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VECT

Despotism vs Democracy

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I've been thinking about this subject.

 

If the degree of recognition of Individual Rights is the metrics that judge a society, then whether or not a society politically operates on Despotism (King/Queen, One-Party Rule..etc.) or Democracy doesn't in itself automatically determine the quality of that society.

 

Along this line of thought then, hypothetically within the time frame of one generation, a despot nation where the established power recognizes Individual Rights and implements appropriate governing policies would come out on top as compared to a democratic society where the majority of the population votes in policies that spurn Individual Rights.

 

The major difference then between a despotic nation as compared to a democratic one is of malleability. A despotic nation could potentially change very fast from a state with individual freedom to one of totalitarianism, or vice versa, where as a democratic nation would be a lot less malleable.

 

Thoughts?

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The issue with despotism is that a rights respecting despot would become irrelevant as soon as 'the people' got wealthy enough to replace him with their preferred system. Its a pattern I have seen running from the Revolutionary War, the English Civil War, The French Revolution, Pinochet's Chile, and so forth. The monarchy\autocracy provides just enough security to make people wealthy and they use that wealth to replace the monarchy with the modern state. I am not sure if a liberal autocrat can sustain its existence. 

 

I agree though that a liberal monarch would be preferable to a democratically elected fundamentalist sect.

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I'm thinking of a couple of things here: 1) The US had a despotic regime between 1861-1865. The emergency of the Civil War required emergency powers, (if there is disagreement on this, perhaps we could discuss it on a separate thread.) 2) The system of government best suited to secure individual rights may not necessarily be sustainable. Perhaps that's what Hairnet is suggesting. My concern is that the popularity of increasing the authority of government, especially on the federal level, is moving us closer to despotism. Lacking an integrated political philosophy, or an ideology, the people who claim to love freedom are abandoning it.

Free minds and free markets make free people.

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In what way can a Despot (a single entity which rules with absolute power) recognize individual rights and yet still be a Despot?

 

Recognizing individual rights would require the despot to know it is illegitimate to rule others, and to the extend he/she actually rules others i.e. to the extent he/she is being a Despot, individual rights are non-existent.

 

Now, if people got together and formed a "administration" not to rule but to administrate the protection of individual rights, courts of law, police, and military, then you would have something completely different from a despot, and yes something completely different from a democracy or any other kind of x-ocracy for that matter.

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The despot reserves the political power to abolish those polices/institutions previously made by him/her that support individual rights and replace them instead with tyrannical laws, with no fear of public opinion. That fact makes a despot despot.

 

I think you are mixing totalitarianism with despotism. Despotism does not automatically assume totalitarianism; but since the vast majority of cases in history has been despot turning their nation into a totalitarian state, seeking to control all aspects of public and private life whenever possible, most people come to think they are the same.

 

A despot have the power to make any political policies he/she/they want. These policy can go against individual rights or they might not.

 

 

The reason I first started to think about this subject is because of the prevalent belief here in the West that democracy = freedom and it is the measure of the quality of a society.

 

My example of a despot deciding to implement policies that support Individual Rights is not to illustrate the possibility of a despot building an ideal Objectivist society; it's made to illustrate that by Objectivism standard, it is possible a despot society can be better than a democratic one.

Edited by VECT

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I think you are mixing totalitarianism with despotism. Despotism does not automatically assume totalitarianism;

No, not if you define the two without a realistic context, but it does in reality. If most people want the kind of rule a despot gives them, then there's no need for a despot, democracy works just fine. And, if they don't, then a non-totalitarian despot can't stay in power. The only tool a despot has, to hold on to power, is fear. Hard to project fear without killing and torturing people.

However, the case can be made for mixing the two in an effective manner. Singapore seems to be doing that the best. They have elections, and they even have a small group of opposition (socialist) legislators. But they have some significant limits on both who votes and who gets to run for office, which result in a lot of uncontested elections, and one party rule (and not the kind of one party rule Japan has either, where debate is vibrant, opposing views are welcome and political leaders get thrown out faster than in most multi-party democracies).

