Are Democratically Elected Dictators Hostile to Freedom “Good” Dictators?

December 19th, 2012

By Dan Miller

chavez_constitution.Democracies sometimes reject freedom.

Egypt has a new democratically elected dictator and Venezuela still has her old one. Since they were elected by majorities of the voters they must be good democratic rulers who give the majority what they want. Suppose the majority want to have blasphemers’ heads removed? Suppose the majority want to have money taken from the rich because they have been told that will help the poor? Giving the majority what they want is democratic and an effective way to get elected again. Individual freedom? Freedom is unnecessary in some democracies and may even be inconsistent with democracy as practiced elsewhere.

What about a constitution? Iran already has one approved by a majority and Venezuela has had several under her esteemed el Presidente Chávez. Egypt under President Morsi will soon have a new one approved by popular referendum:

The victory in the referendum on the Constitution is the fourth straight Muslim Brotherhood success—including the overthrow of President Husni Mubarak’s regime with army assistance, the parliamentary election and the presidential election—in the process of taking over Egypt for the long-term and fundamentally transforming it into a radical Islamist state….

It isn’t that the constitution, as many Salafists would have liked, explicitly mandates a revolutionary Sharia state. Rather, the constitution sets up a framework that will allow the Brotherhood to do so. Between the president and the constitution, the Brotherhood will now march through every institution and remake it. Judges will be appointed; school curricula rewritten; army generals appointed; and so on. As the Brotherhood shows patience in carrying out this process of gaining total, permanent control, many in the West will interpret that as moderation. (Emphasis added.)

Surely, nothing in the second paragraph could even remotely resemblance the “moderate” Obama Administration’s restructuring of institutions, school curricula and so on. We have a democracy full of freedom loving people!

Why did President Obama encourage Morsi? I don’t know. Maybe one or both of them know(s).

Somewhere in between the golfing sessions and the aimless celebrity shindigs, the New Beginner has discovered that there are some dictators that he is willing to tolerate for the sake of the nameless interests that he holds dear. Every politician has his price and his pet tyrants. Morsi, like Erdogan and Jebali, is Obama’s pet tyrant. Or perhaps Obama is Morsi’s pet Democrat. Nietzsche said that when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you. And when you spend enough time cultivating tyrants, then eventually it turns out that it is the tyrants who have been cultivating you. (Emphasis added.)

What about the Muslim Brotherhood Syrian opposition group that President Obama is backing? Surely that will turn out better, just as have other bastions of democracy and freedom such as Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

So much for backwards Islamist places. The United States could never have even the most remote and tenuous resemblance. How could it?

Things are, of course, different in the United States. Our laws are enacted by our freely elected representatives and must, therefore, reflect the will of a freedom loving majority. Right? Not necessarily. Who gets to interpret the laws is just as important in the United States as it is in Egypt. Increasingly, laws enacted by our overworked and underpaid (just ask them) honorable public servants in the Congress delegate great swaths of regulatory authority to unelected “expert” bureaucrats, selected principally on the basis of party connections. A spoils system? Perish the thought. So long as they comply with clearly stated procedural rules (notice, comment, publication in the Federal Register and the like) and otherwise act within statutorily established substantive parameters all is well. However, many statutes — including President Obama’s signature legislation, ObamaCare — have statutorily established parameters so flexible and bureaucrat-friendly as to have little meaning in other respects. Statutory requirements that rules be promulgated and that actions be taken “as the Secretary shall determine” give the Secretary and those who guide him* substantially limitless authority. In those circumstances, courts find it difficult if not impossible to conclude that the Secretary exceeded his statutory authority by abusing his broad discretion. Hence, such regulations usually withstand judicial review.

obama_kingputtPresident Obama seems to cherish the “democratic way” no less than does President Morsi. The U.S. Constitution is very difficult to amend but that need not be a problem. If it gets in the way he can deal with it — by ignoring it when seeking legislation from a substantially compliant legislature, when promulgating executive orders and by otherwise twisting its meaning as legislation, related regulations and executive orders are enforced by his administration. The Constitution is easier to ignore than to abide by; when a useful crisis such as the Newtown massacre comes along, it becomes even easier. Life can be very simple for dictators and, so long as the people think they are being protected and otherwise cared for, all is well in the happy Unicorn States of America. The evil that even a “good” dictator does can live long after him. But, don’t worry. If things get too bad for the American people to deal with themselves, the United Nations has a splendid human rights organization ready and willing to help in much the same way that it helps Israel.

