Over the last few months I have been in many conversations about the problems we have with democracy in this country, in that it is not democratic. Often people have said to me that they have lost faith in democracy and that it would be better to have a benign dictator, someone who is mild in character and does not do harm in the long run. Of course benign dictatorship is an oxymoron and can never happen.
To have power over people, you have to either be given it through birth (or marriage), be given it through agreement by the people (through a vote) or take it. Power is always underpinned by force and threat, either though an army or police force that upholds the legitimacy of whoever is in the hot seat.
Democracy is an attempt to allow the populace to consent to the authority of another in return for a safe and prosperous society. Whether we realise it or not we agree in a democracy to forgo some freedoms for the benefit of others. For example we respect each other’s right to life and property. Anyone who does not is subject to the law.
In a dictatorship there is no such agreement, there is no consent to the authority and instead it is dictated. The objectives of the dictator may well be similar to those in a democracy, a safe and prosperous society, but it is always in their or their supporters’ image. However benign and seemingly popular a dictator is at the start, their tenure always unravels in the end.
And this is why being benign and being a dictator doesn’t mix. However well intentioned they are, history tells us that many dictators start out with the best of intentions, in the end they can only hold onto power through force and the ruthless suppression of any opposition.
We should get all thoughts of a benign dictatorship out of our heads, it won’t happen and instead should focus our energies on winning back our democracy.