unfair elections. They're just imitations of democracy. So those are key aspects in which these regimes that we're calling dictatorships are different from democracies. But there's a very important element of continuity, we see the world as we see political regimes as arrayed on the spectrum. And there's a gray area in the middle, where you pass from Spin dictatorship into highly flawed democracy, often led by a populist ruler, and we see some of the populist rulers, populist leaders are candidates in democracies, that's quite similar to the spin dictators. So what's really different is not the aspirations of these leaders. I mean, somebody like Trump clearly wanted to increase his own power and reduce the ability of other institutions or other groups to check his power. What's different is the context in that in democracies that survive as democracies, there's a powerful resistance from a highly educated organizationally skilled resource, a well resourced society, that pushes back, that prevents the populist politician from getting away with the things that spin dictators in settings where the educated part of educated, organized part of society, the independent media, the bureaucracy is less effective at pushing back. So I think various politicians in democracies have had some features of spin dictatorship of spin dictators, at least. And they have tried to push their system in that direction I think of besides Trump, people like Silvio Berlusconi, who controlled six out of seven national TV stations, so the TV companies, three were private and part of his empire three, which state state owned. And Berlusconi and others like him try to use the media in ways that's been dictators also do to consolidate their power and to block out other voices. But in Italy, Berlusconi was eventually voted out. So what distinguishes the cases is in part, how much resistance there is, and how effectively that part of society that resists limits the aggrandizement of the leader.
Kal Raustiala 27:56
Yeah, that's interesting. So it sounds like you're saying in a way that there are many would be spin dictators, some of them succeed, and some of them fail. And the failure is often driven by some feature about, I mean, you identify in the book, and you just you just emphasize now, education. So I'm just curious, it seems like I'm gonna guess that Hungary of your examples is the most highly educated, I'm not sure. But have you thought about? I mean, have you sort of graphed it that way? And what is the most highly educated society that you think falls into the category of a spin dictatorship?
Daniel Treisman 28:33
Well yeah, I mean, it's, it's, it's not just higher education, because the rates of higher education in Singapore and also in Russia are higher than in Hungary. So it's not enough to have high levels of higher education. It depends also on the quality of the education and what people have studied. Most people in Russia, who have gone through higher education have had narrower is definitely not training in liberal arts, technical, higher education, which doesn't necessarily produce the kind of society to some extent it does. But it's not as effective at producing citizens who can organize and who have the kind of values that lead them to want to organize to constrain aggrandizing leaders. So spin dictatorship tends to occur in countries that are at intermediate levels of education and civil society development. So at one end, you'll have cases like Singapore and Russia, which on the face of it should be democracies. At the other end, you'll have countries like Venezuela, say which have a far lower level of higher education and as much a much smaller, politically experienced, sophisticated elite, a smaller, independent media, but there was some. So there are various aspects to, to what in society leads to the kind of resistance which constrains a spin spin dictator from going further. But education is part of it, but only part of it.
Kal Raustiala 30:29
Yeah, I'm glad you raised Singapore because I have to say, that was one example I, I've spent some time in Singapore, I taught at the National University of Singapore, and it's just an excellent university. And you're absolutely right. It's very highly educated. I struggled a little bit with that example, in part because it did seem very different. So you just characterize Russia. I mean, you characterize it as a spin dictatorship. But then a few slides back, you pointed to the evolution of Putin in some ways. And obviously, Russia is quite a violent dictatorship in some respects, nothing like its past. So but there seems to be a lot of distance between what I think of as Singapore, and what I see in let's say, Russia today. And so I guess I'm curious whether you, do you want to defend that there's really a common ground there? And if so, what say a little more about what makes Singapore dictatorial. So this is kind of an amendment to my first question, because it seems like a place that has, there's certainly a lot of stability and acceptance of a kind of one party structure. But there's also this under undertone of this is a divided society, ethnically, racially divided society, that this is the belief of a lot of Singaporeans, at least that I spoke to that needs that to keep from blowing up. And of course, it's so successful economically. Everyone sort of goes along with it. Anyway, there's a lot of questions in there, but I'm just curious how you see that? Yeah.
