A while back, David Miller in his fine blog “Pursuit of Liberty” made some good observations regarding where people stand in the political spectrum. One of the key axes in that determination is the degree to which someone is an authoritarian. Those who have followed my blogs know that my perceived growth of authoritarianism in our country is one of my biggest concerns. Conservatism, whatever that actually means in today’s world, has become more and more authoritarian. The growth of authoritarianism in the United States puts at risk many of the fundamental characteristics of our Republic.
Authoritarians come in two different stripes: the authoritarian follower, and the authoritarian dominator. The majority of authoritarians are the followers, the people willing to submit to what they consider to be legitimate authority. The word “legitimate” is the key word here. In their mind, only the legitimate authority deserves their unabashed support. Religion by its nature is authoritarian. The devout theist perceives truth, not by the evidence, but by what their “legitimate” authority articulates as the truth. Mormons may hang on every word of their prophet, or read diligently the words of Joseph Smith to find new kernels of truth, but they most likely will give no more than a passing glance to what the Pope has to say. The same could be said of devout followers of the Pope regarding their recognition of the legitimate authority of the Pope, and the lack of such authority from the Mormon prophet.
Authoritarians regarding their government may have no trouble with unlimited and unaccountable power given to their legitimate President. However, if the other party is in power, unlimited and unaccountable power is the last thing you want to give if you are an authoritarian. Principled individuals will seek checks, balances and accountability on both Presidents, because to the principled, the loyalty is to the principle, not to the authority.
Authoritarian dominators tend to end up the “legitimate” authority that authoritarian followers gravitate to. Dominators, are by their nature sure of themselves and that self-confidence garners support from followers. However, dominators have a tendency to be amoral, selfish, intolerant, and discriminatory. The rules that apply to the rest of society, doesn’t apply to the true dominator. They view their role as special. Power to the dominator is the end, not a means to an end. With power as the goal, the dominator focuses on the strategies to gain, and maintain power. Dominators know that to be successful, they have to give, take, manipulate and use various devices in their quest for power.
The simplest and most effective authoritarian strategy for gaining power is to rally authoritarian followers against common enemies. Authoritarians both create and accentuate a Manichean world view of “good” and “evil”, because authoritarians, pretending to speak in behalf of good, seek to be given power to combat evil by their authoritarian followers. Think of the most notorious authoritarians, and you see how they focus on enemies. For Hitler, it was the Jews, communists, intellectuals, and all those who didn’t share in Hitler’s dream of an Aryan dominated world.
President Bush, though an authoritarian is dwarfed by his power-hungry and amoral Vice President Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney has been the de-facto President of the United States since Bush’s inaugural. Cheney’s power, opinions and the power of his staff has dwarfed that of George W. Bush on every major issue that has beset this administration. More than anyone else, Cheney may be the most powerful authoritarian our Republic has ever witnessed.