Posted 2 years ago on April 17, 2012, 11:39 p.m. EST by francismjenkins
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
First, why is it popular? This is a much easier question to answer than might meet the eye. When Rudy Giuliani took office in NYC back in the day, the city was by all accounts a cesspool of crime. He hired more police, adopted a "broken windows" strategy (arresting people for petty crimes), etc., and this did effectively reduce crime. So it's very easy to see why authoritarianism is popular. So the question is, why is it bad?
In theory, if we became a totalitarian society, we could probably reduce crime to somewhere near zero. In other words, given enough police, enough prisons, harsh enough tactics in dealing with crime, etc., the state can effectively reduce crime.
Most people will scorn the idea that we're an authoritarian society, but really authoritarianism can sort of sneak up on a society (and it is sneaking up on our society). Some people might argue with my assessment of Giuliani's track record when it comes to reducing crime (or at least the underlying reasoning). They'll point to demographic trends, but in truth studies have shown that his tactics were effective (it's very easy to account for demographics in a statistical study).
However, the most profound reason why authoritarianism is bad (I think), is because all it does is mask decay. In fact, it can mask it so well that we could go on for decades under the mistaken belief that everything is just fine. But then we wake up one day and discover that replacing education with prison cells has real consequences. Suddenly, we're a society that lacks the intellectual acumen to compete. All of our trading partners, who at one time were buried under the rubble of WWII, are now advanced societies with remarkably well educated people. We took our status for granted, we tossed our problems in a closet, or more aptly, a prison cell (and pretended they didn't exist), and so here we are (in a very unenviable situation).
Given this, the merits of participatory democracy should be obvious. When everyone is talking to each other, deliberating about problems, trying to imagine new solutions to very challenging circumstances, we become transparent, our problems unmasked, and we peel back the layers of obfuscation we've piled on top of our society. But this does (in my view) require a more sophisticated outlook. Most people default to a very crude analysis of cause and effect.