Equality and the overall social and economic condition of any country stem from leadership. There is no such thing as a perfect, utopian, government; however, institutions such as a democracy or the republic, as we see in the United States, have come closer than any of their dictatorial ancestors. Our democratic republic has established a system in which leaders and officials are chosen, directly or indirectly, by the people. The ideology a leadership candidate spreads must be appealing to many of the general public in order for to succeed in gaining such a position of power. Be that as it may, throughout history there have existed numerous examples of autocracies; systems of government in which there exists one supreme ruler or a few people with total control. No doubt, the allure of leading peoples (that, invariably, gives way to the fatal attraction of having power), has always corrupted the minds of aspiring leaders throughout our history. Where democracy creates a people’s’ choice, autocracy diminishes its importance and, in turn, its existence. In cases of dictatorship, or autocracy, one may see a running trend of despotism and destruction.
According to Berggren, “Autocracy is when one person rules over another… the autocrat has all power and makes the rules and laws that govern everyone else”(Berggren 84). Adolf Hitler and King Louis XVI were autocratic leaders, all monarchs in their right. By doing the proper research, one may find that what these demagogues left as their legacy were poverty, bloodshed, war, and a weak country. Thus, as the evidence I present will show, autocracy is an abominable means of government, and an abominable means to an end in any significant use, on any scale. Autocracy is often validated as a means to grasp military power, and, consequently, an end to be maintained through military power. As a political system or otherwise, autocracy cannot be justified. For countries today in the Middle East, which slaughtered millions upon millions of innocent people, continue to prove that autocracy as a form of government is notorious for failure.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir that exemplifies autocratic parenting in a satirical fashion, signifies the wrongdoing of parents that maltreat their children in order to achieve perfection. In the book, the author, Amy Chua, tells her parenting story, providing a strict foundation for her children. She worked her children hard to get everything from housework to piano perfected. In one anecdote she presents in her book, she tells of how she forced her young daughter to learn an incredibly difficult piece on the piano, Little White Donkey, and had her “work right through dinner”(Chua 77), and “threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years”(Chua 78) if she didn’t get it right. She also describes calling her children ‘garbage’ to motivate them, partly due to her father’s usage of the word against her.
The extent of her abuse led her to working through dinner’ and not allowing her to “get up, not for water, not even for bathroom breaks.”(Chua, 190) After her writing of the memoir, she explained that the book was satirical, and she didn’t expect many families to follow through with the parenting policies presented, as she apparently believed that a child’s “self-esteem” (194) was the most important aspect of their person. I agree, from personal experience, I can attest that it is semi-strict parenting that is most effective. The parenting that Chua presents in her book is unsustainable and leads to a child’s insecurity and lack of interpersonal relationships. In my experience, I was raised to learn to do my chores, to work for my education to benefit myself, not to make my parents proud, and to persevere in everything that I put myself to do. However, I was not abused by my parents; I was not subject to parental autocracy. Chua’s children were; it’s sickening to hear her describe her abuse as “satire” (176) and even more so to see her critics, such as one from the Wall Street Journal, praise her parenting style. Autocracy in parenting is just as unacceptable as that in government, as they both preach the same message; People should be controlled, manipulated to their will, lack freedom, in a successful government.
I can attest to the evils of autocracy from my personal experience with education. The autocracy of many (not all) teachers over their students limit free thought and encourage and enforce obedience in pupils ostensibly training in thought application. This leads to insecurity and lack of focus during class. Recently, I spoke with classmates from high school and spoke to a select few teachers that practiced autocracy with their teaching. Rather than encourage their students to incorporate what they were interested in into their curriculum, they dismissed them, and gave them bad grades for ‘not following instructions.’ For example, if a student wanted to speak after a lecture, arguing against the teacher’s partisan beliefs, the teacher would ask them to stop disrespecting them. This lack of freedom of thought or speech exemplifies one of the first experiences many people have with autocracy outside of a home. On a higher level, Common Core Standards, and high school graduation requirements are prime examples of autocracy. Forcing students to engage heavily in the certain curriculum they may be less prone to succeed in leads to lack of success, and lack of motivation to do well. If a student loves English, loves writing essays, there should be an alternative curriculum in which the student only takes classes that they will utilize in college and beyond in that subject. I was that student; I aced my AP English and Social Studies courses because I knew how to and loved writing; However, I performed poorly in my Mathematics and Science courses, as I was dispassionate about them. Conversely, I knew many people that succeeded and loved studying science and doing the math, yet found no interest in writing creatively or studying historical events. Autocracy in the education system leads to increased rate of poverty dropout, unemployment, and even suicide. Not being able to follow one’s passion leads to unhappiness and depression, the resultant of emotional and mental captivity-autocracy.
