Archives for posts with tag: authoritarianism

Democracy works. Authoritarianism works too.

Athens, the Ancient version, had become the dominant power of the Ancient Greece as a democracy. Only the Parthenon was build under Pericle’s rule. And Pericle was, for all intents and purposes, a dictator.
Rome, the Ancient version, had build a huge empire. As a democracy. Then enlarged it some more. As a growingly authoritarian and eventually discretionary regime.

England had started as the most democratic kingdom in Europe. Building upon the democratic traditions developed by the Vikings, the barons had forced King John to sign Magna Charta Libertatum. Way back in 1215.
Meanwhile, France – England’s neighbor and long time competitor, had become the dominant power in Medieval Europe. As an increasingly absolutist monarchy.

At some point, the people living in the future United States of America had decided that they had enough. That they wanted to enjoy the same privilege as their British counterparts. “No taxation without representation”.  George III would have no such a thing so the US had been established as the first democratic modern state. And the most successful to date. By almost every measure.
Following on America’s foot steps, the French had their Revolution. After a very short – and very tumultuous, democratic stint, they had reverted to authoritarianism. And conquered almost all Europe, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte the First. Only to be eventually defeated by a coalition led by the more democratic British empire.

On the other side of Eur-Asia, things had been more linear.

The Russian Empire was developed in fits and starts. When the dictating ruler knew what he was doing – Peter the Great, for instance, things went forward. When not…
India had been, for all but the last 70 years or so, a melting pot of feuding dictatorships. Yet had developed a fascinating culture and much of what we currently call science and technology. The numbers our computers crunch had been invented there. And the steel we use to build our cars
The Chinese Middle Kingdom had once been the most civilized country on Earth. Then had crumbled under the assault of the marauding already democratic Europeans… only to revive, like the famous Phoenix… and all these while remaining submissive to a succession of authoritarian regimes.
Japan is a story by herself. Never fully authoritarian and yet still ‘imperative’ in many ways even today, she had somehow managed to put up a relatively good show. But for the period when she had succumbed to the ‘charms’ of hard core dictatorship, of course.

Coming back to Europe, I have to note that in the last century the inevitable tension between democracy and authoritarianism has produced immense tragedy.
WWI was the consequence of the inflexibility inherent to the authoritarian regimes. The leaders of the Keiserlich und Koniglich Habsburgic Empire, the Deutches Reich and the Russian Empire were not able to solve their disputes otherwise than dragging the whole continent into a huge mess.
Which, unsolved, had given birth to a second, and more horrible, one.
To complicate things even more, the battle was not fraught between the democratic regimes and the authoritarians.


The relatively flat layout of most parliamentary chambers has induced in us the idea that society is linear. From left to right and backwards.
Also, the current almost ubiquitous existence of parliaments drove us to forget that until recently – historically speaking, of course, most societies have been punctiform. The sovereign king was the only one able/entitled to make any significant decision…

Meanwhile we are told by the political scientists that long term political stability can be achieved only through ‘checks and balances’. Meaning that the state has to be organized in such a way that nobody can get amass too much power.
Actually most modern states have an executive, a legislative body and a judiciary. Each of them performing their specific tasks while keeping a jealous eye on the other two.

The problem with long term political stability being that it is a very abstract goal while most people just want to be happy. And are willing to go at considerable lengths in order to achieve their goals….

And it’s exactly here where ideologues start to argue among themselves

Some say that the individual is sacrosanct. That individual freedom is the most important value that is and the most fundamental ‘human right’.
Others say that society is more important than any individual. That all individuals should put themselves at the service of the society and that individual liberty pales when confronted with social necessity.
And a third category consider that democracy is a waste of time and of opportunity. That the best for any society is that a capable person/group of persons to be given absolute power over it. The rationale being that ‘the capable’ will take good care of their ‘property’. A far better kind of care than any group of bickering politicians would ever be able to offer….

On the practical side, those preoccupied with ‘freedom’ consider that the main duty of the state is to preserve/protect individual liberty. That people, once free, will know how to achieve their personal happiness.
The socially minded consider that individual happiness cannot exist before/outside the well being of the entire society. Hence the ‘rational citizen’ has to postpone (read forget) any personal goals and sublimate their own persona into the society.
‘The more capable than the rest’ consider that the ‘incapable’ cannot be trusted with defining their own goals and have to be told what to do. For their own good!

It is very easy to observe that none of the three ‘ideal types’ described above doesn’t work on its own. That each have been experimented and found to be ‘unpractical’, to say the least.

