Democracy vs Autocracy

by Barbara Head, March 31, 2022. In February, Russia brutally invaded Ukraine, in part to replace their democracy with Russian autocracy. As we witness the fierce bravery of the Ukrainians in defense of their homeland and freedom, we cannot help but reflect upon our own situation here at home. Our own democracy of nearly 250 years is at risk. Recent events have made it shockingly clear that major factions in our government are plotting to replace our democracy with autocracy. And we are not alone in our peril. Over the past year, 60 countries became less free, while only 25 improved HCR 3/10/22.  

Oligarchs everywhere want to convince the world that democracy is in decline and that autocracy is the wave of the future! Putin’s view is that democracy has outlived its usefulness, while Chinese president Xi Jinping believes that democracies cannot respond to a complex and changing world. Biden himself said in 2021, “Things are changing so rapidly in the world… the question is: In a democracy as genius as ours, can you get consensus in the timeframe that can compete with autocracy?” HCR 3/10/22.    

For all the efficiency of autocracy, it is self-serving and inevitably works against the people it rules. Autocracy can only be sustained when opposing viewpoints are repressed and disinformation fed to the population. Those who rule become corrupt. As the old adage goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

From the viewpoint of autocrats, democracy is weak and inefficient. Democratic leaders are chosen after lengthy discourse when all voices will be heard. The process takes time and is partisan by nature. How inconvenient, from the totalitarian perspective!

Yet across the globe, democracy remains more popular than autocracy. People do not have to be forced to fight and die for democracy, they do it because of their strong beliefs in what it represents and because self-determinism is a basic human need. People do not take to the streets, and risk being jailed or shot, to demand authoritarianism. But you have to ask, if democracy is so popular, how can it be under threat in the U.S. now? And what can we do to help ensure that democracy will win out over autocracy, here and across the globe?

Human Rights Watch, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization, suggests that the best way to buttress democracy is by making sure our democratic leaders do a better job meeting the challenges of global leadership: climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, poverty and inequality, racial injustice, and threats from modern technology HRW News, HWR Kenneth Roth. First and foremost, our elected officials need to hear from us, daily if necessary. We need to write, call, text, demonstrate, and let them know what they need to do to make the world a better and safer place for all of us. We need to speak loudly — through the voices of millions of voters — so our leaders can hear us more clearly. We need to show the world that our system works, and that it works while preserving basic human rights to self-determinism. This affirmation, more than anything, will help to ensure the global ascendency of democracy over autocracy.