Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Authoritarianism - I

For centuries, people lived under hereditary monarchs, some good some bad.  The so-called American ‘revolution’ of 1776 was about freedom from a foreign king. It was the French who, in 1789, introduced the world to the idea that citizens should choose their rulers by toppling their own king. After two hundred plus years, very few countries have actually achieved that goal: even without hereditary monarchs, the 1% stays on top, while the 99% do their best to survive.
Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned
While touting ‘peace’, most rulers still succumb to the Roman adage “If you want peace, prepare for war”, backed up by 19th century General von Clausewitz’ airy definition of war as ‘a continuation of diplomacy by other means’. For more than a century, during which economic liberalism, or ‘the market’ gradually came to dominate decision-making, those whose wishes were previously fulfilled through royal edicts continued to benefit from the decisions of representatives elected through lavishly funded campaigns. ‘democratic’ suffrage. Under these circumstances, the ‘power’ of voters became increasingly a charade, turning democracy into an empty ritual, while battlefield weapons created unchallengeable civilian means of control.
As the planet grew smaller (and hotter), relations between rulers became so complex that international institutions were created alongside domestic power structures to enable global flourishing. For most, this arrangement enabled mere survival, and today, the problems that rulers must grapple with have grown so complex that the latest temptation is to allow artificial intelligence to take over.
The only people who could stand in the way of this happening are the growing group of elected rulers whose power is comparable to that of kings. Portrayed as undemocratic, they are condemned by the West, bearer of all that is good and right. And yet, the failure of the United Nations and its many agencies to ensure peace is not due to the increasing power of individual rulers, but of the market and those who benefit from it. Under American hegemony, the world continues to operate under assumptions carried forward from Roman times, bringing humanity to the brink of obliteration
Luckily, the century-long pretense that the United States  ‘brings democracy’ to the rest of the world is contrasted to evidence (when available) of efforts by other powerful leaders to solve problems through negotiations rather than relying on force. Luckily, increasing numbers of voters are realizing that neo-liberal democracy is a charade, hoping that there exists in every country an educated potential leader who cares about all voters and prefers to negotiate with his foreign counterparts rather than attacking them. 
Today, the choice is between the charade of neo-liberal democracy and national leaders whose tenure is confirmed through elections, thanks to their ability to keep the 1% in check and cultivate positive international relations.
I will return to the issue of authoritarianism in further articles.