Individual absolute freedom exists. The Saan living in the Kalahari desert and the  Baka in the Cameroon don’t have any formal rules, no social hierarchy and are absolutely free to do as they please. Both have been easily overcome, their habitat is being encroached/destroyed by their ‘neighbors’ and have been able to survive only by going further and further away from anything.
Socially minded people have, time and time again, congregated. Only to witness their communities dissolve or develop malignantly. From the early christian settlements to the XiX-th century phalansters.
The ‘know better’ is, apparently at least, the most successful arrangement. All kingdoms and empires have been organized according to this principle.
And all of them eventually failed. Even Plato’s idea of ‘king priests’ has led to Alexander the Great’s ultimately disastrous campaign into the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that the erstwhile mighty Athens had fallen into anonymity just after starting to be governed by specially trained rulers.

Since the pure ideal types didn’t work, let’s see what we get if we combine them.

Since I’ve been experimenting it for the first 30 years of my life, I’ll start with the result of crossing ‘social minded’ with ‘know better’. Does ‘communism’ ring any bells with you?
Let’s cross ‘liberty’ with ‘know better’. Actually this has already been done. It was about liberty for those who knew better… Nazism, and its newer variants, are the first examples which come to mind.
And the most interesting result comes from crossing freedom with social minded. This has also been experimented. In the democratic Ancient Athens and in during the truly Republican phase of the Roman Empire. The same combination was used by the vikings and somehow perpetuated to this day. Its offshoots being the western style democracy.

Which democracy – just like the Roman Empire, will survive for only as long as it will conserve both individual freedom and social mindedness while allowing, but only when needed, the ‘know better’ to take over for the short periods of time when their presence at the helm is absolutely necessary.

Authoritarianism, of all ‘flavors’, depends on the ‘father figure’ being absolutely convinced that he is well above the rest. And it is this height which enables him to despise the rest, to the tune of not caring, at all, about how they feel about things.

‘I’m calling the shots, because I can, and the rest of you would better suck it up!’

Democracy, on the other hand, depends on people relying on each other. Enough of them are convinced that none of them is above error. Regardless of their ideological convictions, people who are convinced that democracy works are willing to accept advice from their peers. Or, at least, they listen carefully to what their peers have to say about issues.

The key word here being ‘peers’.

Nobody pays real attention to ideas coming from below or from above. If from below, that idea has to be almost obvious to pass the filter while everything coming from above is interpreted as an order. And executed if there’s no alternative or stalled/ignored whenever possible.

Both authoritarianism and democracy have proved themselves useful.

No war has ever been won by a democratically led army and no authoritarian regime has ever resisted for long. Meanwhile no democracy has ever crumbled as long as it has retained enough of its democratic spirit.
Yes, there are many examples of democracies becoming corrupted and eventually failing. Only this had happened after the democratic spirit had vanished into the smoke of ‘politics’.

Let me remind you that Alexandre the Great, one of the most admired generals and state-men of the world, was educated by Aristotle. Who was the favorite pupil of Plato. The esteemed philosopher who had invented the concept of ‘priest-kings’ – specially educated individuals who were meant to rule the rest.
Needless to add that Plato had witnessed Pericles simultaneously building the Parthenon and burying the Athenian democracy.
While Aristotle (384-322 BC) had lived long enough to witness his pupil conquering the entire ‘civilized world’ and dying an abject drunkard.
Greece, one of the places which had nurtured an enormously important part of the human culture, never fully recovered from the consequences of Plato’s ideas being put in practice.

Are we going down the same chute?
Is this the proper manner in which to engage those ‘on the other side of the isle’?

giving birth to a democrat

This is probably the biggest bone of contention between the conventional sides of the political spectrum.

The conventional right claims that we’d be a lot happier with a considerably smaller government while the conventional left would, if left to its own devices, transform the government into a huge, and ‘smothering’, nanny.

Is there any reasonable way of determining the right size of the government or we should just try to reach a compromise between the warring factions?

I don’t think I’m smart enough to determine how big a government should be.
I also dislike the very concept of compromise – if I have to settle something I prefer to negotiate instead of compromising.
And that’s is why I’d rather approach this problem from another angle.

What KIND of government!

Let me take you on a short, and very condensed, historical ride.

Basically humankind has used, somewhat alternatively, two systems of running things.

Authoritarianism and democracy.

Specifics do not matter much. If decision making was centralized it was authoritarianism, if decisions were made by those directly affected by the results of those decisions being put in practice it was democracy.

What’s really important here is the fact that those two different manners of decision making generated different forms of government.

Authoritarian regimes employed ‘administrative’ (meaning ‘directorial’) forms of government while democracies were served by ‘referential’ forms of government.
And it was only natural that things happened this way.
Authoritarian regimes need nothing more than a ‘transmission belt’ to convey orders from the very top to the base of the social pyramid while democracies need a team of referees to keep the playing field level and nothing more than that.

Of course that I’m presenting a very simple sketch here. Things are more complicated than that.

And there are at least two main complications. ‘Human greed’ and ‘international relations’.

