the authoritarian is not your friend

Okay, I get it. Politics is messy and sometimes too convoluted and shifty to grasp without giving yourself a migraine. We've all bee...


Okay, I get it. Politics is messy and sometimes too convoluted and shifty to grasp without giving yourself a migraine. We've all been there. I keep essential oils on hand just for that reason. But that's what makes it even more important to try! And there are simple ways for all of us to conceptually navigate the static. This is one of the majors: understanding the concept of authoritarianism. 

Perhaps you remember the linear model from school where liberalism was on the left, conservatism was on the right, and the only extremes you ever really learned about were the commies and the king. But this is hardly helpful in today's society. We have no king and to most people communism is no more threatening than a hippie farm that's really far away. Better to visualize the growing divide between liberal and conservative, and also the divisions amongst liberals and the divisions amongst conservatives. This is the political quandary where most of us live: whether you have a million republican presidential candidates to choose from or two provincial "conservative" parties to sort out. 

So let's imagine, instead of a linear line, an axis. You have your left and your right, but you also have another bar of measurement running from top to bottom: authoritarian versus libertarian. This bar indicates whether an individual prefers a heavy government hand in managing and enforcing whatever social and fiscal policies are in play, or whether he or she prefers less government and social and fiscal policies that leave people to their own devices.



You may easily guess where a liberal or a conservative personally stands on issues like taxes, immigration, abortion, gay marriage, bail outs, borders, and foreign policy. But what matters just as much, if not more, is how they legislate these issues - or don't legislate them.

The authoritarian believes he can and should legislate everything including morality - or in other words create laws that limit how people can act, speak and think for the good of all. And it's not enough for an authoritarian to just make the laws, he needs you to agree with them. This is why authoritarians don't take criticism well. They are okay with shutting down discourse, limiting the media, and penalizing people who think differently. It's authoritarian liberals who punish the bakery that refuses to cater a gay wedding. It's authoritarian conservatives who punish sodomy. The authoritarian believes it is his job to make your lives better according to his own personal judgement. The authoritarian thinks of himself as the only one who can save the nation. The authoritarian is the man with the plan for you.

The libertarian spurns government involvement that isn't necessary. He believes in less regulation, smaller bureaucracy, and more personal responsibility of the individual. He is not going to make laws that support his personal beliefs, but rather laws that protect the right to any belief. He is more interested by nature in free speech, privacy, and equality. The libertarian liberal and the libertarian conservative can sound very much alike because while they have different views on various issues, they all believe in the rights of the individual. They all rage against political correctness and government interference. The libertarian believes it is his job to keep you free. The libertarian is the man to free you up to make your own plans.

Now before you go nuts plotting everyone you know on this handy dandy graphic, you must understand that an individual cannot jump around absolutely anywhere because there are certain realities that apply. The further to the left you go, the more authoritarian you must be as your preferred form of government gets bigger. The further to the right you go, the more libertarian you must be as your preferred form of government gets smaller. But there is a lot of room around the crossroads for the vast majority of people who consider themselves to be closer to center.

It's fairly simple to plot any political leader on this axis by considering their words and also their deeds. This can be helpful in determining who is really acting in your best interest. The clearest example I can think of is Mr. Donald Trump. People are running in frantic circles trying to figure out where he actually stands. Whether or not you believe Trump is in reality a conservative at all, he is purporting to support conservative principles now, at least for the moment. But he is also hugely...or should I say yugely...authoritarian. It's his way or the highway and while you hear him speaking at length about what deal he can make, who's hand he can force, and how strong he is, you never hear him defend actual liberty. Trump wants to be boss. So Trump measures somewhere barely to the right, but way up in the authoritarian quadrant as shown by the purple circle on the axis.

Let's consider a few more.
Canada's Justin Trudeau measures far left, and high authoritarian, as one can expect from the liberal establishment. 
Our former PM, Steven Harper, was not very far to the right, nor very far into the libertarian quadrant, but closer to moderate. 
Alberta's Rachel Notley is practically shooting off the authoritarian scale, as is American hopeful Bernie Sanders. You don't get any more leftist authoritarian in the free world than socialism.
Ted Cruz is probably the US candidate furthest into the libertarian/conservative quadrant (now that Rand Paul is out of the running).
There are no libertarian liberal candidates anywhere that I know of, but an increasing number of celebrities, especially comedians (Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, etc) have been "coming out" in recent months to the left, but on the libertarian side, to decry censorship and political correctness.

Calling left and right isn't enough anymore. Anyone can claim to be liberal or conservative and that can mean a great variety of things when it comes to policy. What you also need to know about a candidate for any position of authority is where they would settle on the authoritarian to libertarian scale because that will tell you how that candidate will approach all policy - from a position of government-knows-best or one of individual rights and responsibilities.

If what matters most to you is liberty, then a libertarian liberal would be better than an authoritarian conservative. A libertarian conservative would be better than an authoritarian liberal. There is a bottom line in any political contest: how much power your candidate is willing to forego in order to maintain liberty, human rights, and equality. 

Of course it's important to discuss specific issues in an election, and at all times when policy is being made and laws written, but the key thing to remember is that authoritarianism kills liberty, no matter what the grand ideological intention may be. 



Talking Points:

Authoritarians legislate according to their own judgement.
Libertarians legislate to allow you to make your own judgement.
The further to the left you go, the more authoritarian you must become.
The further to the right you go, the more libertarian you must become.
Many liberals and conservatives can be either authoritarian or libertarian.

Questions to Ask:

Does this candidate believe they are personally responsible for the success of the nation?
Does this candidate call for more or less regulation and bureaucracy?
Does this candidate speak of constitutional rights and responsibilities?
Does this candidate inflict punishment or censure on any opposition or differing views?
Will this candidate make me more free or less free?

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