On Authoritarianism: Or, Theresa May in Human Rights vs. The Will Of The People.
|"Theresa May, more like Theresa Bae, amirite?" - Anon, Daily Mail.|
"When Fascism came into power, most people were unprepared, both theoretically and practically. They were unable to believe that man could exhibit such propensities for evil, such lust for power, such disregard for the rights of the weak, or such yearning for submission. Only a few had been aware of the rumbling of the volcano preceding the outbreak."
- Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom, 1942, Routledge Classics (Farrar & Rinehart)
How does a country slide into autocracy? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of authoritarianism? At what point is one allowed to be legitimately concerned about the excessive power being hoarded by those who already have far to much of it, and not be called alarmist?
We typically think that authoritarian government begins with a constitutional crisis. It continues with attacks on the judiciary. There will be a figure at the head of the government who claims to represent the will of the people. We think of the authoritarian as being unwilling to tolerate being accountable to anyone. We might think of the authoritarian ruler as being pushed on by a lust for power and aided by a reactionary press.
We think of these autocrats as being willing to invade the privacy of those they govern on the specious grounds of protecting them from some ill-defined threat, from an ill-defined other. When we think of authoritarianism, we think of secret courts and aggressive militaristic posturing. We might think of extra judicial detention centres, the scapegoating of foreigners and a contempt for constitutional conventions. But for some reason we don't consider these sufficient conditions to call a political system authoritarian when those criteria are met in our own country. Why not?
When we view an event through a historical lens, we have the benefit of seeing the events as a totality. We can therefore better grasp the dangers of a historical hoarding of power, because we are aware of what the consequences where.
When we witness it taking place in a country that we can sufficiently 'Other-ise', such as Turkey - the tone of the coverage implies we are all very well aware that even if the dictator is elected, he is still a dictator, because he is unaccountable to anyone else.
The problem is that because we are removed at a historical or cultural distance, we get complacent. We allow ourselves to feel superior to those that lived in Weimar Germany, or who currently live in Erdoğans Turkey. Those people are living under a leader with authoritarian aspirations, we might say - but it could never happen here.
"Power is not a means; it is an end. [...] The object of power is power."
- George Orwell, 1984, Various, 1948
Human Rights vs. The Will Of The People
A pet hate of Theresa May since her time as Home Secretary has been the European Convention on Human Rights, and the court that enforces it, the European Court of Human Rights - it has long been her stated desire to leave it's jurisdiction and is (§) going to form a part of the manifesto on which she stands for election.
She declared prior to the European Union referendum that it was her belief that regardless of the result of the referendum on EU membership, the UK ought to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the ECHR. Which I am sure no one needs telling is a completely separate entity to the European Union and exists to protect citizens from abuses by their states by holding them to account for human rights violations.
Most of the text of the European Convention on Human Rights was written with a substantial input from the United Kingdom. It draws heavily on British jurisprudence and the traditions of British Political Philosophy. To refer to it as some kind of alien influence on the legal system of the United Kingdom is absurd.
It is an absolutely crucial way in which the rights of citizens can be enforced in the UK, given that in this country it is possible to make something retroactively illegal. The UK has no written constitution so exactly what a citizens rights are, are notoriously ill defined.
Given that no parliament can make law to bind the actions of a future parliament any right that a citizen of the UK has can be taken away by a majority vote in parliament. International treaties and the courts that back them up are an extremely important check on the activities of government, they are not something people should give up because some fucking fascist rag tells them is being abused by terrorists.
It is difficult to see exactly what parts of the convention are so objectionable, although admittedly not to Theresa May. Maybe it's the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and torture? Maybe it's the prohibition on arbitrary detention? It could be the right to a fair and impartial trial? Maybe Theresa May objects to the right to freedom of association? Or maybe it's the right of the citizen to due process? Or the right to privacy? All of which Theresa May has shown significant contempt for, none of which are rights anyone should wish to abrogate.
Can you trust any leader who is so intolerant of any challenge that they would cite opposition party scrutiny of their activities in government as so intolerable that they need to be stopped? What are we to think of an executive figure who considers due parliamentary process as an illegitimate frustration on the 'will of the people' and their own actions as the best expression of it?
According to her sycophantic cheerleaders at the Mail;
"She singled out opposition to Brexit from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the 'unelected' House of Lords as her reason for going to the polls."
- Daily Mail, 20/04/2017
It is a deep regret of mine that the tone of this piece is not hyperbolic. Every one of the turns of phrase I have used and the examples I have cited refer to an action taken or sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - cheered on by a press so right wing that it beggars belief.
The UK government currently gets away with things such as immigration detention centres where a person can be held indefinitely without trial, mass surveillance of it's citizens, and absolving it's armed forces of war crimes where they are known to have been committed.
Yet they are committed to further absolving themselves of the responsibility to respect the rule of law and fundamental human rights - and at this point it looks like the British electorate is about to hand them the mandate to do so.
The authoritarian we get we deserve, clearly.
§ It has subsequently been reported that it will not be a manifesto commitment - that it remains a hang up of May's is undeniable.