Is Modern America an Authoritarian State?

Oppressive states of America (taken from TV Tropes)

Oppressive States of America (taken from TV Tropes)

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Look at those two final lines. They’re an obvious question, but normally, it’s sung like a statement. Let us consider the question, though: Is the answer yes or no?

Of course the answer is no! We’re not Venezuela or Cuba with their bargain-basement socialist “economies” — we have free enterprise. We’re not China or Vietnam with their censored press that mandates that you roll over for the Communist Party like a dog — we have a free press and the right to free speech. And you can bet your bottom dollar that we’re not lawless Zimbabwe or Somalia — in this country, we have the rule of law and the right to a fair trial, not arbitrary nonsense based on crazy delusions and passing fancy. And unlike North Korea, we’re not some one-party state; we have a democracy, where we can vote for our leaders. Even with our weakened economy, quality of life in this country is pretty good; our conditions have not reached the desperate level in places like the above-listed countries.

I’d leave it at that, but that does not tell anywhere near the complete story.

Our system of “free enterprise” is a highly regulated mess of alphabet soup agencies that all want their cut of the taxpayer dollars and block out any aspiring Horatio Algers; on top of that, fully one-fourth of people require permission from the government to do their jobs.

As for our free speech rights, yes, the government keeps its nose out of things (but not always — ask the Tea Party about the IRS sometime) but the private sector has stepped in to fulfill that role; the widely-used Twitter and Facebook social networks scrub unfavorable political speech at random, and politicized mobs often hound risk-averse employers into firing those who dissent from the (usually progressive) party line, a line which grows more stringent with each passing day.

SWAT teams are overused for nonviolent offenses, the police seizing assets without a conviction, and the high cost of good legal representation make our notions of law a sad joke. What good is the right to a fair trial when you’re forced out of your home by men in military gear, crammed into a cage on exaggerated charges, and forced to sign a plea bargain declaring your guilt?

And lastly, our two-party system is actually a one-party system in disguise, since no one can vote out the Republican or Democratic parties; the election system perfectly defends against third parties by splitting the vote, so the established parties can always rely on each other to be there, as can any influencers who want power in Washington. There’s no need to outlaw opposing parties if they have absolutely no chance of gaining significant federal offices.

Given these constraints — and many, many others — one can argue that the United States of America is an authoritarian state, perhaps the most efficient one in the world. It avoids most overt displays of political repression by letting overzealous private citizens punish dissidents, and any police brutality that is seen is explained away by as either an isolated incident or human error. To top it all off, the citizenry feels as if they have a genuine voice, but they really don’t.

However, I believe that the United States is not yet over the line, because the repressive machine has holes in it that don’t exist in Cuba, China, or similar places.

Local governments can reduce some regulatory burdens, and different states have different policies; this doesn’t end all regulation (especially federal), but it can ease the burden a bit. Not all employers are politically correct, and the outrage mobs rarely become violent. Police can be filmed, and it goes a long way toward keeping them honest.

These holes, these open spaces, allow groups of private citizens to peacefully call for political and social change. Still, it requires unwavering commitment to actually make a dent in the USA’s emerging totalitarian state. Once the line of open authoritarianism is crossed, the great American experiment will be over for good, and it will end badly not just for us, but for the whole world.

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11 Responses to Is Modern America an Authoritarian State?

  1. Alex says:

    First, congrats on the new website!

    Second, you raise an interesting question, and I can’t say that I disagree with you. The U.S. is the greatest civilization ever created if you ask me, so this is not a knock on America. I contend that pretty much any society is authoritarian to a degree. The difference between us and most other societies is that we have an escape valve called the Constitution. We are very lucky that we have this.

    Most of America’s problems are self-inflicted. The government usually acts with the noblest of intentions (until recently, I would say, but that’s another argument entirely), but often does more harm than good. There are certain things Uncle Sam does really well, and other things that I think should be left to the States and local municipalities.

    Government is what it is. I think the U.S.–along with Britain, for the most part–have come closest to striking the best balance between authoritarianism and anarchy. A government with good intentions can still be totalitarian, after all.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      The difference between us and most other societies is that we have an escape valve called the Constitution. We are very lucky that we have this.

