Face-to-face dialogue "How autocrats are reinventing 21st century politics".

Moisés Naím and José Juan Ruiz

On 7 April 2022, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised a face-to-face dialogue in the Rafael del Pino auditorium. "How autocrats are reinventing 21st century politics". in which the following will participate Moisés Naím and José Juan Ruiz on the occasion of the publication of the work "The revenge of the powerful: A Book for Understanding How Power is Gained, Used and Lost in the 21st Century" by Moisés Naím, published by Debate.

Moisés Naím (b. 1952) is a Venezuelan writer and columnist who edited from 1996 to 2010 the magazine Foreign Policy and since 2011 presents Naím effecta weekly television programme on international affairs that is broadcast in dozens of countries on the NTN24 television network. He also collaborates with the most prestigious international media such as  El País (Spain), El Universal (Mexico). La Nació (Argentina) or La Repubblica (Italy).among many others In recognition of this work, in 2011 he received the Ortega y Gasset Prize, the highest award in Spanish journalism. Moisés Naím is a Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and is a former Minister of Development of Venezuela, former Director of the Central Bank of Venezuela and former Executive Director of the World Bank. He holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books Unlawful (Debate, 2007) and The end of power (Debate, 2013) were both international successes. The British magazine Prospect in 2013, and the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institut in Switzerland selected him as one of the 100 global thought leaders in 2014 and again in 2015.

José Juan Ruizcurrently president of the Elcano Royal Institute, has belonged to its Scientific Council for the past decade. An economist by training, he is a member of the Corps of State Economists and Commercial Technicians. Throughout his professional life he has held positions in the Ministry of Economy, worked in the private sector - as chief economist of Argentaria, AFI and Banco Santander in Latin America - and, more recently, has been the chief economist and director of the Research Department of the Inter-American Development Bank. He is currently a member of the Economic Affairs Advisory Council to the First Deputy Prime Minister. He has extensive experience in international organisations, both European and global. Member of several boards of directors of public and private companies, he has been a professor and also president of the Social Council of the University of Castilla-La Mancha. A frequent contributor to the media, he has been a member of the editorial boards of Política Exterior, Prisa and Grupo Recoletos.


On 7 April 2022, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised a dialogue entitled "How autocrats are reinventing politics in the 21st century", featuring Moisés Naím, columnist and distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, on the occasion of the presentation of his book La revancha de los poderosos: Cómo los autócratas están reinventando la política en el siglo XXI (Revenge of the powerful: How autocrats are reinventing politics in the 21st century).

For Naím, there are three 'Ps' that are reinventing 21st century politics: populism, polarisation and post-truth. Populism has always existed. Polarisation is society fighting. And it is all played out amidst propaganda, which we now call post-truth. These three 'Ps' have acquired a power and ways of interacting that they did not have before.

Populism is mistaken for an ideology, but it is not. It is a box full of tools, tricks and tactics to gain power and not give it up, based on the strategy of divide and rule. The great divide is between the abused people and an abusive elite that mistreats them. In between them always appears a caudillo who offers the noble people the possibility of no longer being mistreated and thus comes to power. This division is now a product of polarisation of all kinds. Societies are polarised in a paralysing way, by a toxic polarisation that is not accepting that rivals have the right to the possibility of governing. That is the polarisation we are seeing in today's democracies. This polarisation is influenced by post-truth. We used to talk about propaganda. Post-truth includes it, but transcends it by trying to create an artificial, different world, at the service of power, with lies as a normal instrument of politics, mendacity as a fundamental strategy. The big lie is part of the arsenal normally used by populists. What needs to be done is to reduce the impunity of liars.

Historically, dictators were military men who joined with other military men, staged a coup d'état and said that they were the power. Now it is no longer a coup d'état but a process in which, little by little, the defining elements of a democracy are undermined. It is done invisibly to ordinary people, by putting their people in the judiciary, by buying parliamentarians, by passing laws late on Friday night. That happened in the past decade. In 2011, 40% of humanity lived in autocratic regimes, in 2021 it was 70%. The number of countries that are democracies has fallen to 31. The emergence of social networks, with their immense influence on society, the emergence of new alliances and all kinds of realities, the arrival of Xi Jinping, while all this was happening, all these tricks were being played to kill democracy.

