Around the globe today, authoritarian regimes have become more effective at circumventing the norms and institutions meant to support basic human liberties. Even in countries with long-established democracies, authoritarian forces have exploited the shortcomings in their systems. They are distorting national politics to promote hatred, violence, and unbridled power.
According to a recent report from Freedom House in Washington DC, countries that have been struggling between democracy and authoritarianism are increasingly turning toward authoritarianism. (Freedom House is a U.S. American organization devoted to the support and defense of democracy around the world. It was formally established in New York in 1941 to promote the struggle against fascism. Currently, Freedom House publishes an annual report on new media freedom, Freedom on the Net, which reaches critical audiences in the tech world and in policy circles. Freedom House analysts regularly issue interpretive assessments on repressive techniques employed by leading autocracies, including China, Turkey, and Russia.)
Authoritarianism uses and abuses people. It destroys human freedom to think, to act, and tolive. It manipulates people and often destroys the “undesirables.”
The historical Jesus stressed that human greatness is based on compassion and service. His authority was used to motivate and guide people, to heal, support, and call to conversion. Some “Christian leaders” still don’t get the message.
In the United States, “Trumpism” has become an authoritarian cult based on DJT’s persona. Contemporary Republican extremists have paralyzed the government in the midst of an unusually dangerous time. The 2024 U.S. presidential election will be significant to the the least.
Contemporary cultural change and human migration make some observers anxious and fearful. They feel threatened. They neither hear nor understand the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Instead they prefer to circle their wagons, or build their walls, to protect “us against them.” In ignorance, fear, and anxiety they surrender to the exaggerated rhetoric and growing influence of authoritarian leaders. This is becoming a contemporary leadership problem. “Leaders” who should be be trusted for wisdom, intelligence, and humanitarian service are becoming hard-nosed autocrats, surrendering to the psychological and mental disorder of authoritarianism.
Honesty and integrity are replaced by self-promoting deceit and dishonesty. Self-centered authoritarians are self-stroking and need to feel good. Life for them boils down to what one can get and what one can get away with. Life is jungle warfare in a world of lazy and evil “losers.”
Creeping authoritarianism is becoming a destructive and sinister social virus that shows itself in increased racial violence, increased anti-Semitism, extreme political and social polarization, and the rise of militant Neo-Nazi groups.
Authoritarian “leaders” can only succeed because because authoritarian followers applaud and support them.
Much more so than the average person, authoritarian followers go through life with impaired thinking. Their reasoning is often sloppy and based on prejudiced beliefs and a fierce dogmatism, that rejects evidence and logic.
Cognitive defects in authoritarian followers enable them to follow any would-be dictator. As Hitler reportedly said,“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”
So what does one do?
- Well, we must first of all acknowledge that authoritarian followers are extremely resistant to change. The more one learns about authoritarianism, the more one realizes how difficult it will be to reach people who are so ferociously aggressive and fiercely defensive. Polarization is now extreme and deeply rooted.
- We need to educate and promote, starting at home with little children, a balanced education: (1) handing on authentic information, (2) teaching people where to find correct information, and (3) giving people the skills to be well-informed critical thinkers.
- Our Christian communities, more than ever, must become, in the Spirit of Christ, compassionate gatherings of multicultural, multi-ethnic, and all-gender, supportive friends.
- We need to courageously speak out and we need to help other people courageously speak out.
- If something is wrong or something is untrue, people need to strongly and clearly state that it is wrong or untrue.
- Those who courageously speak out need the strong support of friends gathered around them. Going alone is increasingly difficult if not impossible in our cyber-linked world.
- We need to be on guard, as well, that we do not become promoters of polarization and vicious partisanship. We need to learn how to work together for the common good.
- As Jesus said in Matthew (chapter 12): “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”
PS A helpful book is The Global Rise of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century, edited by Berch Berberoglu, Copyright 2021.