      I agree on this point. Furthermore, we see the Constitution as more than a legal document; we see it as an expression of America’s very character.

      Most of America’s problems are self-inflicted. The government usually acts with the noblest of intentions (until recently, I would say, but that’s another argument entirely), but often does more harm than good. There are certain things Uncle Sam does really well, and other things that I think should be left to the States and local municipalities.

      Indeed. Even anti-terror measures intended to protect innocent Americans go horribly awry at times. It provides further proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      Government is what it is. I think the U.S.–along with Britain, for the most part–have come closest to striking the best balance between authoritarianism and anarchy.

      And we are lucky to have it this way. It would be hard to redo it over again.

  2. Alex says:

    It would be VERY hard to do it all over again. That’s why I’m so glad that this freedom-versus-control fight is happening now, and hasn’t yet devolved into actual fighting (protests at Trump rallies aside).

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      It would be VERY hard to do it all over again.

      That’s God’s honest truth. This is the moment for everyone who values liberty; we see plenty of reminders of what SocJus plans to do with total control of the country.

  3. Allan Barry Laboucan says:

    An important question?! I don’t think so. Of course the US is an authoritarian state. This land is called Turtle Island by the indigenous people. For more evidence, just look at all the US nation building efforts throughout the middle east to control oil.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      This land is called Turtle Island by the indigenous people.

      Which indigenous people? The territory that became the US had several.

      For more evidence, just look at all the US nation building efforts throughout the middle east to control oil.

      Hey, I hate military adventurism as much as you do. 🙂

      • Allan Barry Laboucan says:

        The military adventurism and what was done to the indigenous people of this land make the answer to your question about the US being authoritarian clear.

        • Rawle Nyanzi says:

          The military adventurism and what was done to the indigenous people of this land make the answer to your question about the US being authoritarian clear.

          But what of the other stuff I mentioned?

          • Allan Barry Laboucan says:

            The line of open authoritarianism was crossed a long time ago.

          • Rawle Nyanzi says:

            The line of open authoritarianism was crossed a long time ago.

            That is one way to look at what I put up in my article. I would say that authoritarian tendencies in the US come more from private parties than the government.

  4. Alex says:

    “An important question?! I don’t think so. Of course the US is an authoritarian state. This land is called Turtle Island by the indigenous people. For more evidence, just look at all the US nation building efforts throughout the middle east to control oil.”

    This is one of the weakest arguments in the history of mankind. By this standard, every single nation ever to exist in the history of human civilization is an “authoritarian state.” I dare you to find me a currently existing nation-state that wasn’t formed through some form of conquest or fighting. And don’t play the race card–plenty of European, Asian, Native American, and African nations were fought between members of the same race.

    This is why we have to narrow definitions. I think that Rawle did a good job of doing so. To single out the U.S. as authoritarian is fine–in fact, I agree with you that every government, to a degree, is authoritarian–but this line of reasoning is bogus. The U.S. is far different from China or North Korea or Russia or Iran. Much-vaunted nations like Sweden, Canada, and Norway are authoritarian in their own unique way. I also defy you to find a nation that has tried more to mitigate the effects of this tendency for government overreach than the U.S. Maybe England, until the post-World War II generation.

    “The military adventurism and what was done to the indigenous people of this land make the answer to your question about the US being authoritarian clear.”

    This is apropos of nothing. I don’t think we should nation-build either, but taking out bad actors is a far cry from being an authoritarian country. Are we still running Iraq? Did we take their oil? Do we really need to re-argue these issues again?

    “The line of open authoritarianism was crossed a long time ago.”

    How? When? By whom? I think we’re getting there, but it’s a fairly recent thing, certainly not “a long time ago.” We tend to correct for terrible things such as slavery (the Civil War), racism (the Civil Rights Act and the general Civil Rights Movement), and other issues. America has problems, but I’d hardly call us an openly and egregiously authoritarian state. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen–in fact, this country’s very existence is a historical anomaly–but I could not disagree with your premise any stronger than previously expressed.

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