Daniel Treisman 31:57
So for Singapore, okay. Well, let's think about elections. Right. So the PAP, the ruling party has, has held elections consistently all all through since 1959. And each time they have won a majority and have obtained, like 89% or more of the seats in the parliament. How has that happened? Well, a lot of reasons. But in part, opposition politicians have been essentially driven out of the public sphere, in one key sort of illustrative case through repeated defamation lawsuits with very high monetary penalties, which essentially bankrupted this politician. And Lee Kuan Yew has been quoted quite openly saying that essentially, opposition politicians that are taken seriously by the regime may be bankrupted in a similar way. So there's a technology and the determination to to eliminate political opposition, that poses any real threat, while continuing to hold these elections in which the dominant party always wins. So in that respect, it's it's really not as different from Russia, as you know, it might, might seem on the surface. And I think a lot of the techniques that were first used perhaps, or were used very successfully by the PAP and in Singapore, have been used by other spin dictators around the world, starting with this case of with this example of defamation suits, a very powerful technique to immobilize to disempower opposition and independent media. Besides that, I mean, a great example is Hyde Park corners, right. We mentioned this in the book. So in the early 2000s, after Lee Kuan Yew stepped down as prime minister, but he was around that the Singapore is, in order to demonstrate that Singapore had freedom of speech and to give people a place to exercise this freedom of speech. They created a Hyde Park corner in one of the parks. And in at this Hyde Park corner, you are allowed to go and give speeches about things which you weren't allowed to talk about publicly elsewhere. There were of course, various limited restrictions and requirements. You had to get a permit from the local police. There was a sign that said anything you say is being recorded and could be used in in criminal or other cases. But anyway, they set up the Hyde Park corner, what happens next? Well, Russia sets up to Hyde Park corners in Gorky Park, another park in, in central Moscow. So this, there are cases of this kind of copying. And there's also, which we also talked about in the book, a pattern of leaders, especially from Eurasia, but leaders from many sort of modern authoritarian governments government's looking to Lee Kuan Yew as a model as as a pioneer. So Putin and Nazarbayev both give Lee Kuan Yew honorific metals, various other leaders talk about the influence that he's had on them. So that's that's why we come to this at first sight, I guess surprising conclusion that Lee Kuan Yew in some ways developed this model from the start and Lee Kuan Yew when he started out, did According to Amnesty, international detain imprison significant number of political prisoners, I think was around 100. By the 1970s, that late 1970s, he's no longer doing that. And he's using these much more sophisticated, very effective methods to ensure unthreatened control by the by the PAP regime. And, of course, it helps tremendously when you have such good economic performance. And when the state is actually providing public goods. We well, so there's no denying that you need far less spin, when things are going well, but things never go perfectly all the time. And the technology and the architecture of manipulation is very important for those times when when the economy is not so good.
Kal Raustiala 37:13
Yeah, yeah. So just in terms of the big picture, and then I want to go to questions from the audience, because it's quite a few, many, many of those questions already addressing Trump. And so I'm gonna leave some of that. But thinking about Berlusconi and Trump and that style seems a very different kind of approach. I totally agree there are commonalities, they kind of more in the sense that Lee Kuan Yew was not an entertaining guy. But Berlusconi and Trump very much use their TV skills directly. To in a sense, kind of beguile, and you describe some of this, their their electorates, and people sort of enjoyed the spectacle of it or something like that. The whole thing made me think of the kind of contrast between, you know, two books from the early 20th century. So 1984 versus Brave New World, and they both were these dystopian novels, but they have very different approaches. So 1984 is probably the more familiar one, where it's sort of a North Korea version of just total oppression, force, fear dictator, I think you would characterize it. Whereas in Brave New World, the populace is sort of drugged and entertained into not even submission, but simply going along with what is happening, and they're perfectly content with it. And in some ways, it's a more pernicious vision. And I think a more accurate one, it feels a little bit closer to what you talk about with spin or at least some of the spin dictators. So I just wanted to hear your reflections on those two books. They're both very influential. Do you see them mapping on to your to your study?
