Saturday, November 2, 2013

Authoritarianism’s ideology

To whom does the future belong: Leftism, Islamism, or Americanism? That is the question Dennis Prager poses in his book Still the Best Hope, a strong defense of the “American way,” which is hardly recognizable in its current incarnation after a hundred years of progressive rot. The one thing in common these competing ideologies have is they propose to correct flawed human nature. None of them would be necessary if human beings were perfect, if we did not suffer on this earth, or if we did not make each other suffer.

The Left’s goal is material equality (because the root of all evil is material inequality). Islam’s goal is a worldwide caliphate under totalitarian sharia law (Islam means “submission”). Because both ideologies are unnatural and oppressive, they must be imposed by force. Leftists impose their vision by government diktat, Islamists by direct violence and intimidation.

Americanism is unique in that it requires no artifice, no imposition from on high. Under self-government, the institutions for keeping the peace are freely entered into and perpetuated by the people. The family and the church provide correction to children in their formative years, making them into good, moral people. As the Founders observed, none but good, moral people can govern themselves. The only oppression is that of the law of nature, the rule of God, but that is the case anywhere, at any time.

Is there a fourth possibility? Prager acknowledges the authoritarian model, but dismisses it out of hand. He observes, albeit briefly:

The Chinese model is based on the ability of a small group of people (the Chinese Communist Party in this case) to control a society. Confucianism, with its emphases on stability and hierarchy, may play some role in the ability of many Chinese to give up most personal freedoms for economic gain and a largely conflict-free society. But the Chinese government does not offer Confucianism to its own people, let alone to others.

Maybe, in its own interests, the Chinese government should offer Confucianism to the Chinese people. I would be amazed if the Chinese government had not looked into fostering ideologies that breed subservience—or, better, flat-out worship—of the state. If successful, a theology of the state would protect the regime from the rising Chinese middle class, who otherwise would be provoked to rebel when they are refused the right to determine the courses of their lives.

To be sure, there is no ideological threat from thugs in suits and uniforms that run China and other authoritarian regimes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t competitors for the future of mankind. Myriad are people’s rationalizations for not crossing an overreaching state (e.g., Confucianism, pacifism, or simply fear). But none are as effective as worship of the state itself. You can enslave a people, make them dependent on you. That’s the easy part. But if they think, even suspect, that they don’t deserve it, that they didn’t earn it themselves—if they think they are capable of more than what you let them have—they will be dissatisfied and angry and liable to be caught up in an insurrection. The trick is to make them feel like they are contributing, to make them feel pride in what they are doing. You have to make them love their servitude.

The “efficient,” undemocratic ways in which authoritarian regimes lord over their people has apostles, notably columnist Tom Friedman of the New York Times. Statism adheres to no specific ideological principle. It accepts the premises of man’s flawed nature and the tensions between the individual and the community, and it emphasizes men’s need for masters who “know best.” Societies organized from the top down are dehumanized, likened to complex machines such as automobiles. Individuals are molded to perform specific roles (piston, valve, rotor, etc.). Experts in these matters call themselves “social engineers.” They look upon the mass of humanity and see not individuals created in the image of God, but interchangeable machine parts.

The results of authoritarianism are never good. Disregarding, for a moment, the obvious trampling on human rights, it is impossible to aggregate the dispersed corporate knowledge of a whole people in the minds of a few. Unidirectional, command-and-control societies regress because they don’t know what they don’t know. They attempt to build a future on what they do know, which exists further and further in the past. They squelch progress. Nevertheless, authoritarianism’s apostles argue, better to be united in slavery to the state than risk the potential for misery under liberty and free will.

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