Autocracy is Dead
Thomas Hobbes once argued that the inherently lawless state of nature breeds war and unrest. In Leviathan, his most famous exploration of government, he equates freedom with violent anarchy, and asserts that peaceful coexistence can be preserved only under the austere watch and stern fist of an authoritarian rule; deemed the commonwealth, a people must surrender their freedoms to a “man” or “assembly of men” in order to ensure their personal security.
In nearly every historical case, it has appeared that Hobbes was correct in assuming that good governance is most naturally attained by means of autocracy. While dictators are not always popular with their people, they do ensure order, a staple of successful governance. As was often said about Benito Mussolini, “He made the trains run on time.” But a recent wave of protest in the Middle East suggests that the validity of Hobbes’ assertions is fading.
Perhaps a strong central authority does not most naturally maintain order, but rather it has appeared that way because, thus far, every regime has been fashioned faster than its society could be built. Thus, leaders have always been able to tame their disorganized citizenry by quickly isolating and crushing any and all opposition to their rule. In a world where communication is instantaneous and evermore ubiquitous, however – where a nation can be uprooted in a matter of days – the concept of a Hobbesian commonwealth appears increasingly artificial. Technology has changed the dynamic of societal development, and in doing so, has exposed people’s true tendencies. Good governance is most naturally attained by means of democracy. Autocracy is dead.
When Wael Ghonim, the famed Google executive turned forerunner of the Egyptian revolution, tweeted “Freedom is a bless that deserves fighting for it” his country erupted. Already a distinguished leader in the uprising, he had just been released from government custody when he manifested a revolution on his Blackberry. Before President Mubarak could react, his entire country was overtaken by an unyielding and omnipresent drive for freedom, and unlike the countless tyrants before him, he could not sever the rebellion. The rebellion was everywhere, and so Mubarak was dethroned in eighteen days. It is only a matter of time, however, before every autocracy is tumbled by the overwhelming force of freedom. Indeed, the drive for democracy is bolstered by technology, and thus, it transcends borders.
Just days after Mubarak was unseated, Bahrain, a small country on the Arabian Peninsula fell into unrest. News of the successful Egyptian protests went viral, and the once damned people of another oppressive regime were given hope. Thousands took to the streets in what would become a violent rebellion against dictatorship, and after the Bahraini army opened fire on a crowd of protesters, the cries for freedom only amplified. King Hamad of Bahrain will not be able to subdue the will of his people, and neither will the stubborn leaders of revolting Libya, Yemen, Iran, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Djibouti, Algeria, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, or Palestine. People want freedom, and it is becoming evermore apparent that the Hobbesian commonwealth is disappearing.
But then again, the Hobbesian commonwealth never existed. People were never willing to surrender their liberties to a dictator. It only appeared that way because they weren’t given the choice. Hobbes could have never known that communications technology would one day expose the true foundation of good governance – one that does not restrict freedom, but rather, embraces it. Rulers will no longer be able to isolate and extinguish dissent; freedom was made viral, and so autocracy is dead.