‘Authoritarianism’ May Be Necessary to Fight Climate Change, Cambridge Study Argues

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by Jon Miltimore, The Foundation for Economic Education:

There are many genuine threats facing humanity. None of them require authoritarianism or the infringement of civil liberties.

A recent study published in American Political Science Review, a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal published by Cambridge University, begins with a teasing question: “Is authoritarian power ever legitimate?”

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For many, the answer is clearly no, concedes the study’s author—Ross Mittiga, an assistant professor of political theory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. But Mittiga, in the abstract to the study, suggests otherwise:

“While, under normal conditions, maintaining democracy and rights is typically compatible with guaranteeing safety, in emergency situations, conflicts between these two aspects of legitimacy can and often do arise. A salient example of this is the COVID-19 pandemic, during which severe limitations on free movement and association have become legitimate techniques of government. Climate change poses an even graver threat to public safety. Consequently, I argue, legitimacy may require a similarly authoritarian approach.”

The study caught the eye of Alexander Wuttke, a Twitter user who studies political behavior at the University of Mannheim in Germany.

“In my reading, it explicitly argues that we must put climate action over democracy and adopt authoritarian governance if democracies fail to act on climate change,” tweeted Wuttke.

In an extensive thread, Wuttke explained why he disagrees with Mittiga.

“I am genuinely puzzled about the origins of this anti-democratic intuition that seems to give rise to the entire endeavor of exploring whether we should sacrifice democracy for the sake of a higher good,” Wuttke says at one point. “The article argues that crises not only can legitimize but may require authoritarian governance. This is not true. Democracies have fought the pandemic without giving up being democratic.”

In a rare (and refreshing) display of civility for Twitter, Mittiga said he appreciated Wuttke’s thoughts and thanked him for “his good will in sharing these comments with me before posting.” In his own thread, Mittiga sought to address what he said were “several mischaracterizations or confusions” in Wuttke’s comments.

“The relevant question is *not* whether giving up democracy was somehow necessary for addressing the emergency (in this case, COVID-19). Clearly, it was not, and I certainly never suggest as much in the paper,” Mittiga explains at one point. “Rather, the real question — the one that gets at what I tried to argue — is whether democracies have addressed the emergency in purely democratic, rights-respecting ways. The answer is, of course, that they have not.”

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