THE FORMS OF GOVERNMENT - DICTATORSHIP
By Roland Watson
To continue with the forms of government, the basic distinction is how many people have control. On one end of the continuum are the autocracies, or rule by a single individual. Traditionally, such governments existed as monarchies, but in the modern world they are always dictatorships. Modern autocracies are always totalitarian: the dictators, and their cronies, such as the fellow members of a junta, or communist politburo, have total power. They are also authoritarian: individuals in the society are wholly subordinate to the state, i.e., to the wishes of the dictator. And, the dictators are regularly tyrants or despots: they are cruel to, and engage in massive repression of, the general population. But such tyrants do require some support, and this is usually extracted from the military, in return for economic spoils, or from a particular ethnic group (in Africa, this is the dictator's tribe), which is appealed to through demagoguery, to encourage prejudices against other groups.
Modern dictatorships are always police states, and make extensive use of secret police forces and community spies. Strict censorship on opposition views is also maintained: all permitted media present only the dictator's propaganda. In addition, all potential sources of opposition are repressed, such as workers, students, religious adherents, etc. (In Burma, universities are closed; in China, it's the churches, and also the Falun Gong sect.) And, in most cases the subjects of the dictatorship are kept poor, with little ability (practical - to acquire weapons) or inclination (psychological - they are cowed) to resist. Divide and conquer is also featured, to create internal dissent and hence forestall the possibility of a unified opposition. And war, and forced labor, are undertaken, to keep people occupied and, with the former, to make military leadership necessary. To maintain a climate of fear, purges and extrajudicial executions, particularly of strong individuals who conceivably could constitute a threat, are carried out. Of course, it is not as if there is an independent judiciary, or the rule of law. If there are laws, they are enforced only on behalf of the rulers, and written so as to make illegal and the grounds for indefinite imprisonment any independent acts on the part of the general public. (And, it is not just Burma and China that favor this tactic: witness Mohammed Mahathir of Malaysia and his country's Internal Security Act.) And lastly, there is the most heinous tactic of all: ethnic cleansing, and other forms of genocide.
(This is an update of Aristotle's tactics of tyrants, as relayed by Bertrand Russell in A History of Western Philosophy.)
We should have no illusions about this: dictators will do anything to stay in power.
As an aside, it is an interesting legacy of Confucianism, of its demand for submission to authority, that many of the remaining dictatorships are in Asia. A very timely question is which nation will be, will ignobly go down in history as, the last dictatorship. Almost all of the holdouts - Cuba is an exception - are in Asia, the Middle East (Islamic dictatorships) and Africa (tribal dominations). And, in reference to another common "Asian Value," that of widespread bigotry on the basis of skin color, it would be a huge retort to the East if all of the nations of Africa, especially of black Africa, achieved democracy first.
(Another aspect of Asian Values is that everyone should be the same, that the community is far more important than the individual, and therefore that no one should shine or excel. For instance, in Japan, "the unstuck nail is hammered down." This value clearly underlies the East's subordinate position to the West in basic scientific research, and in the development of commerce and technology.)
To depart from such a contentious subject, communism, as a form of dictatorship, is a special case, because in theory it is meant to achieve the exact opposite: a perfect democracy based on individual involvement and community consensus and compromise. But the theory of communism is fatally flawed, hence its results. Marx and Engels intended to destroy class structure and the power of the monarchy, but the result was a similar structure of even greater rigidity and repression. The king, bourgeoisie (merchant class) and proletariat (working class) were replaced by the Politburo with, in the Soviet Union, Lenin and then Stalin at the head, the members of the Communist Party, and everyone else. The workers' lot improved not at all; if anything it got worse. Even the language of communism, "dialectical materialism," was elitist: it was such that the common people, by definition, could never understand it.
Communism had a head-on collision with human selfishness and nepotism, and the latter proved far stronger. The ideal of "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," and the belief that property should be held in common, and that the creation of great personal wealth should not be allowed, proved in practice to be completely unworkable. With no personal incentive, people asked why they should labor, and why the products of their labor should be taken away from them and given to others. "To each according to his needs" implied that the needs of some people were greater, or superior. And, of course, the communist system, built around massive, centralized economic institutions, both industrial and agricultural, proved to be particularly susceptible to corruption, generating new, and exacerbating existing, inequalities.
