A scene from the current production of West Side Story.
I posed this question a month ago: “Is Communism a ruse for placing large groups of people under authoritarian regimes?” It seems that the quest to achieve the ideals of Communism is never complete, and authoritarianism is always ready to step in.
History is replete with instances of authoritarian regimes, and our academics still don’t “connect the dots.” Let me shed some light on this quandary.
There are two elements present in every instance of authoritarianism: ideals and hate. In many instances, the “ideals” are provided by a movement such as Socialism or Communism. The followers are attracted to the movement because of the ideals, and authoritarianism is simply a vehicle to achieve those ideals.
But what if it is the other way around? What if the “achievement” is the authoritarian state, and the “vehicle” is simply the current political/religious movement? Doesn’t that make more sense?
We see authoritarianism at all levels of human interaction. A street gang is an example at one end of the spectrum, and both elements are present. The “ideal” is a sense of sanctuary, a protection from adverse forces that is provided by membership in the gang. The “hate” is directed at a rival gang, an ethnic group, authority figures, or whatever. Taken together, the elements help the gang become an authoritarian unit.
On the other end of the spectrum are the large political/religious groups that exist in many non-democratic countries. If you focus on Iran as an example, you see “the ideal” as the perfection of the teachings of the Koran, and “the hate” as the desire to see Israel “wiped off the map.”
From the travails of the Hatfield-McCoy feud to the Halocaust of Nazi Germany, we see a recurring pattern of authoritarian groups using elements of hatred and idealism to maintain power and authority.
With that background, shouldn’t we be marveling at the durability of the United States over the last couple of centuries? Our Founders created a Constitution that preserves the power of the people and makes authoritarianism difficult. With Checks and Balances, the Rule of Law, and Separation of Powers, the Constitution protects America and makes it a country able to withstand the constant pressures of authoritarianism.
But while many people marvel at the genius of our Founders, others don’t see it that way.
Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler published a book in 2009 titled, “Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.” It presents the thesis that authoritarianism is a bad thing, and that it finds a welcome home in (of all places!) the minds of Republicans.
The Daily Kos published an interview with Jonathan Weiler that promotes this point of view. Mr. Weiler provides an “easy definition” of authoritarianism that is illuminating:
Most succinctly, we mean by authoritarianism a tendency to see the world in simple, clear, black and white terms in support of a social order that prefers sameness and uniformity over diversity and difference. It also tends to prefer the concreteness of military conflict over the subtleties of diplomacy. A tendency to disdain complexity and nuance and to evince intolerance of outgroups are typical (though, of course not universal) features of authoritarian-minded individuals.
The polarization we've argued is now under way is a product of the degree to which this particular worldview, once broadly distributed between the parties, has now increasingly found a home in one party, the Republican Party. And to emphasize, we also identify a non-authoritarian worldview, one characterized by a preference for thinking in shades of gray and privileging diversity and difference over sameness and uniformity. That worldview, likewise, was once more broadly distributed between the two parties and has increasingly gravitated toward one party, the Democrats.
Contrast this with what Wikipedia says:
Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is usually opposed to individualism and democracy. In politics, an authoritarian government is one in which political authority is concentrated in a small group of politicians.
I am struck with the perception in the minds of Weiler and Hetherington that Republicans are like a separate species of human being. Republicans cling to bad ideas in the same fashion they “cling to guns or religion.” We are afflicted with authoritarianism in the way a person is afflicted with a psychosis.
In our culture, the thinking of Weiler and Hetherington is embraced. It is research. This is science.
The curious thing is that if I as a Republican head down to the office of the County Clerk and change my voter registration to something other than Republican, I might not immediately divest myself of the scourge of authoritarianism or “the backfire effect” or whatever current theory is being used to reinforce Democratic Party themes. Rather, I must depend on the Democratic Party to reveal what lies beneath the surface: What is my intent? What are my motivations? How should I be interpreted?
Our culture does not depend on the Rule of Law or a system within our representative democracy to adjudicate this issue. Rather, it relies on the authoritarianism of the Democratic Party which, alone in our culture, can “get it right.”
Does the Democratic Party have the two elements essential to an authoritarian regime? It has The Hate, and it has The Serenity. It also has “The Deception,” which is our anti-Republican culture providing energy and legitimacy.
Does all this sound sinister? It should, but it is also a reflection of our tendency as human beings to seek out authoritarianism for our solutions. Thomas Friedman, a prominent cheerleader, looks to the authoritarianism of China for direction. The Obama administration embraces authoritarianism in enhancing the power of its agencies and czars to get things “properly changed.”
Authoritarianism is testing our Constitution. It is a Siren song, and millions of Americans draw comfort from it.
We should all hope that the Constitution is strong enough to keep the American experiment going. In the meantime, just remember that when you are on the “authority” side of authoritarianism, it is a very seductive encounter.
When you are on the receiving side, it just sucks.
The use of the term "authoritarianism" seems to be catching on (h/t Power Line). I don't think people appreciate the unique anti-authoritarian nature of our Constitution. Sometimes you have to lose something to fully appreciate it.
The Wall Street Journal has a column by William McGurn that finds Americans are experiencing a "Constitutional awakening." If true, that's a good thing!
George Will writes a column in the Washington Post, noting that the progressive ideals of the Democratic Party are furthered by a militaristic conformity:
People marching in serried ranks, fused into a solid mass by the heat of martial ardor, proceeding in lock step, shoulder to shoulder, obedient to orders from a commanding officer — this is a recurring dream of progressives eager to dispense with tiresome persuasion and untidy dissension in a free, tumultuous society.
He completes his column on authoritarianism without once using the word "authoritarianism." What's up with that?
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