Thoughts on Authoritarianism vs Democracy

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
― Winston S. Churchill

In the current world political climate, it seems that in many instances democracy and the related values (equality, human rights, and so on) are increasingly taking a back seat to populism and increasingly authoritarian leaderships. One sometimes has to consider whether authoritarian states would in fact be more effective in this day and age. After all, China’s ascension as a world power shows that even authoritarian states are able to achieve great gains.

The allure of authoritarianism is understandable for anyone who’s been exposed to problematic democracies: progress is often held back by countless deliberations, committee meetings, legislative mills, and various other processes that mean elected officials are able to accomplish very little until it’s time again for them to think about the next election.

The authoritarian state on the other hand has the advantage of being able to push a singular vision, since it has concentrated power unto itself, it can set aside any dissent and other discussion, put its foot down and say “this is what we’re doing, let’s do it.”

I guess it might also seem to be easier on an individual level? You just have to trust your leadership (since you probably don’t have a choice) and not think too hard about things other than what’s going on in your own life. This is probably also why authoritarian states are more likely to try to get away with rights violations and such – people are more concerned with their own survival and their own lives and not too worry too much about the things the state is doing to “other people”.

The risk of course of such a single-minded “getting things done” attitude is: you might not be doing the right thing. When the state has concentrated power unto itself, there is a tendency to promote only those ideas and projects and whatnot that adhere to the state’s singular vision. Another problem is that anyone who dissents or holds different values than the authoritarian state’s singular vision can be labelled or vilified as enemies of progress.

Authoritarian states also have the tendency to set aside values commonly held in democratic states: freedom of expression and religion, human rights and equality, and so on, if they are seen to hinder progress. I guess you have to consider whether as a society, you are willing to sacrifice these values in the name of getting things done. And it’s sad when you find that many of your countrymen don’t consider democratic values all that important.

Democracy on the other hand, due to the nature of (in theory) every voice being given value, has a stronger tendency towards a diversity of ideas, so that more options are considered and thus theoretically better decisions are made. This mirrors the natural world, where genetic diversity allows a species to more easily thrive and adapt to changing circumstances. In the same way, we hope that by encouraging debate and dissent democracies are better able to adapt to the challenges the world presents.

Authoritarianism is great when you have leadership that you can trust to make good and wise decisions for the betterment of all. But humans are weak and fallible beings prone to faults such as arrogance, pride, greed, and so forth, so more likely than not the leadership in an authoritarian state cannot be trusted. While the same can be said of democracies (since in the real world there are no perfect democracies), at least in democracies we have a greater chance of being able to change the state of affairs to try something new.

 

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