We are in the presence of criminal states. It is not a matter of organised gangs associating with public officials or politicians to steal, to commit crimes. Now the government is the criminal, organised, permanent, profit-seeking body of the autocratic elite. This government uses the tactics of organised crime as domestic and foreign policy tactics, to promote and support the objectives of the oligarchs in power.

Why, if democracy is in decline, are there so many elections? There are elections in every country every day because autocrats need elections because they provide legitimacy. Moreover, these elections are a lie. Orban has just been re-elected for the fourth time and there is evidence that the election was rigged, with the election logistics, with the election machinery. Orban is now president again through a rigged election, but he is not the only one. In Venezuela there was also an election recently. We have seen the same thing in Russia. Why does Putin have to do these institutional pirouettes when he is so powerful? Because of the search for legitimacy and because of the big lies.

We are naive consumers of politics. It is easy to deceive people, to manipulate them. All this is now enhanced by social media and new technologies. Then there is political necrophilia, which is the love for dead ideas, which have been tried and tested over and over again and always fail. Political necrophilia is booming. Just listen to the speeches of López Obrador, Castillo, Maduro, Kirchner. We have become accustomed to the idea that we only have to vote every four or five years and we should do no more, but that is not enough because we could lose our freedom.

Politics is a patchwork quilt in which polarisation divides society between the people, the elite and all kinds of identities. In Chile there has just been an election. The inauguration of the new president was very crowded. The event was full of flags with all the identities, but one was missing, the Chilean flag. That was people's affiliation to their identities, not to their country. Bring in social networks and so on and that gives the precarious situation of many countries.

Autocrats generate mutual support groups. Orban has said he will continue to buy oil from Putin and pay him in roubles. In Latin America we saw an attempt that has failed, which was the alliance that Hugo Chávez created. They have the need and the propensity to look for allies in other countries.

Dealing with autocrats depends on the narrative of how to present a democracy. These narratives are deeply rooted in anti-politics. In those narratives everything is bad, the old is no good and something new has to be brought in. This has destroyed many countries. The narrative needs to be improved, but it has a half obsolete product. Democracy has to adapt to the realities of the 21st century, such as climate change and artificial intelligence. That transcends borders, transcends regimes. Democracy has to be aligned with the demands of 21st century people. Armed conflicts have created fewer refugees than global warming and that is going to continue, with human and material costs we have never seen before. The narrative cannot be the defence of a democracy that has not been updated to the realities of the 21st century.

Spain is one of the best countries in the world. It has flaws, shortcomings and bad circumstances, but it also has an enormous list of positive things. What always surprises me about Spain is its propensity for self-flagellation, a product of tension, of exacerbated partisan rivalries. When you list the main problems Spain is going to have in the future and compare it with the national conversation, it is nothing like it, it has nothing to do with the national debate. There is also a lot of political necrophilia.

In Venezuela there was a lot of poverty, a lot of corruption and a lot of inequality when Chávez rose up. Venezuela, then, was not the poorest country in Latin America, so poverty does not explain what happened. In terms of inequality it was also much better than countries like Brazil or even Chile. There was corruption, but it was also better than many others. So this does not explain what happened. Everything in Venezuela revolves around oil. The oil culture was deeply rooted, and the idea of Venezuelans' right to oil wealth was deeply rooted. The people then asked themselves why, if the country is so rich, I am so poor, and the result was that the people overthrew the government. Gigantic mistakes were made in those governments, but society did not want what President Pérez was offering.

In the specific case of the concentration of power and the revenge of the powerful, the impunity of lies must be reduced. We must be more alert to what is happening in democracy so that it cannot be destroyed from within without anyone noticing. We have to be better digital consumers, with entities that protect them because we are victims of the new technologies that know everything about us in order to use this information for commercial, advertising and political purposes. This does not mean censorship. The Internet is essentially a spirit of decentralised technology. There are technologies that are going to allow us to be less naïve in the use of digital products. Post-truth is going to be more complicated. These technologies are going to be combined with legislative changes with the idea of protecting our privacy, having the right to feel safe, that when we send a message others are not reading it.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.