The Third Way Of Hugo Chavez


Clive Crook examines how the Venezuelan president's re-election on Sunday challenges notions of democracy:

"Elected autocrat" is a confusing category. According to the model that prevailed for decades after 1945, there are really just two kinds of state: free and unfree. Democracy, good. Autocracy, bad. Chavez represents a third way, one that might be catching on. (Think of the former Soviet Union and the Arab Spring….) 

Indeed, democracy has worked better for him than outright autocracy, which would have aligned domestic and foreign opposition more effectively. Illiberal democracies, under the right circumstances, can be stronger than outright tyrannies. They lend themselves better to divide and rule.

Frum assesses the sorry state of affairs in Venezuela – rampant crime and corruption, massive debt, media control, "massive government vote-buying" – and concludes:

Chavez does have a militant populist constituency, and it's not impossible that the final result does reflect what the voters actually did. But then, Vladimir Putin wins elections, too, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won at least one. It is not elections alone that make a free society — and a free society is what Venezuela long ago ceased to be.

Seumas Milne, on the other hand, holds a sunnier view of socialism under Chavez.

(Photo: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gestures during a press conference in Caracas on October 9, 2012. Chavez pledged to become a 'better president' and work with the opposition after winning a tough re-election battle that betrayed simmering discontent at his socialist revolution. After almost 14 years in power, Chavez survived cancer and the most formidable opponent of his presidency, youthful business leader and former state governor Henrique Capriles, to win his third six-year term. By Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)