Not Our Way Of Life
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union many predicted that democracy would soon sweep the world. It didn’t, and this is why.
While many regions of the old Soviet Union have turned to the democratic ideals of ancient Greece, much of the world is still steeped in fascism, a blend of some capitalism and Marxist socialism. These governments have borrowed various theories to develop a form of government in which individual and social interests are subordinate to those of the state.
Fascism is an outdated term, yet it aptly describes the governments of many of these countries. We only have to look at our struggles in Iraq and at the governments of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe to see that many parts of the world do not embrace Western principles of freedom and elected systems of governance.
To understand the authoritarian solutions of these countries, we have to study their basic philosophy, based on several 19th- and 20th-century thinkers.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was a Scottish essayist, satirist and historian whose work was hugely influential during the Victorian era. His Great Man Theory stated that government should come from those most able and that citizens should recognize those people and follow their lead. In his famous satire Sartor Resartus or The Tailor Retailored, Carlyle proposed ideas influential in the development of socialism; aspects of his thinking also helped form fascism.
His book On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History confirmed his belief in the importance of heroic leadership. He attacked democracy as an absurd social idea and proposed an authoritarian political ideology led by a named hero that considers the interests of the state or party above those of individuals or society.
Carlyle’s dislike of democracy and his belief that governments should be led by an authoritarian “hero” had great appeal to despots such as Adolf Hitler, who was reading Carlyle’s biography of Frederick the Great during his last days in 1945.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1890) adopted some of Carlyle’s thinking when he wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche believed that the world was manmade and that individual strong leadership was essential for proper social order. He blamed the growing decadence and moral decline of European culture on democratic ideas and Christian values. He warned of the “impurity” of the dominant European white races.
He proposed that man would evolve into a “superman” and that his value to society would be measured not by the Christian concept of good and evil but by “greatness and excellence.”
Hitler and others would prostitute Nietzsche’s impurity ideas. The Final Solution death camps and the ethnic cleansings of the late 20th century have been unfairly blamed on some of Nietzsche’s ideas.
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was another German philosopher who continued to rip away many of the foundations of Western democratic thought. His Being and Time details his beliefs that democratic systems have been forced on nations by the nature of language and established culture, and that political institutions of democracy and justice have no rational foundation. Heidegger joined the Nazi party in 1933 and believed he would become the spiritual leader of Nazism in Germany.
Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) was born in Westphalia, Germany, to Catholic parents. His socialist, fascist ideas were formed after the First World War. To Schmitt, an active supporter of Hitler’s reign, the aim of political life is to define who one’s friends and enemies are.
His writings propose that enemies should be stripped of their humanity so that they are completely destroyed. He demands that a sovereign or dictator decide who his friends or enemies are and that he have the right to override any legal constraints. His book is The Concept of the Political.
Many of these writers were attempting to address social ills of their time and had honorable intentions.
It’s going to be difficult for democracy to take hold in certain regions because people under dictatorships have never experienced freedom and don’t understand how a free society can benefit them. Let us hope our concepts of liberty and democracy will someday sweep the world, but let’s understand that will take time.