World news has been remarkably negative over this past year. Whether it is continents burning, questionable political maneuverings occurring, the whispers of war threatening and taking lives, viruses disrupting the turning of the world, national economies becoming less stable, or racial injustices reaching boiling point, it is easy to overlook all that is going well despite the chaos. That is dependent on varying factors, granted, but history would demonstrate that the next year is not going to be much better if the previous year was not particularly great. Interestingly, online reactions to these recent tragic events have spanned the full spectrum of human emotion. However, typically only the most inflammatory and critical responses get the greatest attention. The loudest voices aren’t always the right ones, nor are they always wrong on various issues.
Recently, leaders in our world seem no better than the people they serve and tackle the big problems for – even with power beyond emotive words typed into cyberspace to do something about them. One idea that is prevalent regarding leadership and people speaking out against recent problems is that if only the right person comes along to fix a problem will everything be much better off. This idea that an authoritarian style of leadership is needed to improve upon matters is so at odds with the results of dictatorial leadership that now, more than ever, people should be aware that authoritarianism rarely ever ends well.
Dr. Ron Paul, a former United States Congressman and presidential candidate, wrote about this subject in his 2015 book Swords Into Plowshares. More specifically, chapter 16 titled ‘The Dictators’ is an excellent philosophical examination of authoritarian leadership and what it produces. It might seem odd that someone from the ‘land of the free’ is writing about dictators considering America is a constitutional republic. However, as the rest of the book lays out, it is easy to view the country as being ruled by dictators of a different variety. That is because, as Dr. Paul argues, dictators simply adapt to whatever form of government is being practiced at the time. Whether a country operates in more recent styles of rule allowing more freedoms or not, “dictators come in all sizes and shape… both big and small,” who typically seek government power to further their ends. Usually this involves trying to protect and control people through economic means and the use of force, even attempting to shape the culture they live in while enriching themselves in whatever ways they see fit.
Dr. Paul adds that some authoritarian leaders will not necessarily appear to match this description as they, like the people they rule over, can fool themselves into believing they are doing right by their actions regardless of the consequences. Thus, when a cycle of authoritarian leadership is allowed to continue, the original mistake never gets solved and merely multiplies. When the calls come to replace the leader without reforming the authoritarian elements of the government, or preventing new tyrants from holding power, the crises is only exacerbated.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent war is a classic example of the ills that authoritarian leadership has had for the United States, and one Dr. Paul was outspoken on in Congress. While he warned about the unintended consequences that would follow the wrongful and illegal invasion, the Bush Administration vehemently believed that Saddam Hussein was a threat and had connections to the 9/11 attacks, despite evidence to the contrary. After convincing the public that removing him was the right thing to do, the end result was the toppling of another dictator at the cost of human life, jeopardizing peace and security in the region, and demonstrating that the ‘might is right’ philosophy is still prevalent internationally. Ironically, the Western democracies that joined in the war claim a respect for human rights while blatantly discarding them in this instance for ‘the greater good.’ The Obama administration initially promised that they would correct the mistakes of Iraq, namely by leaving the country, but returned anyway after the radical Islamic State began terrorizing the region.
Regardless of whether that was the right response, they clearly did not learn anything from the consequences of the Iraq War as demonstrated from their participation in the 2011 NATO military interventions in Libya. Unsurprisingly, Libya still lives with the on-going consequences of the violence that was used to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi nine years later. Ironically, while Gaddafi’s country was far from perfect under his dictatorial rule, slavery and other forms of barbarism have returned to the country.
The current United States president and his administration are hardly any better. While he has promised that he wants to stop looking for wars to fight, the bombs keep dropping while little progress is made on peace in the seven conflicts America is involved in (of the conflicts that we publicly know of). While perhaps one person cannot truly stop these conflicts, when it came to Dr. Paul’s opinion on the right way to address these mistakes, he has argued that “we just marched in, we should just march out.” And, as he has advocated for in the lead up to several armed foreign interventionisms, just minding their own business would have prevented so much carnage around the world.
Authoritarianism then is not conducive to world peace, harmony, or real prosperity. While there are some instances where some authoritarian practices may inadvertently benefit or help solve a problem, it would be much better to address the underlying issues that provoke those problems in the first place. If it took more than one person to create the problems, then chances are the solution and prevention to those problems lie first with cooperation and respect for others. That’s what the authoritarians get wrong about their decisions. They categorically fail to understand the full extent to which their solutions will impact people beyond their own perspective or a few others. Or perhaps simply they never truly care that much about making things better for their time on earth. Regardless, calls for authoritarian solutions should instead be substituted for some common moral framework that can better work out humankind’s problems.
Whether it is discussions online or at international meetings between countries, having some respect for individual dignity and treating others as we would want to be treated would go a long way to improving things. Dialogue with respect, instead of vitriolic and domineering attempts to force solutions, can change hearts and minds, leading to progress being made on some of the complex problems of our time.
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