It doesn’t really matter if that greed is for money of for power. Whenever greedy individuals are allowed to enter the government and to cater for their ‘special needs’ things are headed south. And the only difference between this situation occurring in a democracy or under an authoritarian regime is that the latter has no natural defense against this kind of ‘mishaps’.

‘International relations’ play a less obvious role. The main job a government has to fulfill is to keep the state together. If a hypothetical state would exist in a vacuum – and have no neighbors, things would be a lot simpler. Since in the real world states do have neighbors the governments have to organize armies, secret services, engage in arms races…
Also in the real world states are very different. In size, for instance.

For all these reasons it’s very hard to ‘calculate’ the ‘proper’ size of a government.

Specially so without defining clearly what’s expected from that government.
An authoritarian regime would ask the government to preserve the privileges of those at the helm of the regime while a truly democratic minded people would expect their government to safeguard, using legitimate means, the independence of their country on the international level while simultaneously making sure that the individual members of that people enjoy enough personal autonomy so that their political regime remains democratic.

After those expectations are clearly formulated, the size of the government will simply be a consequence…


A FB friend of mine shared this old video with the following caption:

“He is the only president in the world to do this, and defend the workers’ labor RESPECT”

And this was my reaction to this:

“Are you that sure that he did this in order to ‘defend worker’s labor’? Or in order to present himself as the (God) ‘father of the nation’? Or maybe, just maybe, he needed the aluminum produced at that factory?

And even if he was animated by the purest ideals, the mere fact that he acted like he did – in a dictatorial manner – is extremely malignant for the rest of the society.
What will stop, from now on, the oligarchs from following his example – act dictatorially on their own feuds? Fright from being reprimanded by the ‘big boss’?
Are you sure this is what you wish for? A society drenched in fright?
I’m not defending the Deripasca’s of this world. Each of them would do exactly as Putin does, if he’d have enough power.
The point of all this being that our only defense against the arbitrary is to stop lionizing individuals who act in this manner.
I know it’s hard to do that when their actions coincide with our  short term wishes. It would help to keep in mind that on the longer term their manner of running things will eventually induce terminal fragility into our livelihood.

black driver pulled from job

The Root reports that a customer “asked that no black delivery driver be sent to her home” and that a manager decided to “honor” that request.

As most of you already know Maslow’s five leveled pyramid can be simplified into a three three tiered one: Physiological needs, Relational needs (safety, emotion and esteem) and Self Actualization. Maslow said that you cannot skip any one of this levels, for instance you can not deal with your emotional needs on an empty stomach. And who cares about self actualization if he doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep tonight?

Well…intuitively we have to admit that Maslow’s words do make some sense…

Studying this example we can draw some interesting conclusions on this subject.

For instance simply climbing to a certain level doesn’t mean one is mature enough for it.

The customer had certainly satisfied her basic needs yet she has some deep emotional problems.
OK, I can imagine that a person can be so ‘dense’ as to be able to make such a demand but no second thoughts after you produced such a frack-ass?
“”I got a right to have whatever I want and that’s it,” the woman said. “No, I don’t feel bad about nothing.””

But the most interesting examples here are the manager and the driver.

Lowe’s is not at all a small operation. Rising to management level is not a simple thing and should provide some security and self esteem to an individual. Enough for that individual to start thinking with his own head. After all that’s what managers are supposed to do, right? That would also help that individual bring himself up to date – ‘self actualization’, that is…
Was that particular manager capable of fulfilling his duty? Lowe’s didn’t think so… Me neither, on different grounds though.

Let’s see what the driver has to say:
“”To me, it just ain’t right for a business that we work at to go on with the woman’s wishes,” Brooks told the news station.
“It was one of those things like, ‘These guys will get over it, they’re tough guys, they’re delivery guys,’ ” Brooks said. “And that’s kind of where I just had to put my foot down and say I couldn’t do it with them.””
So a “mere” driver has more guts than a manager…
No matter if the manager shared the customer’s racist feelings. He had to have the wisdom to understand that catering for such kind of wishes – specially in this manner,  is extremely bad for the company. And for himself as an employee of that company.
So he should have solved that situation properly, not botchedly – he was a manager, remember?

“Despite the letdown, Bradley added that he won’t be missing any time at work.
“I mean, I gotta work,” he said. “I’m going to keep going to work like I’ve always done. But I would think Lowe’s would take it into consideration to think about what they’re doing next time.””

So the driver has a clearer view of the situation – including his own standing – than the manager…

What’s going on here? Did Maslow got his pyramid upside down or the whole world has turned over and is now standing on its head?

Maybe that is the whole ‘self-actualization’ thing. Being able to use wisely the amount of autonomy one happens to have at his disposal.

We are very proud of our ability to make ‘rational decisions’.

So proud as to delude ourselves into believing that if we have enough information about something and enough time to consider it our opinion/decision about that subject will be “true”.

