In the article, Sweig points out what any visitor to Cuba who is not wearing ideological blinkers quickly realizes: that the Cuban government's hold on power does not derive from repression alone. In my visits to the island, I've been struck by how Cubans can be bitterly critical of the hard-line restrictions the regime imposes on speech, assembly, movement, commerce and other activities, and in the next breath speak with pride of the government's achievements in providing free health care and education.
Ponder that second sentence for a moment:
So, the government in this case provides "free education", for which the people are supposedly eternally grateful and dependent, and the only downside is, they can't actually put that education to any use.
Likewise, yes it's a shame I can't speak my mind, freely associate, seek out information (aside from that provided for "free" from the government schools), or express my personality in any way, but hey, it's all worth it to ensure that I get the same health care as my neighbor.
But to bring it closer to home, let's play a little word substitution game:
In the article, Sweig points out what any visitor to America who is not wearing ideological blinkers quickly realizes: that the American government's hold on power does not derive from repression alone. In my visits to the continent, I've been struck by how Americans can be bitterly critical of the hard-line restrictions the regime imposes on speech, assembly, movement, commerce and other activities, and in the next breath speak with pride of the government's achievements in keeping them free of terrorist attacks over the last five years.
Meanwhile, in another Latin American country, Hugo Chavez has won another six year term, but despite his margin of victory, the New York Times reports that the former general is planning to ensure he can stick around for awhile:
Sent to power for a third time, Mr. Chávez seems intent on assuming the mantle from the fading Fidel Castro of chief Latin American scourge of the United States. He also has made no secret of his intent to consolidate his power further through legal and personnel changes.
He has spoken of a desire to unite his supporters in one political party and to alter legislation to allow him to remain in power past 2020.
Winning support for such measures may not be difficult in a country where his allies already control the legislature and the Supreme Court as well as governorships in all but two states, and where the military, the national oil company and other government bureaucracies and institutions have been systematically packed with Chávez boosters and stripped of opponents.
Now, facing an anemic opposition that could not win in any of Venezuela’s 23 states or Caracas, Mr. Chávez is expected to tighten his grip, first and foremost over his own supporters in an effort to prevent challenges to his rule from emerging.
“A priority for Chávez right now is what he calls a ‘revolution within a revolution,’ ” said Steve Ellner, a political scientist at the Universidad de Oriente in eastern Venezuela. “This means a purging process of those associated with corruption or excess bureaucracy. In January you’re going to see some heads being chopped.”
Venezuela leading newspapers, El Nacional and El Universal, published maps in their pages on Monday showing the entire country painted red, the color of Mr. Chávez’s campaign, as a reflection of his convincing victory.
Red, in fact, colored not just the clothing and advertisements of the Chávez campaign. Rafael Ramírez, the energy minister, described the national oil company as “red, really red,” in comments caught on video in which he told workers that they had no place in the company if they were not supporters of the government.
Mr. Ramírez’s words, which Mr. Chávez promptly adopted as one of his refrains, point to a creeping “with us or against us” radicalization in Venezuelan society that goes beyond the government-run oil company to institutions like public schools and museums.
On the home front, authoritarianism of another sort is rearing its head:
Hugh Hewitt has published a transcript of his "interview" with me yesterday. Here are some of his questions:
"Are you a Christian?"
"Do you believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead?"
"Do you consider yourself under the authority of Benedict, or before him, John Paul II?"
Notice the last question from Hewitt to Sullivan. "...under the authority of (Pope) Benedict..."
Authority is the critical element for the burgeoning National Law Right, as Sullivan analyzes them in his recent book, and as is also discussed in this New Republic cover story by Damon Linker.
The upshot of the Natural Law Authoritarianism is, like other forms of dictatorship, a rejection of individual liberty and freedom of conscience. But even more than in other forms of authoritarianism, Natural Law dictatorship is even more explicit in its rejection of pluralism, free thought, and compromise. As the church contended during the reformation, the individual was not permitted the freedom to serve God, or not, as he or she pleased. Today's Natural Law Catholicism hasn't changed since the Middle Ages: It still contends that individuals and governments are subject to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. It will work within, and appear to support democratic processes, but only because those are the only avenues open in many parts of the world. Their aim, however, as proponents like Richard John Neuhaus embody, is to ultimately exert control over both the individual and the nation.
As these few examples demonstrate, the authoritarian spirit is not restricted to one end of the ideological spectrum or present only in one hemisphere, or absent in developed economies.
But we can understand a little about where to expect the challenges to freedom to originate. One is unfortunately, from the economic sphere, where fears, or envy encourages the restriction of earning, consumption and individuality in favor of a rigid sense of equality.
The other two originate from religious and national security concerns. The latter, in the aftermath of 911, is most apparent to those of us in America but the implications of Natural Law theories and fundamentalist evangelicalism are equally as severe, even more so given that their designs are not temporal, as the restrictive ambitions of national security rationalizers suggest. Under religious dictatorship, to the contrary, the restrictions are intended to be permanent and have as their carrying card, a fear of, and desire to, respond to the demands of eternal life or eternal damnation, and for which, as Sam Harris has eloquently argued, no challenging evidence is neither allowed or conceivable.
The recent elections have offered us a reprieve, but have not, as some would hope, spelled the end of the creeping authoritarianism to which all societies are tempted.