The existence of authoritarian ideology is not without justification. It is believed that authoritarianism exists “as an indictment of democracy, the alleged incompetence of democracy and the average man (qtd in Mayer 2001, p. 148)”. Samuel Huntington and Clement Moore in distinguishing between democracy and authoritarianism: ‘Democracy exists where the principal leaders of a political system are selected by competitive elections in which the bulk of the population has the opportunity to participate. Authoritarian systems are non-democratic ones’s (2001, p.149).’ Conceivably, authoritarian regimes have become generic, where there is no contested election or in the absence of pluralistic democracy, all other political systems are authoritarian. Democracy must not be defined in terms of election alone, neither it be bounded on election that must be contested in order to be democratic.
An authoritarian government is one which is opposite to constitutional government. It is synonymous with a dictatorial government, a system of regime which is without a true constitution that effectively limits governmental power. In short, the power of government in an authoritarian system is not limited by law. The political power is concentrated in one power center. It may be in one person or in a united elite group or it may be in the hands of a few democratically elected representatives or popular majority in the legislature (Way, Part II, C, 2).
Authoritarianism is a non-democratic regime without contested elections and rule of law. Citizens do not possess the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. Some individuals or groups of individuals may enjoy some special privileges, but still subject to the caprices of the person or persons whose powers are unlimited. Citizens are subject to this power; and those who go against could be hushed up by terror to bodily harm, property
seizure, or even destruction or death. Richard Rumbold said: “I never could believe that Providence had sent a few men into the world, ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden.” George Orwell shared the same view on autocracy: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever (“Interesting autocracy quotes”).” Several types of authoritarian or dictatorial government exist with one thing in common, the concentration of all unrestrained governmental powers in one political center. However, these types have their own peculiar characteristics.
Ronald Reagan said: Someone once said that every form of government has one characteristic peculiar to it and if that characteristic is lost, the government will fall. In a monarchy, it is affection and respect for the royal family. If that is lost the monarch is lost. In a dictatorship, it is fear. If the people stop fearing the dictator he’ll lose power. In a representative government such as ours, it is virtue. If virtue goes, the government fails. Are we choosing paths that are politically expedient and morally questionable? Are we in truth losing our virtue? . . . If so, we may be nearer the dustbin of history than we realize. (“Interesting autocracy quotes”)
Authoritarianism exists long before society could even understand its imports and entailments. In ancient history, absolute democracy or majoritarian dictatorship had existed in Athens and in some cities in ancient Greece during the 4th century B.C. A government may be constitutional, but not democratic. Authoritarian government is democratic but non-constitutional, sometimes also referred to as “simple unchecked democracy.” Aristotle described Athens as a political community in which “the people, and not the law, is the final sovereign”–a community where “popular decrees are sovereign instead of the law. According to Aristotle, “Demagogues arise in states where the laws are not sovereign. The people then becomes an autocrat–a single composite autocrat made of many members, with the many playing the [role of] sovereign [absolute ruler], not as individuals, but collectively (quoted in Way, Part II, C, 3, par.11).” Jurors by the thousands normally comprise the popular court when trying a politically important case and judgment is final (par.11).
The Jacobin dictatorial rule from June 2, l793 to June 27, l794 known as the “Reign of Terror” is another significant example of absolute democracy. It took place in France during the truncated but in history, the most violent stage of the French Revolution stigmatized by mass execution by guillotine incited by conflicts between two political rivals, the Jacobins and the Girondins. The Jacobins, led by Robespierre who took control of the government after the onset of the French Revolution, became obsessed with purifying the body politic of all corruption led the country to terror. Robespierre, believing strongly in equality among the people that those who oppose it should die, resorted to terror to create temporary dictatorship to save the French Republic. As the need for terror decreased, Robespierre’s power also decreased which led to his death by guillotine on June 27, l794 (.Kreis 2004). It is to be recalled that the Jacobins rose to power because of inequality; that King Louis XVI was prosecuted to death due to corruption; that terror was the answer to change the people thus achieving the goals of the “Incorruptible”, Robespierre.
No country in the world today is run by the” mob”. Absolute democracy has been extremely precarious and cannot survive in the modern era. Such kind of regimes has rapidly failed resulting to chaos, civil wars, widespread lawlessness and violence. Absolute democracy has been buried into oblivion now that diverse authoritarian fills have been consented.
