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The descent into despotism.


This note is a warning.

I wrote the other day (August 1) about Poland and Hungary’s descent into dictatorship. Two nations with rich and terrible histories. Two nations whose future could so easily have been to consolidate the success of the European Experiment. Two nations that look set instead to disrupt the European dream.

They are not alone. They are part of a collapse of values and constructive political thought throughout south eastern Europe. President Erdogan’s Turkey is reaping the whirlwind of his demented tribalism as he turns his once great nation back into a fundamentalist Muslim stronghold – witness the denial of Ataturk’s legacy and his shredding the centuries old multi religious and cultural history of the Hagia Sophia. Last week he and his AKP party legislated to control and contain media outlets, censor content and threaten journalists. He already has control of the courts.

Turkey is an aspirant member of the EU. It is a full member of NATO. But like Poland and Hungary it shows little interest in the values and disciplines of these institutions. As its economy collapses so it is building dangerous alliances in the eastern Mediterranean to gain sole disputed rights to the oil in the sea. Turkey is entering a new and dark period. Erdogan, like Putin, like Duda and like Orban wants total despotic control for life. Suppression of the courts, the media, and building opportunities for war all follow the 1920’s and 30’s playbook of horror.

It is unthinkable to me to have to add that our administration here in the US seems to be attracted strongly to this discredited and divisive playbook. Denigrating our democratic institutions, denying science, politicizing the law courts, mocking the press and abusing long standing allies are all there in the early chapters. It is but a few pages to rearmament, new nuclear deterrents, and unfounded trade and warlike threats to alleged adversaries.

The world has become far smaller since the 1930’s. It is clear to all but the most demented narcissist that we are in an era of globalism and interdependence. Going it alone, independence will not cut it – not for coping with climate change, not for dealing with poverty, and not , as we are learning every day, for responding to the corona pandemic. The impending threat posed by these five leaders* is emerging as the defining political challenge of the 2020’s for the EU, for us here in the United States, and for the world.

Keep a watch on them – what they do today will affect us all tomorrow.

Have a good day, James.

  • * James’s Master class – The New Leadership – can be accessed via