Is everyone an authoritarian?

A cruel dictator dies and people who call themselves “liberals” eulogize him. Castro had a funny way of struggling for justice, throwing dissenters into prison crushing the free press and stamping out expressions of democracy, but hey, free healthcare, that is the important thing.

Scratch a liberal, find a totalitarian? Is this what the left really wants deep down, to violently oppress their opponents and impoverish the masses to achieve an entirely theoretical “justice”? Being a pessimist I suspect they do.

The American right gives lip-service to small government but it has its authoritarian tendencies too. Trump is hard to take seriously as an authoritarian, but some elements of the right are currently swooning for a certain beady-eyed Slav. The human heart being what it is, odds are we are all authoritarian about something.

Today I overheard one of my coworkers, a really great guy and Vietnam veteran, passionately agree with Trump (and the 2005 version of Hillary Clinton) that flag burners should be thrown in jail. We found his authoritarian spot. I understand his passion, maybe in another time and place it wouldn’t be bad to throw people in jail over desecrating the flag, but aren’t there enough people already in prison?

Where am I authoritarian? I believe in social tranquility. I am all in favor of legislative restraint, leaving well enough alone, preferring the devil you know etc, but when there are acts threatening the public good – rioters looting stores comes to mind – I expect the authorities to act decisively and unapologetically.

Believing that rioters should be clubbed into submission, brigands shot, and pirates hung is not authoritarian, is it? It simply seems to me to be the reason why we have a government, along with keeping the barbarians on the other side of the border and deciding what side of the road we should drive on.

So much for the mechanisms of government, what about in other areas of life?

Any tradition is authoritarian. The English language is a system of signs whose arbitrary rules are enforced because they are the rules and for no other reason. Cat means cat because we say so, dammit, it could just as easily mean something else. So too are customs, national identities, rituals – they are not based on anything could call objective, just their own blank claim to be thus and so. Even history is largely an arbitrary claim, there are artifacts that link us to the past, but the real thing that links us to the past and creates a community that can span the generations is a story. The story is necessarily authoritarian. We can resent the fact, but without a common story we become strangers to each other, a mix of barbarians occupying the same space, people speaking different languages.

 

 

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