And, despite that, they seem to have managed to allow a lot of freedom. Arguably, more than western democracies. The only people who have anything to fear, really, are communist activists and union types who try to change the established state of affairs. They do tend to find themselves the convenient targets of various, not necessarily legitimate, criminal charges.

Edited by Nicky

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No, not if you define the two without a realistic context, but it does in reality. If most people want the kind of rule a despot gives them, then there's no need for a despot, democracy works just fine. 

 

I understand what you are saying. But you are making two assumptions here, second one my fault though.
 
 
Assumption #1: Majority of the citizen of the despot's nation either understands Objectivism and/or have the ingrained value of individual freedom in their culture, making them want the policies that support Individual Rights that the despot gave them
 
Many people in the West here have a deep ingrained value of individual freedom that are more or less in line with the Individual Rights outline in Objectivism, but that's not and doesn't have to be true everywhere else in the world. Without the same cultural upbringing and/or conscious philosophic knowledge, a person might not even want policies that support Individual Rights let alone understand the reasoning for Individual Rights. The large part of the citizens in despot's nation could very well be of a socialist or theocratic persuasion, and the despot implementing policies that support Individual Rights goes against their wishes.
 
 
Assumption #2: The despot that implemented these political policies which support Individual Rights is an Objectivist himself who recognizes Individual Rights and strives to create an ideal Objectivist society
 

Along this line of thought then, hypothetically within the time frame of one generation, a despot nation where the established power recognizes Individual Rights and implements appropriate governing policies

 

 

Actually this assumption is due to my mistake here in saying the established power itself recognizes Individual Rights. What I really wanted to say is that the despot's policies recognizes IRs to a practical degree. If the despot himself recognizes Individual Rights then I would agree a despot can't rationally be a despot any more as he would be obliged to abolish his own absolute authority and establish Rule of Law.

 
While Objectivism strives to justify Individual Rights from a moral perspective, the fact of the matter is having Objectivist moral or not a state implementing policies such as free market will more or less do wonder for its economy. The despot can be a cunning ruler who recognizes this and implements these policies to facilitated better tax revenue, technological innovations, and if the majority of the citizens value individual freedom, a happier population...etc. His policies recognizes Individual Rights to a practical degree and he sees these policies as a means to an end. The despot himself however does not recognize Individual Rights and choose to be above the law. He would still retain absolute authority politically (especially over the army). He would hope to garner loyalty from his subjects due to his wise rule and policies. Failing that he would demand their obedience through strength of arms.

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I understand what you are saying. But you are making two assumptions here, second one my fault though.

 

 

Assumption #1: Majority of the citizen of the despot's nation either understands Objectivism and/or have the ingrained value of individual freedom in their culture, making them want the policies that support Individual Rights that the despot gave them

 

Many people in the West here have a deep ingrained value of individual freedom that are more or less in line with the Individual Rights outline in Objectivism, but that's not and doesn't have to be true everywhere else in the world. Without the same cultural upbringing and/or conscious philosophic knowledge, a person might not even want policies that support Individual Rights let alone understand the reasoning for Individual Rights. The large part of the citizens in despot's nation could very well be of a socialist or theocratic persuasion, and the despot implementing policies that support Individual Rights goes against their wishes.

 

 

Assumption #2: The despot that implemented these political policies which support Individual Rights is an Objectivist himself who recognizes Individual Rights and strives to create an ideal Objectivist society

 

 

 

Actually this assumption is due to my mistake here in saying the established power itself recognizes Individual Rights. What I really wanted to say is that the despot's policies recognizes IRs to a practical degree. If the despot himself recognizes Individual Rights then I would agree a despot can't rationally be a despot any more as he would be obliged to abolish his own absolute authority and establish Rule of Law.

 

While Objectivism strives to justify Individual Rights from a moral perspective, the fact of the matter is having Objectivist moral or not a state implementing policies such as free market will more or less do wonder for its economy. The despot can be a cunning ruler who recognizes this and implements these policies to facilitated better tax revenue, technological innovations, and if the majority of the citizens value individual freedom, a happier population...etc. His policies recognizes Individual Rights to a practical degree and he sees these policies as a means to an end. The despot himself however does not recognize Individual Rights and choose to be above the law. He would still retain absolute authority politically (especially over the army). He would hope to garner loyalty from his subjects due to his wise rule and policies. Failing that he would demand their obedience through strength of arms.

