I was reading about the history of South Korea, particularly the Park Chung-hee Dictatorship from 1961 until Park's assassination in 1979.
Two qualities define his reign -
1. Authoritarianism. Suppression of opposition, suppression of liberalism, militarism, war, and general high-handedness.
2. Industrialization. Rapidly modernizing, improvement in economic quality of life, South Korea's rise from the most devastated part of East Asia into a burgeoning economic power.
You'll see lots of history follow that pattern -- authoritarian societies seem to be able to rapidly industrialize and "catch up" with the rest of the world.
It seems like liberal societies do better at inventing, but authoritarian societies can do better at rapidly building capital and an industrial base.
Why is this? When countries are economically in bad shape, people's preferences shift to short time perspectives. Perhaps authoritarianism can channel resources from consumption to investment among people that would normally consume, thus building an industrial base.
But authoritarianism, at least thus far, seems counter-productive to innovation. You'll see liberal republics consistently produce more shifts and changes, out of which comes the innovations in art, culture, and technology that push the envelope.
So, the big questions become -- can liberal societies industrialize as effectively, and can authoritarian societies manage to innovate and invent?
There's probably examples and counterexamples worth discussing -- share your anecdotes and experiences in the comments?