The Greek philosopher Plato has been credited with originating the idea that the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. By definition, a benevolent dictator is an authoritarian leader who exercises his or her political power for the benefit of the people rather than exclusively for personal self-interest or benefit, or for the benefit of only a small portion of the people.
Given the goings on in Washington, D.C., these days, it’s an appealing concept—at first blush, at least. But before we rise in revolt against the current sausage-making system called democracy, we need to keep a couple of things in mind.
First, the “benefit of the people” is an illusion. Even if a dictator has the best of intentions, the act of ruling still requires some people to lose so others can gain. Despite the best of intentions, some people always will be disappointed or even hurt.
Second, a dictatorship is by definition restricted to the mind of only one person or small group. While it might be possible for a dictator to be benevolent, this doesn’t deal with all the problems of a dictatorship. Individuals with complete power are prone to paranoia about their position, which harms the people greatly. Even if that doesn’t happen, no one person or small group has the knowledge, skills and ingenuity to run a country.
The reason true democracy is better, despite being slow, sloppy and chaotic, is that every person has at least a chance at influencing the governing processes. It may be a slim chance, but at least we’re not at the whimsy of a dictatorial approach.
Democracy allows for the influx of ideas from outside of the executive and grows the pool from which these ideas come. This is good for the country and for the people, as ideas with broad support will likely be better than the ideas of one authoritarian person.
We’ve been exposed to the underbelly of democracy these past few months, and it is ugly. That said, democracy is still the best system of government in the world. —DR