Daniel Treisman 38:51
Yeah, I think it's exactly as you suggest. Orwell 1984. It's very much a kind of representation of the extreme of fear dictatorship. But it's also in that case, combined with modern technology technology, which, at the time for him was, was looking to the future, the science fiction element of technology. And we thought a lot about that when we tried to classify China because many people what China's such an interesting case, when when we present our arguments to China specialists, they usually say, Oh, well, China's clearly spin dictatorship, right? When we talk to people who are not trying to specialists, they say, Oh, well, China is clearly a feared dictatorship. Look at shinjang look at Hong Kong, that repression of protesters, and we come down on that side that China is actually a fear dictatorship. Under Xi Jinping, it might have been there's some signs that it was moving towards spin dictatorship. Under earlier leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao where it was much more kind of following the following elements of the Singapore model and allowing a bit of investigative reporting. Obviously, China throughout has been very open, much more open than the 20th century fear dictatorships, but under under Xi, it seems like clearly trying to send the message that disruption will not be tolerated in Hong Kong, but also elsewhere and forcing political prisoners to make televised confessions, that sort of thing. Seems to us clearly fear dictatorship, although they're using a lot of modern technology, communications technology, which makes it look kind of like the spin dictatorships. So so Orwell, yeah, clearly a vision of, of a fear of fear dictators using the techniques of intimidation. But using technology so true in the science fiction realm, for Orwell. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, yeah, I mean, we don't see much use of drugs in spin dictatorships, that lower population, at least not not real drugs. But there's definitely an element of entertainment in some of them. And here, I have to say spin dictators are pretty diverse, their spin spin dictators on the left spin dictators on the right. spin dictators who are statis spin dictators who are kind of anti statist anti-Deep State in the case of Erdogan and populists. So there's, there's a variety and you know, some of them like like Chavez and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. We're very much on the kind of entertainment side of things, which, yes, you rightly put. With Trump on that side of things. I think. Berlusconi was more of a magnate. I mean, yeah, he was into providing cheap entertainment and trashy entertainment. But a lot of these dictators do that. Fujimori, for instance, was very, or his security chief was very much connected to the tabloid media, tabloid press and entertainment media. So So that's, that's an important element for it's some. It's some elements for all, but there's a lot of variety, and family resemblance between them, perhaps, in details of their strategies, they don't all use all the same techniques, they kind of pick from a repertoire, the ones that will work best in their setting.
Kal Raustiala 43:03
Great, great. So. So let me go to audience questions. There's quite a few. And as I mentioned, there's a number that address essentially Trump in the United States. So let's start there. So you know how to use I'm just going to kind of categorize a few of these, but what do you see happening in the United States right now? So obviously, on the political left here, there's enormous fear about the fact that we are headed towards some version of they don't necessarily use the languages and dictatorship, but I think they probably would if if they if they knew about your concept. And so do you see that what how do you see Trump fitting in and just elaborate on on our own flawed democracy?
Daniel Treisman 43:44
Yeah, I think I think Trump, like probably Bolsonaro in Brazil, like AMLO in Mexico. He has the same instincts, and he would like to create the kind of environment that would qualify as spin dictatorship. It's really hard to do that in the US. I mean, it we're, we feel scared, and we're right to be nervous. And where if that motivates us to do what's necessary to prevent that happening, then it's positive. I sometimes feel that, you know, the alarmism may be counterproductive, but but, you know, it's necessary for people to organize, it's necessary for people to pull push back, I am pretty confident that they will succeed in doing that, although there are various aspects of the problem where things could really run off the rails. I think, you know, the way I see it is we need to address certain things like the the rules of declaring a presidential election certifying a presidential election. Kal, you probably know more about the details of this than me in the a legal basis, the law is behind that just a mess. And that creates a real danger. There are various other things that we need to do and reform our democracy. I mentioned that in as part of the package of things we think, important for fighting spin dictatorship abroad. Yeah, that can also help for preventing spin dictatorship at at home. But in, in a pretty consolidated democracy, like the US, there's a great deal of resilience. And that resilience, I think is based, I mean, it part, you could say it's based on institutions. And in many of the places where we've seen backsliding in advanced democracies or relatively advanced democracies, recently, the Constitution has been pretty easy to change. And so people like, Orban, Chavez, have basically increased the power of the executive by amending the Constitution. But in the US, it's extremely hard to change the constitution so that that route is not so plausible. And what gives me greatest confidence is the extent of the part of American society. And I'm thinking of journalists, NGO, workers, lawyers, local government, in part of the some are part of the problem, but very many a part of the solution. And many other professionals and media independent media. That part of society is what makes it so hard, I think, to dramatically transform a democracy into something else. And that part of society gets very alarmed at the prospect of something like that happen, and tend to organize. And I've been inspired by the resistance to Trump, which prevented him from doing things in his first term. I'm also worried about the prospect that he might get a second term. And I hope I'm right to be as confident as I am that the healthy parts of American society and American institutions will continue to restrain attempts by populist politicians to undermine things. But I guess that's, that's the kind of long winded answer to that question. I think I don't think the US is likely to turn into a spin dictatorship, I think the US is likely to have serious problems and a lot of polarization and conflicts and perhaps unfair, or at least challenged elections.
