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Authoritarian governments and myths surrounding them.

Authoritarian governments and myths surrounding them.

What are the chief characteristics of authoritarian governments? Are all autocrats tyrannical? Explain.
Summarize each of the six myths that surround authoritarian governments. What are the fallacies associated with these myths?

The word authoritarianism can be applied to your great variety of contexts. It can refer to authoritarian behavior, leadership styles, or personality types in families, industrial enterprises, bureaucracies, and other forms of organizations. Here, it refers to political regimes that fall under this broad label. The major characteristics of authoritarian regimes include a limited political pluralism with restrictions on the activities of interest groups and parties, a low level of social mobilization and popular political participation, a dominantly “subject” or “parochial” political culture, and usually a personalized form of leadership.

The term arrived into utilize in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries whenever it started to be needed to identify hierarchically set up, classic monarchical or more the latest “bonapartist” autocratic regimes from liberal democracies, on one side, and all sorts of-encompassing “totalitarian” solutions, on the other. Liberal democracies can be defined with regard to three major dimensions: an open and competitive political pluralism (usually in a multiparty system), a high level of political participation (as in fair and free elections, referenda, etc.), and political institutions that guarantee a certain separation of powers, the rule of law, and basic human rights (such as freedom of expression, information, organization, religion, etc.). Totalitarian systems, at the other extreme, are characterized by monistic, all-encompassing social and political organizations (such as a single party; dependent unions; organizations for women, youth, etc.), a high level of social mobilization (as in political rallies, high election turnouts), an explicit, monolithic, absolutist ideology, and a strong repressive apparatus. In fact, however, these distinctions cannot always be drawn precisely and some “gray” areas exist between these types. In common usage, all non-democratic systems are lumped together as “dictatorships.” Whereas the original use of this term in the Roman republic referred to emergency powers for a limited period, today it implies all kinds of arbitrary rule and political repression. Nevertheless, important qualitative differences can be found among such nondemocratic regimes.

Belief: “Don’t be concerned! ! No biggie! ! We’ll just vote them away! ”. I hear this one every day. Don’t you? By superstar pundits, intellectuals, academics, journalists, columnists. Unfortunately, it betrays an almost complete lack of historical context or knowledge, much less any kind of understanding of how societies really work. Reality: Defeating authoritarianism, more often than not, takes a revolution. Not an election. Think about it. Was communism voted away in Soviet Russia? Did people vote down the Berlin Wall? Nope. It took a revolution. Why didn’t people “vote out” Saddam and Gaddafi? Why did they have to die for nations to progress? History is redolent with the lesson that once authoritarians come into power, merely “voting them out” isn’t likely to work — even if you nominally can. The story is just as true in America’s own history, too — they couldn’t simply “vote” themselves out of the British Empire. Defeating authoritarianism, once it’s set in, takes a revolution, not just an election. Why is that? Myth: ”Authoritarianism is like a cold! Our immune system will simply fight it off! ” This is how American intellectuals think of authoritarianism so far — they appeal to America’s strength and robustness, and so on. But history tells us no democracy is too strong to fall, doesn’t it? John Wayne only exists in the movies. Reality: authoritarianism is like cancer, not a cold. The body’s immune system turns on itself — and if it metastasizes, the organs of the body politic may be harmed beyond repair or recovery. What do I mean by “the immune system turns on itself”? Well, the very first thing authoritarians usually do is rewrite the rule of law, in anti-democratic, unjust, immoral, and illiberal ways. They turn elections on their heads, make secret police forces, surveil whole groups or peoples, and so forth. That is why it takes a revolution — not just an election — to defeat authoritarianism: as social institutions are used to repress and subjugate people, democracy as a simple “electoral” process quickly becomes at best a sham, and at worst, a luxury. The Nazis did it, the Soviets did it, and today, we are seeing it happen in America — families being split up at the border and so on. The immune systems turns on itself. Authoritarianism for that reason is like cancer. It infects the many organs, or institutions, of the social body — the rule of law, elections, media, business, and so on — and if it is allowed to fester, to set in, then it metastasizes. Soon enough, there is nothing left of these institutions to save — they have rotted from the inside out. And the challenge for a nation after a bout of authoritarianism is often rebuilding its institutions wholesale. In just that way, we make a mistake today equating authoritarianism to a minor cold, when in fact it is the gravest disease of the body politic. Myth: “We will defeat the authoritarians by calling them names! ! By humiliating and shaming them! !” LOL. This one always strikes me as especially funny. Do you really think authoritarians have a sense of shame? Of course not. They are shameless by definition. Have you seen their taste in interior design? So simply pointing out that they are hypocrites and blowhards and tyrants is pointless. It is hardly likely to stop them — since their rise points to a society in which despair and rage outweigh shame and guilt in the first place. Reality: Authoritarianism is defeated by offering people a social contract that works again, so they don’t have to flee into the arms of strongmen for a sense of safety and security when societies are collapsing around them. Liberals throughout history have made this mistake again and again. In Nazi Germany, liberals didn’t offer people anything much — it was the Nazis, in fact, who promised them the world. The same was true in Soviet Russia. And it is true again in America today. Liberals are out to lunch. The old social contract is as broken as one could possibly get — Americans die every day for a lack of insulin, for example, will never retire, and so on — and yet, instead of offering people a better one, what do they spend their days doing? Tweeting angrily. Ranting on cable news. And so on. It’s less than useless — it only ensures the authoritarians keep on winning. Because people simply do not have an alternative worth considering, really. It’s a way for elites and political parties to shirk their responsibilities to democracy.