As freedom fades, so does even democracy.

The freedoms which once made the United States both unique and great came along with democracy but that rarely happens. When it does, the notion of democracy with freedom can be fleeting because many are pleased to exchange their own freedoms, and those of others, for governmental largess. Is a democratically elected dictator a “good dictator” if he provides sufficient “free stuff” to keep his subjects happy? It’s not “free,” of course, because the funds to pay for it have to be taken involuntarily from others. That probably matters little to those who take in order to give or to those who receive; both are blessed thereby.

Obama: Person of the YearPresident Obama was today named the Time Magazine Person of the Year and proclaimed “Architect of the New America.” On balance, I preferred the pre-Obama America. When democratically elected rulers of free nations — and the media that support them — mold public opinion in their own favor, does even democracy continue if freedom disappears? Perhaps not. Suppose the majority, in return for lots of free stuff, cheerfully submitted to (free) drugs that would cause them to love their ruler, everything he does, the media which support him and the “intellectuals” who are reported by the media to support him. Would it still be democracy were the voters manipulated in that fashion in casting their votes? That seems preposterous, but there are effective ways that require no such drugs.


Daniel Greenfield suggests that an insidious form of control is not only available but that use by the left in the name of compassion and fairness is common. Perhaps they don’t understand what they are doing; perhaps they do understand and like it.

The gun control debate, like all debates with the left, is reducible to the question of whether we are individuals who make our own decisions or a great squishy social mass that helplessly responds to stimuli. Do people kill with guns or does the availability of guns kill people? Do bad eating habits kill people or does the availability of junk food kill people?

To the left these are distinctions without a difference. If a thing is available then it is the cause of the problem. The individual cannot be held accountable for shooting someone if there are guns for sale. Individuals have no role to play because they are not moral actors, only members of a mob responding to stimuli. …

Freedom goes hand in hand with personal moral organization of the individual by the individual. Organized compassion however requires the moral organization of the society as a whole. A shooting is not a failure of the character of one man alone, or even his family and social circle, it is the total failure of our entire society and perhaps even the world, for not leveraging a sufficient level of moral organization that would have made such a crime impossible. No man is an island. Every man is a traffic jam.

The defining American code is freedom. The defining liberal code is compassion. Conservatives have attempted to counter that by defining freedom as compassionate, as George W. Bush did. Liberals counter by attempting to define compassion as liberating, the way that FDR did by classing freedoms with entitlements in his Four Freedoms. (Emphasis added.)

On one side stands the individual with his rights and responsibilities. On the other side is the remorseless state machinery of supreme compassion. And there is no bridging this gap.

If society, i.e. the ruler, provides free stuff “compassionately and fairly” — no dangerous firearms and no unhealthy Big Gulps or fattening deserts but plenty of ObamaPhones and contraceptives and healthy meals along with ample welfare to diminish incentives to work — the consequences can in the long term harm the recipients, and therefore the society in which they and the rest of us live, irreparably. Nicholas Kristof wrote at The New York Times (yes, that New York Times) on December 7th,

Antipoverty programs … discourage marriage: In a means-tested program like S.S.I., a woman raising a child may receive a bigger check if she refrains from marrying that hard-working guy she likes. Yet marriage is one of the best forces to blunt poverty. In married couple households only one child in 10 grows up in poverty, while almost half do in single-mother households.

Most wrenching of all are the parents who think it’s best if a child stays illiterate, because then the family may be able to claim a disability check each month.

“One of the ways you get on this program is having problems in school,” notes Richard V. Burkhauser, a Cornell University economist who co-wrote a book last year about these disability programs. “If you do better in school, you threaten the income of the parents. It’s a terrible incentive.”

