Is Dictatorship Ever Preferable To Democracy?

Imagine you are Adolf Hitler in 1933. From being a leader of a fringe movement, you have been elected the leader of a powerful country where you can now implement your plans. You can unite Germandom, from Austria to the Sudetenland and beyond, under your rule. You can eliminate the subhuman evil race of Jews that plot to dilute the German race. You can deal a final defeat to the Jewish Bolsheviks and plotting Capitalist Jews. You plan to create “living space” for the German race by conquering vast territories, and you hope to replace Judeo Christian ethics with aggressive ethics based on race. But there are some Democratic structures still in your way. Wouldn’t you get rid of them? Who needs checks and balances on your power, when you know what is right, and must be done?
So you do get rid of those checks and balances. To take just one example, pre-Hitler Germany had an independent judiciary. So the Nazis created a new “People’s Court” to try treason cases and a “Special Court” to handle political crimes. For more examples of how the Nazis consolidated power, see the internet article How Hitler Became A Dictator by Jacob Hornberger.

Most of us would be in great favor of the checks and balances that elected dictators want swept away.

But consider the following. If you look at Greece today (in 2012), you see that their government spent vast amounts of money it didn’t have and the economy required large loans from the rest of Europe to alleviate a disaster, which seems to be coming anyway. The U.S. is well on its way to being like Greece. Some people say this is a failure of capitalism, but I think it is mainly a failure of democracy.

Would a dictator be the solution to the failure of Democracies? Perhaps an enlightened dictator that could override the wastrel spending, the labor laws that discourage hiring, the bad regulations, the sclerotic self-destruction of these countries?

It’s a sobering thought, but the country that is the “factory to the world” is China, which is very far from being a Democracy. It doesn’t even allow unions.
A European friend of Daniel Henninger (of the Wall Street Journal) told him that Europeans are leaving for China, as well as Brazil, and Australia. Thats because their home countries don’t offer them opportunity. In the case of China, they are choosing a dictatorship in preference to their own democracies.

Old Democracies are like old people with arteriosclerosis and arthritis. The free flow of the blood is blocked or hampered, and the body attacks itself. (For a description of the many counterproductive regulations that the U.S. inflicts on its own businesses, see “Common Sense 2012” by Art Robinson.)

Augusto Pinochet

Consider the story of Pinochet of Chile. His country had elected a leader, Salvadore Allende, who was, in many people’s view, a Communist, For instance in material based on reports from the Russian Mitrokhin Archive, the KGB (Soviet secret police) said of Allende that “he was made to understand the necessity of reorganising Chile’s army and intelligence services, and of setting up a relationship between Chile’s and the USSR’s intelligence services”.

On September 11, 1973 Augusto Pinochet led a military coup d’état which overthrew Allende’s democratically elected socialist government. The interesting thing about Pinochet was that he believed – not in socialism, or “National Socialism” but rather in the free market.
“Once in power and after establishing stability and prosperity in Chile, Gen. Pinochet held elections, established the rule of law, and eventually handed over the reins of power to democratic rule.” – So here was a dictator that straightened out his country, (Allende had created an economic mess) and then gracefully handed the reins of power back to Democracy.

A defender of Pinochet says: “As for statistics, despite media hype, Pinochet’s rule was relatively bloodless, even by the conventional count of 3,197 victims, compared to the cost of Communism in the 20th century at 100 million victims (The Black Book of Communism), including the 30,000-40,000 deaths in Cuba’s island prison. (Where is the outrage for Cuban victims?)”

So perhaps a relatively enlightened dictatorship is preferable to a democratically elected leader like Allende given that Allende wanted to to create a worse dictatorship – a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Perhaps we should have supported the Shah of Iran, given that what we have now there is going to be a nuclear armed state with an ideology as ugly as Al-Queda’s.

A strong disagreement to the above comes from Marcel Van Herpen of the Cicero foundation who is scandalized that “Even the hideous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile is praised for its supposed benefits”. He says that the end does not justify the means, and there is often an alternative to dictators that would have caused much less human suffering.

But in my view, what we saw in pre-Hitler Germany was the rise of parties that don’t have a good solutions for the failures that alienate the electorate. Socialism, which has won in France, is not the answer. Neither is Nazism. Socialism seems to exist in two varieties – the malignant version (the Soviet Union called itself the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), and the benign version of cradle to grave care by the government that has been tried in some European countries. It is a confusing term, because sometimes it refers to government owning the means of production, and other times it mainly means a welfare state with a mixed economy. I will not debate socialism here, but I suggest keeping a good eye on France to see what excessive government intervention produces.

Two years later than when I posted the blog post that you are reading, this came into my inbox: Surveys conducted by the French government show that democracy is rejected by more than 50% of the French. They report a sense of national decline (76% of the French think the country is “terminally ill”), and a growing xenophobic hatred against Muslims, as well as against Jews. (blogger thought: even though many Muslims hate Jews — I’m Jewish, perhaps to the French we are all imports from the Middle East that cause problems). The surveys also report a strong desire to see a “strong person” emerge who would restore “order.” Twelve percent of respondents explicitly say they want a military dictatorship.