Many corporations function like an autocratic government. There are CEO’s, owners, and executives that exploit their workers and pay them very little comparatively to themselves. While a CEO may make six or seven figures, an accountant may barely make enough to sustain themselves. The extent of this control is illuminated by the usage of unethical, illegal child labor. A top level executive may choose to move production of goods to China in order to reduce production cost and therefore the retail price of their goods to attain higher sales. However, this decision may relieve hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of people of their careers. The workers have no voice to fight back against minimal wages and benefits, no vacation time, and unethical corporate decisions. Their only voice, the union, is slowly fading away due to their condemnation and bad reputation has given by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The autocracy leadership being practiced by business owners and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) is unacceptable because it can result in poor working conditions and mistreatment of employees (Nayab 56). A relatively recent example would be Leona Helmsley of the Helmsley Hotel Chain; before she was imprisoned for tax evasion, she treated people like absolute garbage -fodder. Her cruelty led her to “fire on the spot a secretary daring to use the Helmsley Palace dry cleaner to remove an accidental spill on her clothing, even though she had worked diligently for eight years”(Nayab 56). Her autocratic leadership and perfectionist personality led to the economic success of her company, which is little to sacrifice for decent working conditions. Fortunately, in the United States, most of this exploitation is nonexistent due to governmental regulations. However, these are regulations that may soon be undone by our current president. This corporation autocracy can be more explicitly seen in third-world countries or countries with more conservative tendencies.
Autocracy is consistent and similar throughout systems both large and small. A contemporary example of autocratic rule (on the macro statist scale) is the states that compose the Arab League. Of the twenty-two members, a resounding nineteen find themselves under the rule of a few oil barons and divine right monarchies (for example, the Al Saud monarchy in Saudi Arabia). Even though Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the Arab League and number thirty-ninth world largest economy, in terms of growth domestic product (GDP), her citizens are not prosperous and happy as many people may think (Joshi 6). Saudi Arabia has restricted civil liberties which take away the right and freedom of citizens. According to Joshi (6), political and religious freedoms do not exist in the Saudi Arabia, and the authority is consistently violating even women’s rights and other human rights.
The Saudi monarchy has utilized Islamic law to deprive their citizens of many freedoms, as examples; the mandate is requiring non-Muslim women to wear veils and the driving ban on women. The 2015 United States Department of State’s Human Rights Report for Saudi Arabia states that “human rights problems reported included: a lack of equal rights for children and noncitizen workers; abuses of detainees; overcrowding in prisons and detention centers; a lack of judicial independence and transparency that manifested itself in denial of due process and arbitrary arrest and detention; investigating, detaining, prosecuting, and sentencing lawyers, human rights activists, and anti-[-]government reformists; holding political prisoners; and arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence”(State 1).
For such a wealthy nation, this is an incredibly long and worrying list of problems; one that someone might expect to see in a third world country. Another country in the Arab League, Libya, which is ranked fifty-ninth world economy, in terms of growth domestic product (GDP), it faces a similar situation. Libyan government considers itself to be a democratic-led government, which one expect the government to practice, civil liberty, respect the human rights, have free and fair elections and have a government of the people with the people. These do not exist in Libya. As stated by U.S. State Department (21), Libyans are the frustrated and some of the unhappy citizens in the Middles East due to constant harassment and lack of basic human needs such as clear water and proper medication. The new government has failed implement various reforms in the government and protect citizens’ rights and freedoms as expected. It is obvious the demise of former leader Muammar el-Qaddafi did not bring any hope and excitement as many people thought; Libyans continue to suffer at the hands of their government. “Hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers, including children, who flock to Libya mostly en route to Europe, experience torture, sexual assault and forced labor at the hands of prison guards, members of the coast guard forces and smugglers.”(Libya 3)
The sickening idea that people fleeing from already-violent countries travel through Libya searching for peace, only to be exploited, raped, and murdered, provides a compelling case for democracy. These autocratic governments in the Arab League suffice to provide strong examples of how autocracy can only lead to misery.
