Wednesday, June 13, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

A running joke that I have with my students is that someday I am going to write a book entitled Authoritarianism for Dummies. Usually I note this when speaking about a key move that all military coup leaders have to make, which is, when taking power, declare that the military is taking power to “save democracy”–never mind the fact that they are taking power in an extralegal manner. Later,they are supposed to make sure and hold a referendum that confirms their democratic bona fides (see, for example, Augusto Pinochet or, more recently, Pervez Musharraf).

At any rate, in reading this AP piece on Hugo Chávez’s visit to Castro (Castro a key influence for Chavez [Ya don't say?-Ed.]) , I noted this quote, which needs to go into the chapter of rhetoric for aspiring authoritarians:

“Democracy is government of the people,” Chavez said. “I think if we’re going to compare the extent of power that the people have, without a doubt Cuba is more of a democracy than the United States.”

“In Cuba there is no child that isn’t in school, no sick person who isn’t tended to,” Chavez said.

Whenever “democracy” is defined as power of the people, yet for the power of the people to be executed, the institutional arrangement is the ongoing concentration of power in the hands of the executive and his allies, that isn’t democracy except in the same way that the German Democratic Republic (i.e., East Germany) was a democracy (not that Venezuela has reached the same level of authoritarian as Soviet-era East Germany).

Indeed, the reference to East Germany inspires another possible chapter for the book, or at least a sub-section: how to name your country if you want to be a hardcore authoritarian.

But, I digress.

Also, in regards to education and health care, their presence does not confirm the presence of democracy. And we won’t get into the education and health care that dissidents have received over the years.

There was also this quote from the piece that I thought was noteworthy:

Chavez dismissed accusations he wants to hold lifelong power, and said he faces serious threats of being killed, just like Castro.

“Can someone who is threatened with death have plans to be in power forever, knowing that any error could be fatal?” Chavez said, driving along a country road in southern Venezuela in a route he kept secret for security reasons.

An interesting distinction is being made here by Chávez–he isn’t claiming to want power forever, being mortal and all. However, the quote in question hardly denies that he wants to be in power for life, especially when he says thing like this:

“We’re in the middle of building it, like an artist painting a picture,” Chavez said.

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8 Responses to “Authoritarianism for Dummies”

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    1. Jan Says:

      See, he’s just proving that he’s not like Mao, who thought he would live forever. ;)

    2. Jay Says:

      That would be a most excellent spoof book, but I bet the “for Dummies” publishers have some kind of a trademark on the use of “for Dummies” in book titles (not to mention the yellow and black look and feel). Much like you would not get far if you opened a burger joint and named it McTaylor’s, or created a new cranberry blend drink and called it Cran-Huckleberry, or that sort of thing.

      Still, naming challenge aside, that could be great fun.

    3. Chris Lawrence Says:

      You need a corollary chapter on “Counter-Authoritarianism For Dummies.” My suggestion: opposition parties should never boycott a democratic election, particularly when faced with an opponent who already has documented evidence of (a) having no shame and/or (b) anti-democratic behavior.

      Has an election boycott ever worked in a pro-democratic direction in human history, even in a strongly democratic country? I’m at a loss for an example offhand.

    4. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

      A valid suggestion, Chris.

      I agree: boycotts rarely, if ever, achieve their goals. And I can’t think of an example where a boycott worked, either.

      Perhaps Matthew can suggest one.

    5. MSS Says:

      Wow, my eyes must have been burning or something. I don’t know why I had opened this thread again. Looked at it earlier (pre-Chris), considered a comment, decided not to…

      It just so happens that I sat on the dissertation committee for a student who wrote on boycotts. Yes, some of them do achieve their aims. Two cases that come immediately to mind would be the Dominican Republic (PRD boycott led to subsequent electoral reforms) and Jamaica. There are also quite a few cases where the mere threat led to concessions. And, of course, a threat isn’t credible if you aren’t willing to carry it out, so some of them are going to lead to actual boycotts, and then the bargaining shifts to a different arena.

      The recent Thai boycott might yet prove to be a success. It certainly succeeded in undermining Thaksin. Of course, the opposition wasn’t counting on a coup. But there is a process of restoring democracy underway (apparently).

      Another recent example would be Peru, 2024. When Toledo boycotted the runoff against Fujimori it led rather quickly to the unraveling of Fujimori and a new election, won by Toledo.

      So, yes, boycotts can be effective at times.

      Anyway, what I was going to mention is that there is a book by Lutwak (sp?) called something like Coup: A practical handbook.

    6. james Says:

      It isn’t 100% relevant to your post, but I’m going to have to post a link, because these guys pretty much repeat my thoughts on the treatment of Chavez, while doing so much better than I ever could.

      They are not really “pro-Chavez” as such, rather they point out certain “inconsistencies” in the corporate press. I think they have a point – one that should be taken into consideration.


    7. james Says:

      I would be especially grateful if you could tell me your thoughts on the final section of the above article (Genuine Attacks On Free Speech That Go Unnoticed) if you have time, also because they mention Columbia and Uribe.

    8. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

      I will give it a look.

      However, I suspect that we are going to continue to have divergent view of Hugo Chavez. I look at the manner in which he has moved to consolidate power and the way in which he uses rhetoric and it is quite clear that he is attempting to remain in the Presidency of Venezuela for a very, very long time.

      And really, the RCTV business is not my main reason for saying that–not by a longshot.

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