Ihor Zahrebelnii: authority, authoritarianism and how much power we need

The right wingers as well as wide circles of Ukrainian society are holding discussions regarding the type of government (in its broad meaning) that is best for our country. Someone may mention a “junta” and “strong hand”, others – “democracy”. Someone believes that the state should have minimal interference in the affairs of society, and others – that it should take on more responsibilities than it has today.

Authoritarianism may seem the central category of these discussions. In fact, it is an extremely conditional category, which integrates a number of different political characteristics: the degree of state’s interference in the various sectors of society, anti-crisis model of government (dictatorship) in response to an emergency situation, credibility of the political regime and the value of the state. The debate will certainly go astray if put all these points together and ask the question: Are you for or against? But it is more effective to consider these characteristics separately.

Despite popular stereotypes, it is characteristic of the right winged political philosophy to reduce state’s credentials to the necessary minimum (at least, if one considers traditionalistic principles as the basis of “right-wingedness”). Statism and expansion of the state’s credentials are the characteristic features of the left type of political development. For example, the “old order” in France had a lot of shortcomings. But its shortcomings are only the thin end of the wedge in comparison with the repercussions of the French Revolution later in 18th century. Never could absolutist monarchy imagine what the republican government (especially the Jacobin regime) allowed itself to do. The tendency of a strong state to interfere in society’s life, life of some regions, in families and individuals has been the prerogative of the left up to the present day. This tendency can be exemplified with the state’s interference in family life. Today in the West no one is surprised when the Minister of Education says that his goal is to remove parents from parenting and concentrate upbringing of the younger generation in the hands of the state. Another characteristic feature of modern statism is the desire to establish an absolute state monopoly on the use of force. That’s why the leftist governments are so intolerant to the citizens’ right to keep and bear arms. Right forces have to defend autonomy of the various structural elements of society.

As for dictatorship, in its peculiar ancient Roman sense, it is a just and necessary phenomenon. This dictatorship has nothing to do with tyranny (again, in the antique sense) or a violent anti-popular government. A dictator in ancient Rome was chosen for a short period of time. His duty was to rule effectively in times of crisis (foreign invasion, civil war, the need for rapid reforms). The logic of the institute of dictatorship is followed nowadays in cases of emergency and war time. Each mentally healthy supporter of classical liberal republic admits that during the war the concentration of power and restrictions of civil rights and freedoms are absolutely just. Dictatorship is valuable as an extraordinary form of the government, but in no case it is a normal one. It is only an instrument but not a goal. Such approach to the dictatorship can be found in classical texts of Ukrainian nationalists (e.g. Mykola Stsiborskii): dictatorship is a natural continuation of the revolution, but after solving important problems there should follow transition from dictatorship to ordinary regimen.

Finally, authority of power and value of the state. There is something transcendental in political power; there is a kind of magic in it. It is a traditional kind of perception. Some two or three hundred years ago it was evident to Europeans that rulers should be “lords by God’s blessing” rather than those who “get power from the people”. But even in the republic the necessity of the state’s authority is not rejected; here is an understanding that the government has a value that is not dependent on the quantity of citizens. Being universal, this value was expressed in various political contexts. It was present in the Roman cult of laws and military discipline, in the Christian monarchies, in Prussian love of order. It is difficult for a modern man to understand this view on authority, as the state mostly appears to be an incarnation of Leviathan, cumbersome bureaucratic mechanism. Therefore, it had less authority to interfere in society’s affairs but it was manifested in the forms shining with their greatness. A complete, organic state is not an alienated bureaucratic mechanism that dominates over society; it is a result of interaction between two forces: supreme authority and social self-organization. Such a state arises from vertical self-organization from smallest departments and craft guilds to magistrates and Parliament. On the other hand, the sociopolitical organization becomes perfect exclusively when there is a supreme sovereign power above it, and it is not emanated from society (even in the republic).

Authority cannot be replaced by authoritarianism. Unfortunately, some people don’t understand it and try to express their longing for a full-fledged political power, full of supreme value by appealing to the ideas of dictatorship and statism (as a goal, but not as an instrument). Others, on the contrary, having seen illegal proliferation of the state-Leviathan, fall into the extremes of “democracy”. Instead of it, a full-fledged right outlook should adhere to principles rather than extremes. If we formulate clear-cut guidelines and realistically analyze the possibility of their application, we will be able to create a worthy political ideal and outline ways for its implementation.

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