Kal Raustiala 48:00
Great, okay. Next question is about nationalism. So how does nationalism fit into this picture? Don't spin dictators also rally support through an emphasis on nationalism and external hostility? And doesn't globalization place an emphasis on resolving international disputes, which, which may create instability? So how do you see that fitting in?
Daniel Treisman 48:21
Yeah, I mean, I think nationalism is a resource for spin dictators, but also for fear dictators. They also point to and exaggerate external threats in order to rally the public. And it's also nationalism is also a resource of Democratic politicians. I think they're more constrained and how they use it because of various elements of democracy and free media, which make it harder to exploit in the ways that fear dictators and spin dictators exploit it, but it's still very powerful. And it's part of the sort of forcefield in which politics takes place even within within democracies. So that's, that's really important. I see it as less of a distinguishing feature between different types of, of dictatorships. But I mentioned that spin dictators, they don't have an official ideology, but very many of them have this kind of anti Western resentment, which is essentially a kind of nationalism. So, so that is a very common part of the package.
Kal Raustiala 49:35
Do you see Nazi Germany early Nazi Germany as a kind of proto spin dictatorship? Or how does that fit into your story?
Daniel Treisman 49:42
No, absolutely not. It was very violent from the start. Even before Hitler took power, you know, I think in one month, there were like 70 people killed in street brawls in Berlin 1932. There was, society was fighting, and that's, you know, people make comparisons between the US today and Weimar Germany. But the level of organized violence and organized militaristic paramilitary activity in Weimar Germany at the end, it's just incredible. There are 800,000, Nazi Storm Troopers before Hitler took power. And they were going out on weekends and fighting the communists. And as I said, you know, dozens were being shot each, each weekend or so that I don't see in the US at the moment, and God forbid, we won't. But that also is not consistent with spin dictatorship. I mean, when you have that level of violence in the streets, to intimidate people, which is exactly what the Nazis were doing after Hitler came to power very quickly, in the first 100 days, they're arresting large numbers of political prisoners, they're starting to create the first concentration camp. It's quite decentralized. It's not just Hitler, but all the Nazis are, are without much legal constraint, using violence to intimidate all other parts of society. So I think it's actually a classic fear dictatorship from early on. And the way I mean people say, of course, well, what's new about using propaganda and, and the media, think of Goebbels. But the way they use propaganda, the type of propaganda and the way they use the media was pretty different from the way spin dictators use it. Hitler was not pretending to be just another normal, but very competent, Democratic leader in the way that say, Nazarbayev acts, or acted when he was president of Kazakhstan. Hitler was trying to completely change society through violence. So I see that is quite different.
Kal Raustiala 52:12
Great. Okay. Next question, which spin dictator has been the most effective? So who do you see as you kind of come back to Lee Kuan Yew in the book and also in your remarks as maybe the kind of the father of it all, but who do you see as the the exemplar or the most effective?
Daniel Treisman 52:31
Well, Lee Kuan Yew? Yeah, that's easy. And he created the system which has survived him. And there are interesting passages in his memoirs, where he raised questions whether whether the model that he created in Singapore would last another 20 years after he stepped down because of the modernization of the economy of society. So and he seems to think that it would have to adapt I think, more than it has adapted. But, yeah, he, he was incredibly effective, not just as a spin dictator, but as a leader in terms of sustaining this economic development and managing the country's reputation abroad. He was really outstanding at that. That's easier to do when you have, like 20 years or more of an extremely high growth. But, ya know, no competition there. He's, he's the most successful so far.