See, this is what happens when democracies fail.

Now what about the “Arab Spring”. Dictators were overthrown, and elections were held. Surely we should be in favor of that, even if our preferred politician doesn’t get elected… But:

When this Administration and the European Union supported “democracy” in the Arab world, what they were really supporting was the transition from secular autocracies to Islamic theocracies, neither of which enacted or will enact the liberal democratic reforms the West naively thought would result from the Arab Spring.

Sharia law, as the Egyptians will soon discover, is incapable of resolving the vast economic problems that plague their society. Today, millions of Egyptians are forced to live in cardboard boxes, trash bins, and cemeteries in rundown cities and slums – and most of these impoverished millions voted for Morsi in the expectation that Sharia law would solve their enormous economic, social and political problems.

But Egypt’s foreign reserves will be exhausted within a year; it desperately needs IMF loans; the tourism industry that produced billions of dollars in annual revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs is gone as are its foreign investments and bankers; the country is on the verge of financial collapse, and even flour, which provides sustenance to 90 million Egyptians, is being imported from the West.

The above was written by Mark Silverberg (see sources).  Since he wrote it, the military deposed Morsi, and they obviously had the backing of many Egyptians, if not the majority.  This raises the interesting question – Morsi was elected by a majority, but when in power, started working against Democracy.  Did that justify a large minority (assuming the majority did not change their minds) to throw him out by force?

In November 1979, Jeanne Kirkpatrick wrote an article Dictatorships And Double Standards which was so liked by the Reagan Administration that they hired her. It is not really on the issue of Democracy vs Dictatorship, but rather on Autocratic Dictatorship (which are sometimes pro-West) vs Ideological Dictatorship. Here is an interesting segment:

The pattern is familiar enough: an established autocracy with a record of friendship with the U.S. is attacked by insurgents, some of whose leaders have long ties to the Communist movement, and most of whose arms are of Soviet, Chinese, or Czechoslovak origin. The “Marxist” presence is ignored and/or minimized by American officials and by the elite media on the ground that U.S. support for the dictator gives the rebels little choice but to seek aid “elsewhere.” Violence spreads and American officials wonder aloud about the viability of a regime that “lacks the support of its own people.” The absence of an opposition party is deplored and civil-rights violations are reviewed. Liberal columnists question the morality of continuing aid to a “rightist dictatorship” and provide assurances concerning the essential moderation of some insurgent leaders who “hope” for some sign that the U.S. will remember its own revolutionary origins. Requests for help from the beleaguered autocrat go unheeded, and the argument is increasingly voiced that ties should be established with rebel leaders “before it is too late.” The President, delaying U.S. aid, appoints a special emissary who confirms the deterioration of the government position and its diminished capacity to control the situation and recommends various measures for “strengthening” and “liberalizing” the regime, all of which involve diluting its power.

This was written more than 30 years before the fall of Mubarak of Egypt, but it has parallels. She also explains why Americans can sympathize with movements that end up with ideological dictatorships:

Traditional autocracies are, in general and in their very nature, deeply offensive to modern American sensibilities. The notion that public affairs should be ordered on the basis of kinship, friendship, and other personal relations rather than on the basis of objective “rational” standards violates our conception of justice and efficiency. The preference for stability rather than change is also disturbing to Americans whose whole national experience rests on the principles of change, growth, and progress. The extremes of wealth and poverty characteristic of traditional societies also offend us, the more so since the poor are usually very poor and bound to their squalor by a hereditary allocation of role. Moreover, the relative lack of concern of rich, comfortable rulers for the poverty, ignorance, and disease of “their” people is likely to be interpreted by Americans as moral dereliction pure and simple. The truth is that Americans can hardly bear such societies and such rulers. Confronted with them, our vaunted cultural relativism evaporates and we become as censorious as Cotton Mather confronting sin in New England.

Jeane Kirkpatrick

But if the politics of traditional and semi-traditional autocracy is nearly antithetical to our own…–the rhetoric of progressive revolutionaries sounds much better to us; their symbols are much more acceptable. One reason that some modern Americans prefer “socialist” to traditional autocracies is that the former have embraced modernity and have adopted modern modes and perspectives, including …a profession of universalistic norms; an emphasis on reason, science, education, and progress; a deemphasis of the sacred; and “rational,” bureaucratic organizations. They speak our language.