Lastly, the achievement of universal communism, like Islam, was to be accomplished through the tactic of violent revolution. And this, as a means, was held to be completely justifiable, since it would eliminate oppression and inequality. But, as we now understand, it was simply the substitution of one form with another, a substitution with the worst form of all, that of ruthless and arbitrary force.
It didn't work in the Soviet Union, it is under pressure in such places as China and Burma, and it won't work with Islam, either. Humans will never end their resistance when they are subjected to repression. Our will is too strong. We, or at least some of us, will never give up.
This is why the forms of repression continually evolve: why they take on new faces and try new tacks. They simply adapt to changing environments. What we are seeing now is the end of political dictatorship, but this does not mean the end of all dictatorship. Indeed, political dictatorship itself succeeded religious dictatorship, although, as with Islamic nations (and the Pope), a few of these remain. All that is happening is a substitution of the people who dictate to you, who dictate the circumstances of your life.
Like the reduction in the number of police, this is another one of our most important social goals. We want to eliminate all forms of dictatorship, in all of our social institutions.
Regarding the evolution of dictatorship, what has been referred to throughout the website as social or behavioral form, the new modern sources of form that exist, are in fact the new modern dictators in your life. And, in these new manifestations, the forces of dictatorship have greatly increased their subtlety; they have learned that subtle methods, in the long run, are far more effective than forceful ones. And we are now being controlled, being dictated to, by these methods. The institutions that underlie modern society have introduced all manner of new constraints, without your permission (some democracy!), and over which you have no control. They have unilaterally changed, in many, many ways, and for the worse, the terms of our existence.
As you read these articles, and consider how to fight form, you should try to understand, and resist, all of the influences that attempt to dictate to you, to get you to believe or behave in a particular way.
All of this begs the question: is there nothing positive that can be said for dictatorship? The answer to this is that some people, in early times, foremost among them the philosopher Plato, believed that a "benevolent" dictatorship was possible and was in fact the ideal form of government. As we shall see, and as you are in any case no doubt aware, there are serious problems with the implementation, and practices, of democracy. The idea of a benevolent dictator, what Plato called the philosopher/king, may be considered as an alternative to it.
We saw earlier that some people act as sheep, unwilling to understand issues and to govern themselves, and that others act as lions. In addition, the latter inevitably prey on the former. The philosopher/king theory of government is meant to address this problem. (Traditional Eastern attitudes also support this alternative. They hold that some people, or classes, are by definition better and should have, or an individual from them should have, power, and furthermore, that the masses are ignorant and incapable of self-government.)
Plato believed that the philosopher/king would be the wisest person among us, and that he, or she, would attain the position through a process akin to natural selection. But this raises the first and most obvious criticism of the idea, which is that, while there may be people out there who are wise and who would make great leaders, the system of popular elections which has been developed, and which appears to be the only rational means to unearth them (it is the only electoral system that derives from and extends to everyone), regularly fails. The leaders chosen are neither wise, nor benevolent.
What happens is that sometimes the most intelligent people, the most capable, our best and brightest, do surface, but by the time they do they have been so affected by form, by the values which they have adopted along the way, that they are unable to fulfill their responsibilities. They have neither the sense of self-sacrifice, nor the humility, that are essential for a social servant. Rather than become statesmen and women, they turn out to be politicians.
(Bill Clinton was one of the best examples of this. He was well equipped, intellectually and motivationally, to manage the practical complexities of the role of U.S. President, but not to fulfill its ethical responsibilities.)
In addition, this phenomenon demonstrates a hard truth about persuasion. The people who are best at influencing us, such as to vote for them, are not the best educators, the people who can best explain the intricacies of complex issues and present well-reasoned arguments. Rather, they are the masters of situational form, the people who are most adept at rhetoric and behavioral manipulation. In almost all cases involving large groups of people, the latter will be more persuasive, will attract more followers, than the former.
Of course, the other argument is that in today's system, with the media scrutiny that exists, the best candidates for government office simply do not make themselves available. The invasion of their personal lives that they must accept is too great a cost.
And then there is the oft-mentioned concern that the power of authority is a corrupting force in and of itself:
"All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Men and women like Lincoln are rare, and always will be. That they attain positions of power is largely a matter of chance.
This, then, brings us to democracy. But first, the intermediate form of government, the rule of the few over the many, as in oligarchy, plutocracy, aristocracy, feudalism and theocracy, can also be dispensed with since it contravenes the principle of human equality.
© Roland Watson 2016