[FFF, Nations and Government. This is an update of Aristotle’s description, as relayed by Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, Touchstone, page 191.]

“Now, to continue with the forms of government, the basic distinction is how many people have control. On one end of the continuum are the autocracies, or rule by a single individual. Traditionally, such governments existed as monarchies, but in the modern world they are always dictatorships. Modern autocracies are always totalitarian: the dictators, and their cronies, such as the fellow members of a junta, or communist politburo, have total power. They are also authoritarian: individuals in the society are wholly subordinate to the state, i.e., to the wishes of the dictator. And the dictators are regularly tyrants or despots: they are cruel to, and engage in massive repression of, the general population. But such tyrants do require some support, and this is usually extracted from the military, in return for economic spoils, or from a particular ethnic group (in Africa, this is the dictator's tribe), which is appealed to through demagoguery, to encourage prejudices against other groups.

Modern dictatorships are always police states, and make extensive use of secret police forces and community spies. Strict censorship on opposition views is also maintained: all permitted media present only the dictator's propaganda. In addition, all potential sources of opposition are repressed, such as workers, students, religious adherents, etc. (In Burma, universities are closed; in China, it's the churches, and also the Falun Gong sect.) And, in most cases the subjects of the dictatorship are kept poor, with little ability (practical - to acquire weapons) or inclination (psychological - they are cowed) to resist. Divide and conquer is also featured, to create internal dissent and hence forestall the possibility of a unified opposition. And war, and forced labor, are undertaken, to keep people occupied and, with the former, to make military leadership necessary. To maintain a climate of fear, purges and extrajudicial executions, particularly of strong individuals who conceivably could constitute a threat, are carried out. Of course, it is not as if there is an independent judiciary, or the rule of law. If there are laws, they are enforced only on behalf of the rulers, and written so as to make illegal and the grounds for indefinite imprisonment any independent acts on the part of the general public. (And, it is not just Burma and China which favor this tactic: witness Mohammed Mahathir of Malaysia and his country's Internal Security Act.) And lastly, there is the most heinous tactic of all: ethnic cleansing, and other forms of genocide.”


© Roland O. Watson 2001-3