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Friday, January 10, 2003

The New Age of Tyranny
By Mark Lilla

And so we find ourselves at an impasse today. For as long as anyone living can remember, the fundamental political problem of our time has been captured, well or not, by the slogan "totalitarianism or democracy," a distinction thought useful for the purposes of serious political analysis and public rhetoric alike. That age is definitely past. As the threat of totalitarianism has receded we find in its wake few functioning democracies, only a variety of mixed regimes and tyrannies that pose new challenges to our understanding and our policies. From Zimbabwe to Libya, from Algeria to Iraq, from the Central Asian republics to Burma, from Pakistan to Venezuela, we discover nations that are neither totalitarian nor democratic, nations where the prospects of building durable democracies in the near future are limited or nil. The democratic West does not face an "axis of evil" today, it faces the geography of a new age of tyranny. That means we live in a world where we will be forced to distinguish, strategically and rhetorically, among different species of tyranny, and among different sorts of minimally decent political regimes that might not be modern or democratic, but would be a definite improvement over tyranny. As yet, we have no geographers of this new terrain. It will take more than a generation, apparently, before two centuries of forgetfulness about tyranny can themselves be forgotten.

[Thanks Omar]
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