Open Lecture by Prof Kurt Weyland
Contrary to widely held progressive expectations, during certain time periods authoritarian rule – not democracy – has spread across countries in striking waves. This lecture examines the causal mechanisms driving these diffusion processes. Focusing on Europe and Latin America, it argues that waves of authoritarianism constituted primarily processes of counter-diffusion, namely reactionary efforts to forestall the spread of revolutionary impulses. As first the Russian Revolution and then the Cuban Revolution stimulated emulation efforts by radical leftists in many countries, right-wingers and even centrist sectors sought to immunize the body politic against the Communist virus by embracing authoritarianism and corporatism, if not fascism. Right-wingers’ fears and their disproportionate response to leftist challenges reflected core mechanisms of bounded rationality.
Political actors do not process events in a careful and systematic way, but rely on inferential shortcuts, which induce people to overrate the significance of dramatic, vivid events and to draw surprisingly firm conclusions from limited data, including a single outstanding occurrence. Accordingly, the left overestimated the replicability of the Russian and Cuban Revolutions, and so did the right. As leftists started many uprisings, rightists squashed them with brutal force and sought to prevent Communist revolution by embracing reactionary rule. These harsh reactions were driven by disproportionate loss aversion. This mechanism documented by cognitive psychologists seriously skewed political decisions and, given the prevailing fear of Communism, set in motion waves of rightwing autocracy.
Kurt Weyland is Professor of Latin American Politics at the Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin. His research interests focus on democratization, market reform, social policy and policy diffusion, and populism in Latin America. He has drawn on a range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including insights from cognitive psychology, and has done extensive field research in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, and Venezuela. He is the author of Democracy without Equity: Failures of Reform in Brazil (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), The Politics of Market Reform in Fragile Democracies: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela (Princeton University Press, 2002), several book chapters, and many articles in journals such as World Politics, Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, Latin American Research Review, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Democracy, Foreign Affairs, and Political Research Quarterly.