The automatic response is, of course, to shy away from any thought of dictatorships.
In fact, if we are taking into account the response of the rest of the world (this is assuming either the UK sticking with what we’ve got or switching to a benevolent dictator) we’re probably better with what we’ve got just for this – because with a dictator we’d probably get invaded, or bombed, or at the very least lose a lot of contact and good links with other countries that are necessary for our survival.
If, however, we assumed that there wouldn’t be backlash from other countries to consider, here are just a few advantages of a benevolent dictator;
- More efficiency in governance – if something needs to happen, it need not be constrained by parliamentary debates and going back and forth for approval.
- If a dictator was indeed benevolent, they would ensure that everyone had enough to eat, a place to live, easy access to the best possible healthcare and all the basic necessities for a reasonable quality of life. Under the current democracy (and I’m not just talking about the current coalition government, but all recent governments in this system) this is certainly not happening.
- Assuming this dictator takes control of various bits of infrastructure, we could expect better transport, better emergency services, a better education system, and no “postcode lottery” when it comes to access to services.
- More equal society, with equal access to oppertunities for everyone based on ability/need.
- More long term planning – since we wouldn’t have politicians needing to do what sounds popular right now, our benevolent dictator could base policy on the longer term implications rather than media hype, thinking through the issues in a way that the general public, and hence often elected politicians, do not.
I have to say, that sounds rather good.
There are, of course, some snags. To what extent should people have a right to choose their government, even if the choice leads to not getting the overall “best” outcomes? How exactly do we make sure that a dictator is benevolent, and on what scale do we measure this benevolence anyway?
To the first question, well that is a matter of opinion. There is always a balance between personal freedoms and protection from harm – the law limits people’s freedom to, say, go around attacking people with knives to protect people from being injured or killed by people with knives… In general, it is accepted that we do not have the right to directly harm other people by our actions. If we view choosing a government that will allow there to be people who cannot access the basic necessities for life as doing harm to people, why should we be allowed to do so? I cannot justify “people must have choice” as more important than the lives and wellbeing of thousands or millions of people.
On what scale do we measure benevolence? This is a difficult one. There are clear factual indicators that could be used – measuring if they manage to get everyone to certain standards of living, although this is admitedly hard to do until they’ve had a decent go at it. There could also be more abstract considerations: how happy are people, do people feel better off than they were before – but these are impossible to properly measure, and again rely on being after the fact. A main point of benevolence seems to be having genuinely good intentions towards everyone – which, sadly, is impossible to ascertain independently. So measuring benevolence doesn’t really work.
How do we make sure a dictator is benevolent? Well, we can check how well they’re doing by looking at the outcomes, given a bit of time for changes to actually get implemented and make a difference. But we don’t know how much of the public’s response is due to the actual effects of the dictator’s policies and how much is due to our own feelings or rebellion. I think that a major thing such a dictator would need to change would be the attitudes of people towards each other, somehow spreading the feelings of care and acceptance towards others, which would sadly take a rather long time.
It would seem to defeat the point if the dictator could be easily deposed, so there couldn’t really be controls that way. Perhaps a system where members of the public could challenge the dictators decisions, causing a discussion of the reasoning and evidence on which they are based – with changes made if this causes the decision to be seen to be clearly more flawed than any alternatives.
Or we programme a robot that is incapable of not being benevolent….perhaps not.
That said, the problems with current systems of democracy are too numerous to list. Based on outcomes, it’s clearly failing by almost every account given the numbers living without access to basic shelter and enough food. Let alone its flaws as a democracy – given the election system it is certainly not representative, and even if we had proportional representation would still leave many views unheard for those whose ideas don’t go along party lines, or who aren’t in the demographics politicians are aiming at.
If we truly could get a benevolent dictator, I would happily live under them. Sadly, I think any dictator sells themselves as benevolent and rarely is – and benevolence is nigh impossible to ensure. I’d rather take my chances with very-flawed-democracy than a bad dictator.