A despot who wishes to stay in power in a culture hostile to his ideals, he would have to use fear. When you say "he would recognize individual rights to a practical degree", that practical degree would have to be close to zero.

If he recognized any significant rights (to speech, organization, communication, privacy, property, trade, etc.), it will be used to subvert him. To stay in power, he could not tolerate unions, business leaders would have to be hand picked, trade associations restricted, culture and entertainment carefully censored, communication restricted, etc.

Basically, everything being done in China today is necessary to keep the central government in charge. The minute they relent, they will face instability and disruptions they won't be able to handle. And China doesn't even have a particularly unpopular regime. Same with Bahrain, the site of recent sectarian protests against a benevolent despot who happens to belong to the wrong sect.

Egypt is an even better example, because their regime (which aims to protect certain very basic freedoms from the Islamists) is at odds with the majority of the population over something bigger than just sectarian differences. Look at how few actual freedoms they are able to grant, and even so they're barely holding on to power, and only thanks to massive American military aid that goes back decades.

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... ... democratic society where the majority of the population votes in policies that spurn Individual Rights.

You're right: that democracy is not a primary ideal in politics; individual rights are. Too many people conflate the two.

Consider most K-12 Civics classes, where "democracy" is taught as the ideal. Individual rights -- e.g. the freedom of speech -- are ideals too, but are subsumed under that concept of "democracy". The result is: to most people "democracy" means a society where the government is elected by vote, where a fair number of individual rights are respected, but where many issues -- but not all -- are resolved by majority will (and which is which is fuzzy). This is the most fundamental flaw in the average Joe's thinking about politics. If most people understood that there are two separate concepts: democracy and individual-rights, that would be a radical change.

 

Scholars of political science understand that there are two different concepts. Even centuries ago, intellectuals have written about it in the context of the French revolution and the Greek democracies. Key founder of the U.S. understood the issue. Yet, the popular notion remains the mushy "democracy", which allows individual-rights to be treated as secondary when enough voters want to do so..

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If I may add, many of the American Founders argued against democracy, or at least debated its negatives. Democracy runs the risk of oppressive majority rule undermining the rights of individuals in the minority.

 

As Ayn Rand suggested, individual freedom is a relatively new concept in human history. The absents of religion in the United States Constitution, for example, raised an opposition movement from church leaders, resulting in the Second Awakening. Lacking an integrated philosophy upon which to guide the common man, most people fail to acknowledge Natural Rights as the origins of morality, instead favoring the traditional standard Biblical teachings of morality.

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@Nicky: Now, my correction did not say "HE would recognize individual rights to a practical degree", I said his POLICIES do. He's picking, choosing, adjusting depending on what he perceives to be the effects of a particular policy. He's not going by principles. And I completely disagree the statement that the practical degree would have to be close to zero. Since you brought up China, that's an example right there, the practical degree that their political policies recognize Individual Rights is definitely not as strong as US, but a lot stronger compared to say Nazi Germany or Communist USSR. It's far from ideal, but far from zero either.

 

If he recognized any significant rights (to speech, organization, communication, privacy, property, trade, etc.), it will be used to subvert him. To stay in power, he could not tolerate unions, business leaders would have to be hand picked, trade associations restricted, culture and entertainment carefully censored, communication restricted, etc.

 

 

As long as he maintains absolute control of the army and gives wise policies that allows people to live their life in peace, he's really running minimum risk of armed rebellion even with freedom of speech.

 

When a government have policies that interfere with Individual Rights, the magnitude of that interference is what ultimately propels an armed rebellion, because these policies will have a practical negative impact on people's personal lives.

 

Some of his citizens with democratic value will criticize him for his monopolization of political power. But when push comes to shove, unless he made unwise policies with said power to actually interfere Individual Rights to a critical degree that managed to devastated his citizen's personal lives, he's running minimum risk of people putting their live on the line for an armed rebellion.

 

 

Basically, everything being done in China today is necessary to keep the central government in charge. The minute they relent, they will face instability and disruptions they won't be able to handle.

