When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Western commentators were quick to assert that liberal democracy and capitalism had won the day. The truth was more complex. Authoritarian governments in China, Singapore, and later, Russia, deftly separated democracy from capitalism, offering their citizens a choice. They could embrace all the comforts of a consumerist society, so long as they surrendered their civil liberties.
Freedom for Sale (Basic Books) is a portrait of a new paradigm of authoritarian capitalism, which is making inroads not just in the East, but in America as well. At this Open Society Institute event, author John Kampfner discusses his argument that this model represents a "pact" between governments and their middle class subjects. As long as citizens consent to stay out of politics and keep to themselves, in return they receive all the creature comforts they desire.
The cost is small, insofar as the average citizen is concerned--but as soon as activists and journalists get involved, the pact has swift, deadly consequences. Crackdowns on journalists in China, detentions of political dissidents in Singapore, and thuggish intimidation and assassinations in Russia are all part and parcel of this system, but even so, the pact seems more popular, and more successful than ever.
John Kampfner was editor of the New Statesman from 2005-2008 where he won a number of awards, including Current Affairs Magazine Editor of the Year. He is also author of the acclaimed Blair's Wars, which was selected as a book of the year in 2003 by the Times, Sunday Times and Observer.
Kampfner was a correspondent in Moscow and Berlin for nearly a decade for Reuters and the Daily Telegraph. He later became a political correspondent and commentator for the Financial Times and the BBC. A series of documentaries on the Middle East for the BBC earned him the Journalist of the Year award in 2002 and a nomination for the Royal Television Society awards in 2004.
Corey Robin is professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of Fear: The History of a Political Idea (Oxford University Press).
Joel Simon became the executive director for the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2006. Prior to joining CPJ as a program coordinator in 1997, Simon worked as a journalist in California and Latin America.
He began his career as a writer and photographer based in Central America, focusing on Guatemala's civil war. Simon moved to Mexico City in 1989 where he covered immigration, environmental issues, and the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement.
From 1991 to 1994, Simon worked from San Francisco as a contributing editor to SFWeekly. He returned to Mexico in 1994 to report on the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas as a freelance correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. Simon's book on Mexico's environmental crisis, Endangered Mexico: An Environment on the Edge, was published by Sierra Club Books in 1997.
Simon has participated in CPJ missions to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Yugoslavia, Tajikistan, Mexico, Colombia, the Gambia, Russia, and the Philippines. He has written widely on press issues, including press freedom and international law, for the Columbia Journalism Review, Slate, Newsday, and the New York Review of Books.
Social networking has been hailed as a tool for revolting against authoritarian political regimes, but can it also be counterproductive to this goal? Freedom for Sale author John Kampfner speculates that the isolated act of blogging "dissipates the galvanizing effect of public action."