Kal Raustiala 53:43
Okay, this is probably our final question, because we're almost out of time. But what is the best western or American approach as countries transition from fear to spin? So what do you single out? And you mentioned a couple of responses in your conclusion. But what do you see as the most important thing, true democracies and I recognize that there's really a spectrum and you make this point in the book, that it is a spectrum, but let's say for for the established Western democracies, what's our best policy?
Daniel Treisman 54:14
Yeah. So if we think about, say, Putin in his early years could he have been led, or could Russia have been led to democratize perhaps without Putin? Democratized deeply later on? And, of course, as a as a Russian specialist, that's an agonizing question, which, given what happened after that, and I keep going back to the first principle, I think, is you need to engage. And this gets back to what we call adversarial engagement. You need to engage and you need to maintain the context. You can't isolate spin dictators. I mean, when they start wars of aggression, and they're not usually spin dictator to that point that gone over to fear, but at that point you, you can't engage them in the in the same way you have to respond militarily, you need to defend and you need to contain. But when they're in the face of spin dictatorship, when they are reaching out, they will be trying to subvert western partners. And to exploit western partners, you have to recognize that but still engage, and just do so in a sophisticated way so that you're influencing them more than they are influencing you. Of course, that's easier said than done. But you know, that we list a whole series of, you know, elements of this things that in with regard to Russia, we didn't focus on enough like money laundering, like influence peddling. But you also need to have a positive component, you need to be engaging them in ways which create an interest in keeping the process of transition going. And, arguably, we really didn't do that, in the case of Russia. And we're not very good at doing that, in general, we seem to, the Bush administration's idea of spreading democracy was, you know, go go have a nice war and tell them to be democratic. A better strategy probably is to organize not just for the US, but for all democracies, real democracies, liberal democracies, to organize, to, to coordinate, to share the burden, and to just increase the democratic contacts and democratic programs working with these countries. And to try to support positive developments, while dealing with the legitimate security concerns of those countries. And, and trying to come up with a sophisticated policy for dealing with a leader who clearly has objectives which are directly opposed to further democratization, and to, you know, honest, open peaceful relations with the West. So there's not an easy way to do that. But I think that's, that's essential, maintain the engagement, do it in a smart way, and try to increase influence while protecting from the backflow, of corruption, of exploitation of attempts to manipulate elections and so on, that are bound to happen.
Kal Raustiala 57:44
So broadly put in the kind of long standing debate about whether in dealing with let's just call them, you know, difficult states that we can either embrace, or we can isolate or sanction, Cuba being an example of the latter. China may be an example of the former for a long time. It sounds like you've come down on embracing and engaging, and thinking in particular right now, Hungary. I know there's discussion within the EU, why is Hungary still part of the EU? Many people are asking, but it sounds like he would counsel continued engagement.
Daniel Treisman 58:17
Well, as a first step, I would say reform ourselves, I mean, try, try to change the rules within the EU, which have allowed Orban to exploit the EU as a cash cow, essentially, in the use of cash for cronies for strengthening his network of supportive, corrupt actors. So yes, engage, but don't be exploited. Don't be naive on and engage in a systematic way, which creates incentives for the other side to to actually abide by the rules of the EU and of European society and so on. Rather than sort of saying, Okay, you're in, everything's fine. We won't pay any attention and come back in 20 years and see what you've done. So yeah, I mean, this all sounds kind of glib, and it's easy for me to say the the point is you need to do this systematically. And, and it's very hard, but I think that's what we should aim for.
Kal Raustiala 59:32
Okay, great. Well, thank you, Dan, for coming on. And thank you, everyone, for for tuning in. Again. We have a link to the book with a 30% discount as well in the in the chat. So I urge you to get it it is as I think you can tell an incredibly important topic and a really engaging treatment. So Dan, thank you so much for coming
Daniel Treisman 59:51
Thank you Kal. And thanks, everybody for coming.
Kal Raustiala 59:55
Yeah, take care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai