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


Mark the date down, it was on December 6th, 2021 that one of the most prestigious quarterly peer-reviewed academic journals in political science, American Political Science Review featured a study where the author Ross Mittiga, an assistant professor of political theory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, posits in his abstract that Climate change poses an even graver threat to public safety. Consequently, I argue, legitimacy may require a similarly authoritarian approach.” Yup, this was a serious academic study, in the American Political Science Review, arguing that under the circumstances of COVID19 and Climate Change, authoritarianism could be legitimate!

Mittiga wrote most disturbingly,

“As the climate crisis deepens, one can find a cautious but growing chorus of praise for “authoritarian environmentalism.”1 This mode of governance, typically associated with China, is often juxtaposed to the “democratic environmentalism” of wealthy, postindustrial states like the United States, Australia, Germany, and Japan. The essential idea behind these encomiums is that, while authoritarianism is in general lamentable, having a government unencumbered by democratic procedures or constitutional limits on power could be advantageous when it comes to implementing urgently needed climate action.”

Authoritarianism Argued ‘Legitimate’ To Face COVID19 And Climate Change

The paper went largely unremarked for quite some time until Alexander Wuttke, a Twitter user who studies political behavior at the University of Mannheim in Germany brought the study some much-needed attention as more and more incredulous readers find it and marvel at the bone-chilling descent of American political studies to where authoritarianism can find calls for legitimacy.

Mr. Wuttke observed, “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 full Mr. Mittiga’s abstract reads, “Is authoritarian power ever legitimate? The contemporary political theory literature—which largely conceptualizes legitimacy in terms of democracy or basic rights—would seem to suggest not. I argue, however, that there exists another, overlooked aspect of legitimacy concerning a government’s ability to ensure safety and security. 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. While unsettling, this suggests the political importance of climate action. For if we wish to avoid legitimating authoritarian power, we must act to prevent crises from arising that can only be resolved by such means.”

Wuttke’s thread is massive and he pedantically breaks down a thorough analysis of the study which is definitely worth the read, but how he closes his observation is perfect and his rejection of the premise is reassuring.

” Living in a democracy it is easy to become complacent and take freedom for granted. And it is easy to become frustrated for all the things that do not go your way. Stripping other people who disagree with you of their right to participate seems like a quick way to achieve what you think is best for society. But once we open pandora’s box we must be prepared that it will turn against ourselves some time. This article spends three sentences on the value of democracy and multiple pages on its drawbacks and flaws. It does not try to improve democracy or to make democracy compatible with the climate crisis. As a discipline, we should publish and discuss these positions and then reject them.”


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