Friday Squid Blogging: Squid from Utensils

MarkHMarch 25, 2017 8:15 AM

Authoritarian Attitudes Threaten Liberty and Privacy

Note: I was inspired to this by some comments on Bruce’s post about commenting … and judged that this squid-post would be more fitting. I apologize for lack of citations, time and energy being limited. Please pardon my America-centered perspective; the US is the country of my citizenship, has unmatched power to do good or harm abroad, and is in anxious straits.

Note 2: If you are offended by political commentary here, then for Pete’s sake either don’t read the following, or if you do, blame yourself!

1. By authoritarian, I mean an approach to government sacrificing individual liberty in favor of obedience to a strong central power (most often, a single person). Distilling to a few words, whereas enlightenment thinkers tended to favor a government of laws not men, authoritarians believe in government of men not laws — or rather, the Word of the Strong Man is the Law.

2. At least in those parts of the world with cultural traditions associated with Islam and Christianity, authoritarianism is plainly on the rise. Most impressively, it is rapidly gaining popularity in such countries as France and the USA, where (I would have supposed at least) traditions of political culture should have rendered it repugnant.

3. I’ve noticed that many writers have been using the words “autocratic” and “autocracy” in connection with Trump. Fortunately, the US system doesn’t lend itself to autocracy (yet, anyway), as the events of recent days plainly show. No doubt Trump would love to be an autocrat, but he already is — by temperament, predilection, style of leadership and self-concept — an authoritarian.

4. To what extent was Trump elected because of, or in spite of his authoritarian tendencies? We have interesting data on this, which dates back to before the US election. Psychology actually defines a sort of cognitive authoritarianism (preference for an authoritarian order of things), and offers a simple diagnostic which claims to measure it. In pre-election surveys, a high score on this test for authoritarianism was found to be the single best predictor that an individual would support Trump.

5. What I’ve been thinking about lately, is the extent to which Trump supporters in the US have expressed fury in the wake of his victory. They are the sorest winners I have seen! This was brought into focus by a recent meeting with old friends who I suppose consistently vote Republican. Though it was expressed rather mildly (they are very self-contained people), I got a distinct impression that they also were seething with resentment.

It seems that those who admire Trump are really deeply angry that the majority of their fellow citizens who didn’t want him, are not bowing down in adoring obeisance to their Lion-Maned Strong Man. I’ve been around a long time, and never saw this before in the wake of a US election. The essence of democracy is that a great many people don’t get their way a lot of the time, and that as a civil contract we must agree to disagree.

The apparent judgment by Trumpistas that protest (or even disapproval) is just WRONG, is the exact opposite of democratic spirit.

The simplest hypothesis I have found to account for this exceptional phenomenon, is an authoritarian outlook on the part of Trump’s admirers.

So what, if anything, does it all mean?

For those who care to look, the destruction of political rights (and civil rights, which necessarily come along for the ride) by Putin and Erdogan is plainly apparent. Any who care about individual liberty must prefer governments to be administered by those who cherish liberalism (in the classical sense).

Leaders who aspire to comparable heights of authoritarian triumph (Orban and Trump spring to mind) can be expected to wreak similar destruction, if allowed to run riot.

But these individuals are, I fear, only a symptom of the underlying poison: it lies in the populations, and their political cultures.

In my country, bleating acquiescence to the “Patriot Act” and a plainly contrived war of aggression showed the cancer at work more than a decade before the recent election.

Sadly, I don’t have remedies to propose (nor have I yet seen such from others). I write this to focus my thoughts, and perhaps to inspire the interest of others in this dread development.

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