Saturday, 1 April 2017


A commentator claimed, authoritarianism was a made up and meaningless attack term. By the end of this blog, it is hoped, its meaning will have returned.

Local Rejection of Rule of Law

In many detective novels and thrillers there is a kind of supporting character that is willing to “cross the line” in order to help the protagonist in the name of justice. This character could be played by a chief of police or a computer hacker. They do everything from break into the villain's cell phone to reveal his tax returns.

What is the writer doing by telling this kind of story? Society has laws. Tax returns and cell phone data are private information. Why is it OK to create some hero's helper who can undermine these rules?

Readers of thriller novels are rewarded by fictional teams that don't play by the rules. It's all in the name of pursuing a just cause. An escape from real world frustration, where rights can mean, the bad guy gets away. Think OJ Simpson.

This is authoritarianism at the local level. In the big scheme of things, even the chief of police is just a small guy trying to do the right thing. Sure, he bends the rules a little; but, it's OK, because you have to do what it takes to get the jerk criminals. Until, some guy in uniform tells you, you're the bad guy, that is.

Macro Authoritarianism. Authoritarianism at the National Level

Rather than make a comprehensive list of the ways authoritarian leadership works at the top a couple of specific examples will be used to illustrate it in the context of democracy. Namely, crime and breaking bureaucratic deadlocks.

Where as, at the local level, we might have an honest cop perusing justice, at the top we have, WAR ON CRIME! Take, Rodrigo Duterte, leader of the Philippines, for example. He boasts, he personally kills criminals! No such thing as rights for scum bags in Manila or Quezon. Because even with a little slack, these folks will use their drug money to game the system and create chaos. Someone had to step in to protect the people...right?

It's not just about bending the rules to put the badman in jail. It's about flaunting who had the power and the will to bend the rules in the first place. It takes a special person to break the law for justice.

Breaking Deadlocks and Breaking Faces

Coalitions. Compromises. Committees. The three evil C's of freedom. Democracy seems filled with a lot of road blocks to getting anything done. And when things do get done its a watered down version of the initial proposal. Nobody is ever happy.

By having general elections we end up with regions, different economic classes and other special interests at the table. How else are we supposed to create policy that represents the general will of the electorate? But, when these competing interests and ideologies start to lock the system. A growing frustration begins to grow, especially among the voters who wanted a particular policy there seem to be a decent amount of agreement on.

Take health care in USA, for example. The groups most opposed to competition across state lines are the businesses themselves. The Republicans can't agree among what the general approach to health care should be. Never mind the left, who had a bitter, contentious fight that lasted 13 months, before they came up with the hardly agreed upon, Obamacare. And, it was the passing of this bill which is most often credited with their election defeat in 2010. (Note: My Democrat friends claim it was gerrymandering ;-))

Then the authoritarian pops up, promising to resolve the deadlock. No explanation is given on how this magic act will take place or why the normal process of coalition building is such a bad idea. All the reasons for disagreement are ignored, of course. All those different groups and regions seeing the problem differently are just dismissed as bureaucratic bs by the authoritarian.

The Paradox of the Democratic Authoritarian: Populism Undermining Rights

The authoritarian, if he comes on the scene at the right time, can truly ride a populist wave to victory. Why? Because the people, at such a moment, have been caught when they don't have the patience to wait for cops and courts to co ordinate on being in accordance with the constitution.

When it comes to policies, they are sick and tired of waiting for all those different groups at the "table" to agree on anything. NOW is the time for action. Because, action is the one thing, we the people, never seem to see. (Its also not clear being jacked up on soda chips, pop and video games is helping them with that patience thing either.)

The authoritarian has a decent chance to gain in popularity because he's delivering the goods. But, to succeed, he's going to have to undermine the rights of his supporters; because, what does cutting corners mean at the end of the day? How do you make these short cuts magically appear?

Whatever, pass the potato chips!


  1. Just like my favourite ever TV star, Jack Bauer from the 24 series. Some things just have to be done!

    Absolutely Amazing Alliteration

    1. You and Jack can be part of that momentum against democracy. You'll probably be the first against the wall.

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  3. There are a lot of different levels, viewpoints, and agendas at play here. In many ways, or maybe in all cases, the authoritarianism is what is perceived by the person on the side being ass-whipped or those on the side of the one getting the ass-whipping.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out: It's About Time