| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
“”Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.
|—George Orwell, 1984|
Authoritarianism is a very interesting phenomenon. Its adherents don't necessarily want to "tell you what to do"—as long as, if they disagree with you, someone else in power will tell you what to do.
It is this honoring of power over reason that makes an authoritarian. The authoritarian loves rules and loves to apply them. However, for a true authoritarian, power is more important than rules: the rules themselves aren't the source of power and they don't apply to the powerful. Oceania had no laws—it didn't need them. Crime was simply whatever the authorities said it was.
Usually the first step for any would-be authoritarian is to arrange blanket exemptions to civil and constitutional protections for broad groups of people (people accused of certain crimes, for example) and to give power to armed forces or to the police to act outside of the law. On a site such as this, which is run as a mobocracy, authoritarians find themselves lost, as we care more about the spirit of our "rules" than strict adherence to them.
People who are raised to strictly follow specific writings as unquestionable display a strong tendency towards authoritarianism. As such they are very dangerous to democracy and to the health of any society in which they live.
Authoritarian governments seek to perpetuate the power of the rulers. They will often use the fear of disorder to justify their rule, as in Egypt, which was under a continuous state of emergency that started in 1981 and ended in 2011 when Hosni Mubarak was finally deposed from power. Full state control over the media is also a common component of authoritarian control, as it allows the government to effectively control the populace's views, particularly of foreign events. Religious policies vary, ranging from theocracy to complete suppression; the common thread is the suppression of the potential threat posed by independent religious leaders. Heavy-handed policing and arbitrary detention suppress any dissent that survives the government's other methods of control by placing the regime's opponents in government custody.
Some, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, have tried to make a distinction between "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" regimes. The general idea is that authoritarian regimes still allowed for some (mostly economic) freedom and thus could be reformed, unlike the completely dominating totalitarian ones. Most see this as a desperate attempt to make it O.K. for Ronald Reagan to have supported authoritarian regimes, while he still blasted the Soviet Union on its human rights problems.
Research shows that authoritarians are far more likely to exhibit "sloppy reasoning, highly-compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and -- to top it all off -- a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic".
Authoritarianism can also exist in a nominally left-wing situation—cults of personality such as Stalin's or the Kim family's are examples. Other such examples might include the French Reign of Terror, in which egalitarianism was twisted into a chaotic witch hunt that consumed its own leaders (including Maximilien Robespierre himself), left-wing purity trolls (including the centrist PUMA movement in American politics) and the Judean People's Front.
Although many libertarians and anarchists have attempted to equate the two, statism and authoritarianism are not the same thing; although most authoritarians are statists, so are quite a lot of people who believe one of the functions of government is to enforce civil rights.
I can't stand this indecision, married with a lack of vision
“”He is a very outstanding man, unquestionably talented. He is the absolute leader of the presidential race.
|—Vladimir Putin on Trump.|
“”As we move towards a society which is optimal from the point of view of the business classes—namely, that each individual is an atom, lacking means to communicate with others so that he or she can’t develop independent thought or action and is just a consumer, not a producer—people become deeply alienated, and they may hate what's going on but have no way to express that hatred constructively. And if a charismatic leader comes along, they may very well follow.
Trump is a new thing under the American sun, but anyone living in Europe had the same thought. Oh, America is getting its own oligarch now. It's the same mentality that the people have about a lot of Russian oligarchs involved in politics: They can't be bribed, or bought off, and they already have so much that people think they won't try to steal more (Trump makes a lot of anti-corruption noises but doesn't make a case for it which extends beyond trust me). Of course it's ridiculous to elect billionaires to represent Middle America, but it shows just how out-of-touch the country is.
Whenever the economy takes a hit, the far-right takes off like a rocket. This is to be expected. In Europe, they had the Syrian refugee crisis exploding and the various fringe groups latched onto it. They used social media in a (frankly) brilliantly effective manner to get their message across: Europe is under attack, civil war, refugees are raping white women left and right. People were literally asking if it's safe to visit Cologne or will they get raped? Europe's far-right is comical too, their intentions not so much.
Another thing that many Europeans can find familiar: upon a terrorist attack, the right wing instantly calls for more invasive or downright oppressive measures, ostensibly to "protect" the people. Trump would fit right at home with many of them: he advocated for American citizens to report their suspicious neighbors to the authorities, a hallmark of several oppressive regimes in history. He goes even further and says if you don't report your suspicious neighbors, you'll be "brought to justice", which gives him carte blanche to arrest just about anyone. A major hallmark of authoritarianism is when they employ divide and conquer tactics, both to prevent any rivals from undercutting him and to promote a "survival of the fittest" mindset among his lackeys. Hitler famously did this while he was in power, which destroyed the Nazis' chances from winning the war. Meanwhile, Trump did this for his own campaign staffers, who are split between those who think he should go with his gut and those who try to make him more "presidential".