Take as much time as you wish.

“Alex prays on his own now, studying the Koran to work out what it really seems to say about gender and sexuality.

Yet he fantasizes about attending Eid festivities in Oakland next year where his mother celebrates. “She can’t deny me when I’m right there in front of her friends,” he says.

But it now feels like the hardest fight is in the past, not the future.

“When your mother hurts you, no one can hurt you as much as that,” he says. “My strength comes from that.” ”

“An Amnesty International report reveals what the human rights group calls the ‘devastating impact’ of Ireland’s ban on abortion”

The same report asks us to take action and “urge” the Taoiseah (the prime minister of Ireland) to:

The troublesome amendment reads like this: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

On one side it make a lot of sense. What could be the difference between the life of the mother and that of the unborn and how could somebody choose between these two?

On the other side it unveils an ugly truth: “The State…”…

What we have here is a blatant example of an organized crowd – “the State” – imposing it’s will on a minority of it’s members in a matter that, in reality, doesn’t affect anything else but the feelings of the crowd. Besides the entire life of the mother, of course.

The point I’m trying to make is that we cannot equate the life of an unborn, specially so if the fetus is less than three month old, with that of its mother.
It makes a lot of sense to recognize the life of a self contained human being – once that it was born – and a lot less to impose as a sacrosanct value that of the life of a fetus that cannot survive, under any circumstances, outside the womb of its mother.
A child that has already survived its birth or a sick person can be successfully taken care of by the community. Same thing is not at all valid for an unborn fetus that is less than three months old.

So when discussing the relationship between the life of a mother and that of her unborn child we have two situations. When the fetus is too small to survive outside the womb it practically belongs to the mother and she should be the one who decides about it.
Only after the fetus has reached the stage from which it could survive a miscarriage we enter the realm described by the 8Th Amendment. Only from that moment on the life of the child becomes equivalent to that of the mother and only from that moment on the pregnancy should be terminated only if the life of the mother is in immediate danger, as specified by the current Irish legislation.

Activists dismantle Ukraine’s biggest monument to Lenin at a rally in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Sept. 28, 2014. Photo: Igor Chekachkov/Associated Press

Wall Street Journal reports that Ukrainian people are somewhat baffled by  a new law banning the use of Soviet (and Nazi) symbols.

“While few outside Crimea and the rebel strongholds of eastern Ukraine want to join Russia, not all Ukrainians are ready to repudiate a joint history that remains dear to many across generations.

“I wanted to tell my child that there was ‘Uncle Lenin,’ and at one point Mama took part in a big celebration in Kiev” in honor of the first Soviet leader, said 37-year-old Svetlana Arshavina, who lives in this suburb northwest of the capital.

“Now what will I tell her? That they took Uncle Lenin and smashed him to pieces?” she asked.”

Isn’t it rather strange that the nephews of those who survived the 1921 Famine still harbor any respect for the likes of Lenin?

Does he have any ‘right to exert his authority, inside the limits that have been delineated for him’?

Somebody who has real authority enjoys a certain degree of autonomy, if not outright independence. ‘Authority’ is almost never clearly delineated, there is always a gray area where the discretion of the individual in charge is the one that calls the shots.
More over if we, the ‘subjects’, consider that he has ‘the right’ to exercise that authority then it’s us who are in deep trouble.
‘Exertion of authority’ ‘smacks’ of the situation  when the ‘authority man’ had conquered his position against the wish of his subjects – like the emperors of the old. (Or like the communist dictators of not so long ago, only they pretended to exercise their authority for the benefit of the people while the emperors of the old were more straightforward and declared themselves ‘gods’)
Nowadays, at least in the democratic states, authority is, theoretically, used as a tool, towards the accomplishment of what the person in charge is supposed to achieve, not as a right enjoyed by that person.
In fact the notion of a right to exert authority inside some limits is akin to what has been described as ‘feudalism’, a social arrangement not that different from the Athenian democracy. The people were divided in two categories, just as in the previous situation – the ‘imperiums’ of the Antiquity, the difference being that in an imperium the top class was inhabited by a single individual – the emperor/dictator, while in feudalism/Athenian democracy the top class was inhabited by the free people, whose authority/freedom extended only as far as it started to encroach the authority of the equivalent individuals. I have to remark here that in many circumstances feudalism has very quickly degenerated back to imperium – for instance in absolutist France, ‘L’etat c’est moi’, or in tsarist Russia, while England successfully avoided that due to the spirit enshrined in Magna Charta.
The difference between feudalism/Athenian democracy and the modern democracy being that currently we can no longer speak of individual authority simply because nowadays no one has the “right” to own slaves – as the Athenian ‘democrats’ had, nor even enjoy extensive authority (bar the right of life and death) over other people – the serfs, as the feudal barons did not so long ago.
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