In Ji-li Jiang’s autobiographical novel, Red Scarf Girl, the autocratic government of Mao Zedong is exemplified with her tale of ambition and tragedy. She grows up with a father who is considered a ‘rightist’ (someone on the right side of the political spectrum), and a mom who is a landlord. Mao Zedong persecuted over a half a million so-called ‘rightists’ during the Cultural Revolution, and Jiang’s father vehemently denied being one. Moreover, being a landlord meant persecution because, in Zedong’s new communist (aptly named Maoist) regime, the land was to be held and ‘equally distributed’ by the government to the ‘people’; owning private land was intolerable. Because of her parents’ political status, Jiang’s ability to pursue greatness in education was greatly limited: her peers and everybody around her would never let her achieve anything knowing of her background.
She “dreamed of being an actress, holding bunches of flowers, bowing again and again to answer curtain calls” (Jiang 30); however, because of Mao’s autocratic socialism, she doubted she would ever see those dreams come to pass. Mao’s society attempted to get rid of the “four olds’, old culture, customs, old habits, and old ideas; essentially limiting, if not completely dismissing outright, the idea of his peoples having any individual free thought. In Jiang’s autobiography, she states that “we (Jiang and her peers) heard (on the radio) about the need to end the evil and pernicious influences of the “Four Olds”: old ideas, old culture, customs, and old habits. Chairman Mao told us we would never succeed at building a strong socialist country until we destroyed the “Four Olds” and established the “Four News.” “(Jiang 40). Jiang informs the audience how the government is supposedly taking advantage of the ignorance of youth. Jiang describes herself as ‘patriotic’ throughout the novel. Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, one of many small revolutions and revolts that managed to overthrow the old Chinese government in favor a more perfect and equal one, as exemplified in Red Scarf Girl, was a failure; it deprived civilians of their freedom of expression, individual will, personal choice, exploited children, and tried to grasp total control over political and religious beliefs.
Joseph Stalin’s political career is stained with his slaughtering of approximately sixteen million Soviet citizens. He led one of the most infamous autocratic governments of all time, the Soviet Union. Similar to Mao Zedong’s China, Stalin’s Soviet Union embraced collectivization and socialism. Consequently, the government’s collectivization policies led to citizens being unable to feed themselves through normal means. For example, many citizens had their livestock slaughtered and used in the cultivation of wheat. This caused one of the greatest famines known as “artificial famine,” which claimed the lives of millions of innocent people between 1932 -1933.
Adolf Hitler was the catalyst of the Holocaust, which killed six million Jewish people. His supreme control was corrupt. King Louis XVI left his people in poverty and catalyzed one of the bloodiest revolutions of all time. Mussolini manipulated his people to hear the false siren of fascism. Autocracy, through practice, is merely the practice of state control over the thoughts and actions of its citizens. In that, autocracy is a civic concept, as opposed to a political or ideological one. Autocracy transcends politics, but it also consumes them. It is not a reality that exists merely through the actions of a Nazi regime or a communist dictatorship – it is not right or left leaning. This intrinsic, a partisan nature is partly what makes autocracy so frightening to both the historian and the civilian; despite the party in power at any given moment, left unchecked; states are always at a degree of risk for autocracy. Thus, individuals are advised to check the power of their nation, and never to become blind to radicalism.
In summary, autocracy is an unnecessary evil. Perhaps if we were all hive-minded beings, autocracy would work. Autonomy will always prevail over autocracy so long as humans remain human. Humans require humane treatment to be motivated, to be individually happy and successful, not just economically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There are no alternatives. The failures of autocratic governments in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Saudi Arabia, Mao’s China and present-day China, France, and numerous others lead to countless deaths and unjustifiable suffering. What is education besides a means to a career? And if one isn’t happy being educated, how will they ever be happy in their supposed ‘life-long’ career choice? Corporate Autocracy may produce economic success, but to what avail? Who wants to work in such an environment? There is no happiness in autocracy. One must have the freedom of choice to attain happiness. Without autonomy, without being able to speak one’s mind, the world cannot turn without suffering from autocracy.
“Where there is little or no public opinion, there is likely to be bad government, which sooner or later becomes autocratic government.“
William Lyon Mackenzie King.
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