Dictators or Anarchy?

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Democracy can only function in an environment where there is at least a minimum of stability. And it cannot necessarily establish this stability itself. In Iraq and Egypt, that process has failed, at least for the time being. In Afghanistan, the power of President Hamid Karzai, who made way for his successor at the end of September, never extended much beyond the city limits of the capital, Kabul, despite massive Western support. It is debatable whether the rudimentary rule of law established there after 13 years of Western involvement can survive ISAF’s departure at the end of this year.

In Iraq the fall of Saddam Hussein, which ended a brutal dictatorship of a dictator has shown that there is something worse than dictatorship, worse than the absence of freedom, worse than oppression: civil war and chaos. However, he most stupid president that America has ever had – Bush jr. – started the Iraq war with faked evidence.  He opened the Pandora’s box. Now the serpent’s head was cut off and many small snakes were spreading themselves. The same we see today in Libya and Tunisia. And the women? They are the real losers.

The “failing states” that currently stretch from Pakistan to Mali show that the alternative to dictatorship isn’t necessarily democracy — all too often, it is anarchy. In the coming years, global politics will not be defined by the polarity between democratic and autocratic states as much as it will by the contrast between functioning and non-functioning ones.

Rule is order. For Thomas Hobbes, the father of modern political science, the intrinsic function of the state was to impose legal order in order to subdue the “state of nature.” In “Leviathan,” which he wrote in the 17th century under the shadow of the English Civil War, he argued that the state’s monopoly on violence was legitimate when used to protect the lives and possessions of the state’s citizens. When the state was no longer able to guarantee order, the threat of “war of every man against every man” loomed. The latter was the state of nature that the state, symbolized by the Leviathan, was tasked with taming.

In his 1525 article “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants,” Martin Luther also argued in favour of a severe sovereign putting a stop to the German Peasants’ War. Luther was largely sympathetic to the complaints of the peasants, but he was turned off by the rampant violence and anarchy of their rebellion. The rebels, Luther wrote, should be dealt with “just as one must kill a mad dog.”

Germany last experienced an extended period of anarchy almost 400 years ago during the Thirty Years’ War. In the long period of peace and stability that has followed World War II, we in the West have come to view political continuity as the norm. During the decades of the Cold War, the threat to Western Europe did not come from weak states, warlords and terrorist organizations but from Communism. The era was marked by the confrontation between Western democracy and socialist dictatorship: The opposite of dictatorship was democracy.

The peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe in the 1990s confirmed this view. In those countries, the collapse of the socialist dictatorships led not to anarchy but to the installation of a new, democratic order. This created the illusion that one merely had to remove obstacles for democracy to appear, almost automatically.

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3 thoughts on “Dictators or Anarchy?

  1. Excellent essay, Sally! There are two forces of aggression at work in the world: the will to power (dictatorship), and the will to revolt (revolution). Only when both of these forces are neutralized can democracy exist. When either prevails, we have totalitarianism or anarchy.

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    • As always – you bring it to the point, Beth. Freedom is a very fine line between extremism. Thank you!

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  2. Thank you a very educational and well researched essay. I am in agreement with the premise that Democracy can’t be forced on a people. It is only truly successful if it is grass roots. Decocracy is the most complex and slowest form of government with dictatorship the fastest and most efficient because everything done needs the vote of just one. You mention democracy in Germany. The present Republic of Germany is the second Democracy in Germany with the first right after the First World War. That fledgling government failed because of internal strife and runaway inflation. The economic disaster that failed and unrest of the citizens set up a perfect storm for Hitler to unify the country in hate. That is a mirror to what is happening in the Middle East. Demorracy is a fragile enterprise and does not work when the people vote in a theocracy. That is why it is important to have separation of church and state. The entire Middle East has been embroiled in war and internal strife for centuries. Each country trying to impose their will on the others. The US was amiss in inserting it’s self into the mix, long before the Irac mess. Our presence in Afghanistan was no different than our presence in Vietnam. As a conservative I am not happy about the US funding and arming people that hate us. I think the military complex is yet another discussion.

    Good essay. Well done!

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