By Jack Parkos | United States
The word dictator originates from Ancient Rome. In the days of The Roman Republic, a dictator would receive unlimited power in times of a crisis.
Nowadays, dictators rise in many different ways, including from a coup, rigged elections, or manipulating constitutions. However, all seem to have one thing in common: the “why” factor. Why do dictators rise? Many wonder how people could support such a tyrannical leader in his early career. The answer, though, is both simple and complicated: desperation. While many later get their power through fear, it all starts with a young, charismatic politician taking advantage of a crisis. And, in many cases, the crisis is economic.
When we think of tyrannical dictators in history, we almost always first think of Hitler. How could we not? He was the madman behind the Holocaust and the enemy in the most deadly war in history. Many people may ask, “How could people support such a man?” While people know WWII Hitler, many do not know how he came to be.
The Political Danger of a Bad Economy
After WWI, Germany received the blame for the war and had to pay 50 billion marks in reparations. Needless to say, this hurt the Weimar Republic, sending them into horrible debt. To combat this, they abandoned the gold standard and tried new monetary policy. They tried buying foreign currency and recklessly printing money, leading to the infamous hyperinflation. By November 1923, the US dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks.
Needless to say, the economy was doing horribly. Germany suffered greatly from their depression, and people were desperate. A young charismatic politician saw this is as his opportunity to gain power, and he took it.
Adolf Hitler used the people’s anger at the economy to his advantage. People blamed the Weimar Republic and thus decided that they needed a stronger government to prevent the failures of democracy. Many Germans also hated the Treaty of Versailles and how much it hurt the country.
Hitler used his charismatic speaking to appeal to the people and used his private police to kill his enemies. He also promised every German a job and self-sufficiency for Germany. He did not need a coup to gain power, merely using “Article 48” to become a dictator with little resistance.
This all happened because people were desperate and gave away their power. The people chose security over freedom in a time of economic crisis. The example of Germany is only one of many in which a similar pattern occurs.
Tyranny in the United States
What can we learn from this historical precedent? A dictatorship is not as impossible as people make it out to be. In fact, it could easily happen in America. Without a doubt, we have had past leaders who, while not dictators, have taken actions similar to that of one.
FDR, for example, was very authoritarian and gained popularity during the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. People were so desperate for change during the economic collapse, they cared little for civil liberties, and only desired the New Deal. FDR never followed the constitution, ignored supreme court rulings, imprisoned thousands of Japanese Americans by executive order, provoked the Pearl Harbor attacks, and ultimately was the reason we have presidential term limits today.
History repeats itself and should serve as a warning. Be cautious in times of economic hardship, and hold on to freedom a little extra tight. Tyranny can be right around the corner. Will it always be as extreme as the case in Germany? No, but with how unstable the U.S. economy is, and how desperate citizens become, negative change is not improbable. Time and time again, individuals are willing to give a leader unlimited power for a promise of saving them. But each time, these promises are filled with lies, unrealistic expectations, and tyranny. Society must avoid falling into this trap again, and remember Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote:
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin
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