Jeane Kirkpatrick did not like dictatorships, but she pointed out that left-wing dictatorships often are worse than right wing ones, simply because they try to rule over more aspects of individual life. Its a case of choosing the lesser evil. In addition I can see that you can have a democracy that votes itself out of existence.
I recently saw an article by George W Bush (former president of the US) who said that dictatorships are unstable. But the North Korean and the Cuban dictatorships have been around quite a while, and show no sign of disappearing.
The Egyptian government was unstable, so maybe he was right there.
China, despite being an economic powerhouse, is a place where your business (if you own one) can be taken away on a whim, and where your wealth cannot be invested in anything sensible, so many people have invested in a real-estate bubble, which is bound to collapse. It is not a good place to live for various reasons.
I’d certainly prefer living in a democracy to a dictatorship, but some democracies are sabotaging themselves to the point that their citizens have bleak prospects. The citizens voted in the leaders who passed the laws and followed the policies that led to this miserable point.
Iraq is an interesting example of Democracy gone wrong.  To oversimplify a little, when you have two large religious groups that distrust each other, and one (the Shiites) are a majority, then a democracy will vote in a Shiite leader.  This might  not be so bad, accept that this leader, Maliki, took an initial step of accusing the Sunni vice president of conspiracy, so that the vice president had to run to Turkey for to save his life, and then he did something similar with the Sunni finance minister.  The Sunnis in general felt deprived of their rights.  So now we have a situation where ISIS, a group with Al Qaeda’s philosophy, easily conquered thousands of square miles of territory in Iraq, against large numeric odds, and against superior weaponry.  The Sunnis in the conquered areas may make common cause with them, and if America were to engage in air strikes, they may feel America is joining with their persecutors.   We may end up with a partitioned Iraq, Al Qaeda ruling a big part of it, and Iran strongly influencing the rest of it.  It is quite a mess.  I may be wrong about the sectarian strife to some extent, some Iraqis say it’s not such a problem, but I think we can all agree, that the outcome here may be anything but democratic.

Sources:
America’s Mid-East Delusions – Mark Silverberg (http://www.ruthfullyyours.com/2012/07/28/mark-silverberg-americas-mid-east-delusions/)

France in free-fall: Guy Millière at http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4190/france-free-fall)

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2 thoughts on “Is Dictatorship Ever Preferable To Democracy?

  1. I think that most people outside the US would be either horrified or amused by these comments. The fact is that for many years, US foreign policy supported a number of dictators whose actions were anti-democratic, usually violent and repressive, and whose common denominator was opposition to communism. The people then naturally assumed that all America’s talk about “freedom and democracy” was just lies and deception, and ended up supporting the very extreme left wing groups that the US wanted to suppress. Many in the Middle East grew to hate and detest America and we all know where that has led. To those of us who do not share the writer’s aversion to Socialism his comments are naive and offensive.Since Capitalism has failed so dramatically, I would have thought that a sensibly-run mixed economy, as we used to have in the UK, was the most balanced option. Does he really believe that dictatorship is OK provided it is right-wing? That’s what it sounds like.

  2. Carl,
    I agree with you that the U.S. supporting dictators (say in Saudi Arabia) could alienate democratically minded citizens in Saudi Arabia. But sometimes friendly relations with dictators is better than the alternative. Lets take Cuba’s dictator as an example. Friendly relations with between the U.S. and Cuba under its dictator (Fulgencio Batista) is not what alienated Cuban revolutionaries against the U.S. The revolutionaries: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the rest of their band of guerillas were already Marxists. Castro did visit the U.S. and put a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier, but this was just part of a deception. He had an ideology, and he implemented it when he got into power. From being a prosperous country, Cuba became a country of widespread poverty, and no human rights, terrible cases of persecution in their jails (see the book “Against All Hope” by Armando Valladares), and a whole lot of killing of good people by execution squads.

    Another example: The U.S. gave billions to Egypt every year, and allowed it to arm itself to the teeth while it was ruled by a dictator. I certainly don’t support that, but I realize that the Moslem Brotherhood would dislike the U.S. no matter what the U.S. did.

    Jeanne Kirkpatrick isn’t really saying that right wing dictatorships are good, but if you read her article, she is pointing out that left wing ones are often worse.

    You are in favor of a mixed economy and are offended by my dismissal of Socialism. You say Capitalism failed, but do you really believe that the reason it failed was not enough government? Consider that in the case of pre-socialist France:

    “Just 17 of the world’s 210 governments grab more in taxes from their people than Sarkozy’s government grabs in France. Reasons abound for the draconian taxation. France under Sarkozy doles out more in social spending than each of the 27 European Union member states save Denmark and Finland. Though Air France had been partially privatized by the time Sarkozy took office in 2007, state-owned ventures persist in the series of France Télévisions stations, the Paris Opera, the French Rail Network, and the utility giant Electricity of France. The state generously funds higher education and health insurance, making the price of tuition and doctor visits nominal.”

    So you had a mixed economy in France. And that was when it was NOT run by socialists. Did it work? Do you really believe that the situation can be solved by more wild spending? One Britisher who strongly disagrees with you is the MEP for South East England Daniel Hanan (see his slashing article “Britain is Shackled To The Corpse Of Europe“). So its not just us quaint conservatives in the USA who feel that way.

    The one case where I think a dictatorship was justified was Pinochet’s coup. If you read about what Allende was doing, he was trying not only to nationalize some industries, but to convert his country to another Cuba.

    We have a left-wing government in power in the USA now, and the unemployment is very high, and the general mood is depressed. I wouldn’t advocate a dictatorship overthrowing my government, or the new Socialist French government, but I believe that government generally grows at the expense of the “little guy” and of the small businesses that he would like to create. Socialism grows the government. And shrinks human possibility.

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