Xavier Marquez's new Non-Democratic Politics, which I reviewed for The Diplomat, takes a sledgehammer to the lies autocrats tell themselves, and their citizens:
It’s all but impossible to read Marquez’s sections on benevolent authoritarianism or (failed) democratization without thinking of the lone Central Asian state whose post-Soviet leader remains unchanged. While Kazakhstan receives only passing mention for unsuccessful protests, Marquez ably describes Nazarbayev’s regime in all but name. From Astana’s obsession with staging elections and Nazarbayev’s near-perfect electoral returns — as primarily a show of strength, Marquez’s theory would posit — to the “dictator’s dilemma” of gauging how much support a regime actually maintains, especially in light of depleted economic coffers, post-Soviet Kazakhstan is never far from Non-Democratic Politics.
Of course, Nazarbayev would never argue Kazakhstan is a democracy, at least in the liberal, Western mold. Rather, he would suggest — and has, many times over — that he is pursuing a Lee-like model. It’s an essentialist, almost Orientalist approach, that claims Kazakhstanis, given their differing cultural “values,” would prefer an autocratic central government, or a dictatorship of technocrats. It’s also an argument Marquez bludgeons, and unmasks as little more than a push for nepotism, corruption, and dictatorial greed. As Marquez writes, “[T]here is very little evidence that some cultures are specifically welcoming to authoritarian government.” After all, Nazarbayev’s argument is no different than prior dictatorships in Madrid and Manila. “Indeed,” Marquez adds, “the trope is very old: German writers argued in the nineteenth century that Germany’s cultural distinctiveness necessitated authoritarian rather than representative democratic government.”