Like most authoritarians, you want to stack the government with your cronies and that's exactly what Trump wants. According to Governor Chris Christie, Trump wants to fire the entire civil service (which is supposed to be apolitical and non-ideological) so it can be replaced with a crop of patronage-driven opportunists or Tea Party style extremists at best. This purging of the civil service would allow, for instance, a Goldman Sachs banker to be Treasury Secretary, which heads the economy and its regulations, while keeping his job as a banker—it's a call back to the patronage years of the Gilded Age.
Beyond just the terrorism, this time around, Americans had:
- Very bad recession that still isn't totally over
- Gen-X getting crushed by the housing crisis, millennials crushed under student loan debt and both suffering from a poor job market
- Collapse of social conservatism and religious right
- Chinese stock bubble happening at the worst moment
- Use of social media in politics, for the first time in history, especially from the far-right
Take all of that, add the United States' penchant for gun violence, and combine it with yet another trademark of strongmen: threatening political assassination of their opponents, courtesy of Trump yet again. Trump's authoritarianism shouldn't even be controversial in the libertarian sphere, but it is. It's no secret how the libertarian movement is disproportionately filled with white nationalists, but it's still surprising how many immediately abandoned all of their principles to support the guy over Ron Paul's own son. If anything, they should be the ones who hate Trump the most, but their partisanship and tribalism is really showing this year. Yet paleoconservatism has always been a populist movement and Trump knows exactly how to fire those people up, to get the Mussolini juices flowing (which some think the U.S. actually needs as an alternative to the cult of Putin). If you listen to any employee of Trump being interviewed about the election it sounds like they are either a member of a Scientology-like cult or have guns pointed at their head. Trump has built a cult of personality around himself, and this 'brand' has unfortunately grown much larger as a result of his candidacy.
- The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer, and some related postscripts
- The Authoritarian Personality: 1 2 3
- TV Tropes has some surprisingly good articles on inefficiency of fascism and the appropriately named Dystopia Is Hard
- "Egypt's ruling generals to partially lift emergency law", BBC News, 24 January 2012.
- North Korea
- See China's official Catholic church.
- The Authoritarians, p75; Dr. Bob Altemeyer, University of Manitoba
- Social conservatism, shocked?
- "Putin calls Trump an 'outstanding, talented' man". Vanguard News. 17 December 2015. If history is any guide, he's probably trolling us. He could give master classes in trolling Americans. Putin's endorsement [!] is him thinking that he can play Trump and use him to hurt the USA. He's probably right.
- Chomsky, Language, Politics, and Composition
- Lozovsky, Ilya, "A Russian Reporter Goes to a Trump Rally — And Feels at Home", Foreign Policy (2/2/16, 1:12 pm).
- Christina Wilkie (6/13/2016) "Donald Trump: Americans Who Don’t Report Their Suspicious Neighbors Should Be ‘Brought To Justice’"
- www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/07/19/christie_says_trump_aims_to_purge_federal_civil_service_of_obama_hires.html Not a joke]
- Porter, Eduardo, "Donald Trump’s Rise Shows Religion Is Losing Its Political Power", NYT 4.5.16.
- We are not kidding.
- Michael Lind, "The proof is in: the GOP base isn’t small-government libertarian; it’s old-fashioned populist", Politico. Xenophobic, racist, anti-vaxxer, birther, makes up statistics, lies about everything, then denies those lies... Yup, sounds like a pretty standard libertarian candidate! But rest assured, they'll keep chanting about how they Logic™ the most, and how they "hate both sides", etc.
- Stephen Collinson, "Donald Trump: Macho Man of 2016", CNN. Trump: "He hates Obama, he doesn't respect Obama. ... If I am president, Putin says (to Snowden), 'Hey, boom, you're gone,'")
- David Ignatius, "Is Donald Trump an American Putin?", Washington Post.
- Russell Sanders and Betsy Warren, "Trump's Medical Report Is More Insane Than His Campaign Somehow", Daily Beast (12.14.15 3:00 PM ET).
- What Comes Next? Lessons for the Recovery of Liberal Democracy By Rachel Kleinfled & David Solimini (2018 October 31st) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Democracy Fund.
- Unfixable? Several nations have tried to restore democracy after populist strongmen. It was never the same by Joshua Kurlantzick (November 16, 2018) The Washington Post.