Sunday, June 22, 2008

Democracy and Dictatorship

Like most people, my immediate reaction to Pound's support for fascism was to let it count against the former. My "kulchural studies", however, have led me in another direction. At this point, I am willing to let Pound's support for fascism count in favour of the latter. As always, I want to emphasize that I'm exploring a line of thinking. My mind is by no means made up.

My topic this morning is dictatorship. In Pound's "ABC of Economics", there is a section headed "Dictatorship as a Sign of Intelligence". Here is a striking example of something that was possible to say in 1933 that is virtually nonsense today. All the more reason to try to understand what he was saying.

"The best system of government, economically speaking, is that which best balances [products, wants and needs, transportation, and money], be it republic, monarchy, or soviet or dictatorship" (SP, p. 231). The spirit of this neutral-sounding "be it" can be found throughout Pound's pre-WWII writings. Pound, like Lewis, sees democracy as one possible form of government and dictatorship as another. Neither are to be judged on principle, but in practice.

Today we have grown used to dismissing "dictators" as illegimate rulers of nations. And yet we might find ourselves agreeing also with Mussolini's statement, quoted by Pound: "We are tired of a government in which there is no responsible person having a hind name, a front name and an address" (SP, p. 231).

It seems to me that democracies and dictatorships differ, in principle, only in the form that resistance to the state is supposed to take. Depending on who happens to be in power, citizens may have much greater freedom in a dictatorship than in a democracy. But while citizens of a democracy are expected to express their discontent mainly at the polls, in the press, in various forms of "demonstration", the citizens of a dictatorship (lacking such means of expression) must register their disapproval by direct disobedience.

That is, dictators are expected to coerce their citizens to act in accordance with their will, while the democratic populace is expected to acknowledge the legitimacy of the government in general, do as it is told (while objecting in word only), and replace the government at the next possible convenience. The two forms of government, then, differ mainly in the context they establish for "the art of being ruled" (Lewis's term).

1 comment:

jh said...

i suppose we could see the pope
as a benevolent dictator
a speaker of words
a doctor
a teacher