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Readings N.25

Rush Doshi, The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order, New York: Oxford University Press, 2021, 419 pp.

Perhaps the leading question in contemporary geopolitics is, What defines China’s grand strategy for the next few decades? Accruing influence among existing international institutions, or establish an alternative architecture? Dominate the Asia-Pacific tableau? Go even further? Steal the United States’ spot as dominant world power? If so, how would they do it?

Rush Doshi, research fellow with Brookings, came out with this book and went to take the China grief on the National Security Council under the Biden administration. He makes an ambitious, maximalist argument in which China’s long-term goals include breaking the USA’s system of alliances, establish a global network of military bases, monopolize cutting-edge technologies, dominate trade with most countries, and promote authoritarian elites across the world. As evidence, Doshi quotes amply from Chinese leaders and opinion-makers, and then infers their meaning as he analyses China’s material and increasingly assertive moves.

During the previous century, Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union never attained 60% of American GDP, which makes present-day competition from China a singular beast, ramping up since the American election of 2016. Having established the context and described Chinese ambition, Doshi considers adaptation strategies, such as subversion of the Chinese regime, unrealistic. He goes on to suggest other methods the US can use to dilute China's influence through more active multilateral diplomacy and the rebuilding of the international order, revitalizing its alliances and incentivizing internal growth.

Steven Levitsky e Daniel Ziblatt, Tyranny of the Minority, New York: Crown, 2023, 368 pp.

Having enjoyed ample success with an excellent title, How Democracies Die, Levitsky and Ziblatt have come to focus on the United States, using a few comparisons with other countries, especially on the northern hemisphere, to highlight a few traits of American exceptionalism. The authors, both Harvard professors, put forward two key arguments to explain the state of American democracy and the backwards authoritarian drift against the foundational principles of the Republic.

First, the fact that the Republican Party is overwhelmingly a refuge for white voters who fear losing their relevance in a multicultural US, reacting aggressively and circling the wagons around a set of politically compelling conspiracy theories. Ultimately they deny the legitimacy of the voting process, refuse to concede to the winner, and even try to reserve election results through a violent invasion of Congress, like the one on January 6, 2021.

The fact that the United States’ institutional framework possesses an exceptional set of checks and balances against the temptations of authoritarian majorities, giving political minorities institutional mechanisms to uphold their interests and basic rights, that doesn't mean current institutions are up to the systemic challenges of the present. In Levitsky’s and Ziblatt’s vision, the efforts to avoid a ‘tyranny of the majority’ through such a globally unique institutional arrangement has gone too far, propping up the authoritarian power of minorities, restricting political competition, throwing political balance into disarray and out of step with voters’ preferences, crystallizing constitutional and electoral reforms and polarizing the debate among factions that refuse to talk to each other.

As an antidote to all that, the authors have a number of proposals, from expanding voting rights to profound institutional reform, such as dismissing the Electoral College, or implementing term limits on the Supreme Court. Without such reforms, facing systemic roadblocks, American democracy will tumble further into ‘democratic decline.’

Ben Ansell, Why Politics Fails, New York: Public Affairs, 2023, 345 pp.

Oxford professor Ben Ansell presents this book as a staunch defence of politics as key to solving the dilemmas facing contemporary societies, especially the issues affecting a broader swath of people, such as climate change, inequality, economic sustainability, security, democracy, or equality. The author says we need more politics, not less. So it is essential for us to understand where politics has failed. When polarization looms, opposing parties lose their ability to establish meaningful dialog, and several political systems become divorced from the citizenry.

As Ansell sees it, key dilemmas arise out of growing egotism and careless management of expectations, especially when we discuss democracies. We want democracies to reflect the will of the people and work against disparity in wealth distribution. We want more personal security and an economy that leads to prosperity without putting the planet at risk. So we swing from altruistic imperative to a dictatorship of individualism. We are, as the author says, beset by a number of traps we can’t disarm, perpetuating vicious cycles. How do we get out of this predicament?

On the one hand, we should give up on the notion that replacing politics with libertarian technocracy, which tends to persecute politics, is the recipe we need. The author feels there is no alternative to politician-led politics. On the other hand, we need to bolster institutions with reformed methods and objectives. That is still the best way to channel the discord that naturally occurs in our societies. The way we coordinate these two aspects will yield sustainability for our democracy, minimizing populist friction, bridge polarizing gaps, and bring about legitimate, improved public policy.



Bernardo Pires de Lima

Bernardo Pires de Lima

Associate Fellow - IPRI-NOVA University

Bernardo Pires de Lima  is Political Adviser to the President of the Portuguese Republic. He is also a Research Fellow at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations, IPRI-NOVA, an international politics analyst for the national Portuguese television channel RTP, for radio station Antena 1 and the Portuguese daily Diário de Notícias. He chairs the Luso-American Development Foundation’s (FLAD) Curators Council and has been a Research Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Transatlantic Relations in Washington DC and at the National Defense Institute in Lisbon, Portugal. He has penned eight books on contemporary international politics, the most recent being Portugal na Era dos Homens Fortes: Democracia e Autoritarismo em Tempos de Covid (Portugal in a time of strongmen: Democracy and authoritarianism in a time of Covid), published by Tinta-da- China in September 2020.