Autocracy is another type of dictatorship where unlimited power is lodged in one person unrestricted by law and the power of government is concentrated in the hands of an autocrat who make final decisions and implements government policies (“Autocracy” 2008). Totalitarianism is the modern form of autocracy; an ideology in which all the governmental functions, including cultural and religious activities are subservient to that of the ruler (“Totalitarianism” 2008).
If the autocrat is a king, or emperor, queen or empress, the system is absolute monarchy. The Monarch does not have to share authority with other powers in the government. Full and unchecked powers are inherited by the Monarch. The monarchies that surpass in the history of Europe include the reign of King Louis XIV in France, the government of Czar Peter I (1689-l725) and Catherine the Great (l762-l796) in Russia (Way Part II, C 3 par.3-4).
Considered the opposite of democracy, the communist rule of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung) in People’s Republic of China, Nazi party in Germany under Adolf Hitler, and the tsarist regimes in Russia under Stalin are the modern examples of autocracy peculiar to the 20th century as distinguished from earlier forms such as absolutism and despotism under a monarch. In a modern day autocracy, the state is governed by a leader of a political party or a dictator. Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Italy under Mussolini, Syria under, Hafez al-Assad and Korea under Kim IL Sung, are other totalitarian governments. Under this system, the economy is centrally controlled by the dictator, including mass communication and weapons of destruction. Total subjection of the individual to the purpose of the party and the state, characterized the nature and existence of the system (2008).
Authoritarian Oligarchy or “collective dictatorship” is a type of governmental system characterized by absolute rule of the few. Unrestrained, paramount power is concentrated in a small number of persons, the closely-knit or cohesive elite operating as a single unit. The elite govern as an autocrat or a single absolute ruler exercising unlimited power. The ruling elite may have acquired power by force, victory in an election or through inheritance.. It is the only legally recognized party to exist and operate, usually consisting of the party’s top leaders. Public offices and all other aspects of society’s political life are completely dominated by the party (Way, Part II, C 3, par. 7&8).
In communist societies, the single-party state has been the identifying pattern of governance. It operated in Soviet Union from the seizure of power in the Bolshevik Revolution in l917 to the time of Stalin until the collapse of communism and dissolution of the USSR. The system also has operated in China since l949 under Mao Tse Tung when he led the communists and emerged victorious in a civil war against the Kuomintang or the Chinese Nationalist Party headed by Chiang Kai-shek (par. 9). A famous African theorist Julius Nyerere of Tanzania gave his voice to the single-party system:
Where there is one party, and the party is identified with the nation as a whole, the foundation of democracy is firmer than they can ever be where you have two or more parties, each representing only a section of the community. . . .For the politics of a country governed by the two-party system are not, and cannot be national politics; they are the politics of groups, whose differences are of small concern to the people. (Qtd in Mayer 2001, p. 162)
Authoritarianism filled in society where democracy is not unfeigned, where there is inequality, and poverty. Time and again, more authoritarian forms of government will come and fail. However those that endure the test of times with patterns toward reducing the distance between the rich and the poor then and only then that there is true democracy. A government may be democratic but where there is corruption, injustices, poverty, is not democratic at all. In form, may be it is, as there is the existence of competitive election, but in reality it is autocracy. Autocracy may be democratic as when the leaders are genuinely committed to their avowed objectives indicative of the democratic character of a regime, in whatever form it may be. “A narrowing of the gap between rich and poor is identified as the most authentic indicator of the democratic character of a regime (Mayer 2001).” In his May Day address in l960, Fidel Castro applied a non-electoral scheme:
A real democracy is one in which you, peasant, get the land we have been recovering for you, after wresting it from foreign hands! A true democracy is one in which you,
sugar-cane plantation worker, receive nearly 3 million acres of planted land so that you will no longer have to live as an outcast! A true democracy is one in which you, workman, are assured of your right to work, and know that nobody can kick you out into the gutter to starve to death! (Qtd. in Mayer 2001)
Indeed, it is not the form of government that matters; what counts is the essence of its existence. Thomas Jefferson said: “A democracy is nothing more than a mob rule, where fifty-one percent may take the right of the other forty-nine percent (Lewis).” Whether it is democracy, dictatorship, fascism, totalitarianism, it is always the leaders of the country that.determine policy of a state and it is always a simple matter to embroil the people along. The people can always be fetched to the adjuring of the leaders. It operates the same way in any form of government. Clearly, the wall that separates democracy and autocracy is thin and flimsy.
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