As leftist fairness and compassion displace conservative individual initiative and responsibility they create a society compliant with the views of its fair and compassionate masters. Such displacement of American individual initiative is easier with great numbers of low information voters and actions such as those mentioned above produce many more of them. The democracy which low information and other dependent voters believe will always continue to give them all that they want at the expense of others can relegate such inconvenient obstructions as the Constitution and the freedoms it was intended to protect to the sidelines or worse; few such voters realize or care. Nor do they realize that, some unhappy day, the money will run out and their free stuff will no longer be provided.


During the recent Democrat National Convention a video was aired claiming that “government is the only thing that we all belong to.” “Belong” could be interpreted to mean “owned by” or “members of.” Were we just “members,” we could quit; there are few if any viable ways to do that. However, the intended meaning of “belong” does not much matter. Although the video was later disowned by the Obama Campaign, having all of us belong to the Government in one way or the other still seems to be the objective toward which Government mandated free stuff, fairness and compassion are directed.

An article at American Thinker quoted from Erich Fromm’s 1963 “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem.” Written in 1963, it asserts that “The interests of slave and master are antagonistic, because what is advantageous to the one is detrimental to the other.” That can be true, unless the slave is induced to identify with the master. Fromm continued,

Why is man so prone to obey and why is it so difficult for him to disobey? As long as I am obedient to the power of the State, the Church, or public opinion, I feel safe and protected. In fact it makes little difference what power it is that I am obedient to. It is always an institution, or men, who use force in one form or another and who fraudulently claim omniscience and omnipotence. My obedience makes me part of the power I worship, and hence I feel strong. I can make no error, since it decides for me; I cannot be alone, because it watches over me; I cannot commit a sin, because it does not let me do so, and even if I do sin, the punishment is only the way of returning to the almighty power. …

A person can become free through acts of disobedience by learning to say no to power. But not only is the capacity for disobedience the condition for freedom; freedom is also the condition for disobedience. If I am afraid of freedom, I cannot dare to say “no,” I cannot have the courage to be disobedient. Indeed, freedom and the capacity for disobedience are inseparable; hence any social, political, and religious system which proclaims freedom, yet stamps out disobedience, cannot speak the truth. …

[O]bedience which is only rooted in the fear of force must be transformed into one rooted in man’s heart. Man must want and even need to obey, instead of only fearing to disobey. If this is to be achieved, power must assume the qualities of the All Good, of the All Wise; it must become All Knowing. If this happens, power can proclaim that disobedience is sin and obedience virtue; and once this has been proclaimed, the many can accept obedience because it is good and detest disobedience because it is bad, rather than to detest themselves for being cowards.

Do a large majority now “want and even need to obey?” Do they want to live for generations on what Allen West rightly calls the Democrat plantation? Although he stated that he wanted to lead Blacks off the plantation, there are many others there with them who behave in ways thought to be pleasing to their masters.

If there were already enough people living in what they consider happiness on the plantation, we might already have reached the point of no return. I don’t think we have reached it quite yet. If we already have, then we have fallen irretrievably over something far worse than the fiscal cliff and there is no reason to attempt the impossible by trying to avoid it. I recall an ancient saying humorously attributed to Confucius, “When rape inevitable relax and enjoy it.”

Will we reach that point soon? I don’t know but suspect we well may. Of course, President Obama and his merry band may soon realize the errors of their ways and reverse course, the world may come to an end on December 22nd or Zeus, Athena and Thor may soon intervene and set things right. None of those seem likely.

What will happen is much more likely to depend on what what we do between now and the next presidential election and thereafter as well. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” I have offered some ideas here, here and here; suggestions will be appreciated and may even help the nation. If anything is going to work, we need to get very busy very soon.


*Legal counsel insists on the following disclaimer:

“He” and other male words erroneously thought to suggest gender shall be construed as gender neutral and hence to refer without discrimination to males, females, transsexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals and all other segments of the population. No disparagement of anyone is intended, implied or to be assumed from the use of male words.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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