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In disunion there is strength

November 6, 2011

In the modern world, democracy is usually portrayed as synonymous with liberty, opportunity, and safety, while autocratic or monarchical rule is dismissed as the enemy of such qualities.  While the virtues of democracy seem to be confirmed by empirical evidence, such an observation is nevertheless incorrect, because it rests on an incorrect assumption: that by democracy is meant not merely a democracy, but a democratic nation-state.  Since an autocracy by definition can never be a nation-state (a form of government which explicitly separates the act of ruling from the person of the ruler), in practice it can be far less controlling than a nation-state democracy.

The absence of the nation-state promotes freedom in two major ways, through mobility and through a comparative weakness of authority.  Mobility is chiefly a geographic concern. If a disgruntled citizen feels that his rights are being abused by his state, he has only to get up and move to a state where he feels they will be better respected.  Autocracies facilitate this, as they are generally much smaller and much more numerous than nation-states.  There is a limit on how much of daily life one ruler and his associates can control.  The limit on what the millions of rulers of a nation-state can control is much more distant, allowing nation-states to grow considerably larger in terms of size and petty regulation, and making it simultaneously more desirable and more difficult for their citizens to leave.

The immense number of rulers existing under the nation-state system is also what makes an autocracy a comparatively  weaker form of government.  Their combined efforts mean that an established nation-state has a far greater amount of resources available for use against its internal enemies than does a smaller, personally managed autocracy, which may have to ration its forces to meet the threats it faces.  Discord is quickly and efficiently suppressed by a nation-state, thereby ensuring its continued stability and providing an example to deter future resistance to its authority.  The number of people involved in running a nation-state, and the existence of chains of command within its government, give it a further competitive advantage in maintaining its hold on power.  It resists replacement through size, organization, and resources, allowing for no real possibility of a check on its authority.  By contrast, the government of an autocracy, centered in the person of a single ruler, is much easier to depose and replace if it becomes too oppressive.

Freedom is hard to find in democracies, because the democracy has become synonymous with the nation-state.  Wherever humans gather together, they begin to oppress each other.  The smaller the units of association, the fewer the opportunities for oppression.  The nation-state’s entire existence is aimed at building larger units of association, and thus freedom is unlikely to be found in its vicinity.  It is in only in disunion that there is strength – the strength and freedom of the individual.

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