 

You don't know that for sure. It all depends on the execution of how the change come about.

 

But more importantly for the sake of this thread, unlike my despot example, the Communist Party of China does not have a clean slate to begin with. During Mao's years of governance he had made plenty of policies that critically interfered with Individual Rights and devastated the livelihood of his citizens (Cultural Revolution, country wide famine..etc.). The unspoken understanding between the common Chinese people and CPC afterwards is that the citizens would put up with the Party's authority and past atrocities as long as they can keep on delivering stable economy growth and continuously improving living standard.

 

So now the CPC is in a bind because they have to deliver on something that is actually outside of their direct control - excellent economy growth. 

It's outside their direct control since the productive power and decisions of the common people is what actually drives economic growth, the best a government can do is pave a healthy environment to allow unhindered expression of that power.

 

So even with a free market, if the market enters a depression due to the cumulative effect of choices made by the common people (which is completely natural of free market) though no fault of the CPC, that gets blamed on them regardless as healthy economy is something they are supposed to deliver for their power and past transgressions.

 

My despot example is not facing this bind.

 

Also if China ever drops the ball in the future and face a civil armed uprising, I would argue it has less to do with their government been a one-party ruled despot, as opposed to what that party did with its power.

 

 

Egypt is an even better example, because their regime (which aims to protect certain very basic freedoms from the Islamists) is at odds with the majority of the population over something bigger than just sectarian differences. Look at how few actual freedoms they are able to grant, and even so they're barely holding on to power, and only thanks to massive American military aid that goes back decades.

 

The army executed a popular coup back in 2013 because the elected Islamist Morsi botched the transition from military dictatorship to democracy by causing serious unrest between secular and religious groups. These two groups can't find middle ground in a democratic system because like you said they are at odds with each other over something bigger than just sectarian differences.

 

But I really don't see how Egypt help your point that a despot government inherently can only grant almost zero individual freedom to its citizens. If North Korea is the example of a despot regime with policies that recognize Individual Rights close to zero degree, then Egypt's military regime is far from that.

Edited by VECT

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A despot who wishes to stay in power in a culture hostile to his ideals, he would have to use fear. When you say "he would recognize individual rights to a practical degree", that practical degree would have to be close to zero.

If he recognized any significant rights (to speech, organization, communication, privacy, property, trade, etc.), it will be used to subvert him. To stay in power, he could not tolerate unions, business leaders would have to be hand picked, trade associations restricted, culture and entertainment carefully censored, communication restricted, etc.

 

 

   This appears to have been the case with many Communist Party states. Most of the people just didn't get it and only went along with it because thugs terrorized them into doing it. What is funny about this is that it shows how totalitarian methods tend to show a weakness in government not strength.

 

However, the case can be made for mixing the two in an effective manner. Singapore seems to be doing that the best. They have elections, and they even have a small group of opposition (socialist) legislators. But they have some significant limits on both who votes and who gets to run for office, which result in a lot of uncontested elections, and one party rule (and not the kind of one party rule Japan has either, where debate is vibrant, opposing views are welcome and political leaders get thrown out faster than in most multi-party democracies).

And, despite that, they seem to have managed to allow a lot of freedom. Arguably, more than western democracies. The only people who have anything to fear, really, are communist activists and union types who try to change the established state of affairs. They do tend to find themselves the convenient targets of various, not necessarily legitimate, criminal charges.

 

Another example of mixing the two is a monarch like George III of England. Despite being the bad guy in the revolutionary war, he was actually well liked by his people once he appointed William Pitt as prime minister. The Wikipedia article about him is fascinating. England always had a strange mixture of democratic institutions and depotic ones going back to the Anglo-Saxons, and George III had to deal with that all of his life.

 

Its strange. When looking at the Economic Freedom Index, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Switzerland, and Australia are at the top. That is a lot of freedom but with a huge diversity in terms of centralization vs decentralization. Switzerland is very decentralized and democratic, but has one of the best economies in the world. Singapore is as you described, and Hong Kong is in similar circumstances. Canada and Australia are republics federated from the British Empire. I am not sure how to interperet that.

 

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