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    ‘Authoritarianism’ May Be Necessary to Fight Climate Change, Cambridge Study Argues


    January 7th, 2022

    Comments (28)

    This article was originally published by Jon Miltimore at The Foundation For Economic Education. 

    A recent study published in American Political Science Review, a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal published by Cambridge University, begins with a teasing question: “Is authoritarian power ever legitimate?”

    For many, the answer is clearly no, concedes the study’s author—Ross Mittiga, an assistant professor of political theory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. But Mittiga, in the abstract to the study, suggests otherwise:

    “While, under normal conditions, maintaining democracy and rights is typically compatible with guaranteeing safety, in emergency situations, conflicts between these two aspects of legitimacy can and often do arise. A salient example of this is the COVID-19 pandemic, during which severe limitations on free movement and association have become legitimate techniques of government. Climate change poses an even graver threat to public safety. Consequently, I argue, legitimacy may require a similarly authoritarian approach.”

    The study caught the eye of Alexander Wuttke, a Twitter user who studies political behavior at the University of Mannheim in Germany.

    “In my reading, it explicitly argues that we must put climate action over democracy and adopt authoritarian governance if democracies fail to act on climate change,” tweeted Wuttke.

    In an extensive thread, Wuttke explained why he disagrees with Mittiga.

    “I am genuinely puzzled about the origins of this anti-democratic intuition that seems to give rise to the entire endeavor of exploring whether we should sacrifice democracy for the sake of a higher good,” Wuttke says at one point. “The article argues that crises not only can legitimize but may require authoritarian governance. This is not true. Democracies have fought the pandemic without giving up being democratic.”

    In a rare (and refreshing) display of civility for Twitter, Mittiga said he appreciated Wuttke’s thoughts and thanked him for “his good will in sharing these comments with me before posting.” In his own thread, Mittiga sought to address what he said were “several mischaracterizations or confusions” in Wuttke’s comments.

    “The relevant question is *not* whether giving up democracy was somehow necessary for addressing the emergency (in this case, COVID-19). Clearly, it was not, and I certainly never suggest as much in the paper,” Mittiga explains at one point. “Rather, the real question — the one that gets at what I tried to argue — is whether democracies have addressed the emergency in purely democratic, rights-respecting ways. The answer is, of course, that they have not.”

    For those interested in capturing the nuance of the differences in what Mittiga says he meant in the study versus what Wuttke believes he wrote, I suggest a careful review of their threads (and the study itself).

    However, Mittiga’s own description speaks for itself. He says that COVID-19 clearly resulted in “severe restrictions on rights of free movement, association, religious practice, and even speech,” all of which “are authoritarian in nature, though, I would argue, they have often been nonetheless legitimate.”

    Mittiga then explains that governments that failed to take authoritarian steps to mitigate the threat of COVID are perceived as “less legitimate. (Think here of the Trump or Bolsonaro governments.)”

    “I believe the same is true with respect to climate change,” Mittiga explains. “Those governments which are able but unwilling to confront the climate crisis — which poses one of the greatest threats to safety and security we have ever faced — are, for that reason, less legitimate.”

    Whatever nuances Wuttke may have missed in Mittiga’s study, it’s clear that Mittiga is in fact arguing that “legitimate” governments should shun democratic principles and civil liberties and embrace authoritarianism to confront challenges such as climate change.

    Say what you will about Mittiga’s proposal—which is myopic and dangerous—his logic is sound. If “legitimate” governments embrace authoritarian measures to combat a deadly pandemic that poses a genuine threat to humans, why should they not embrace authoritarian measures to combat climate change, which many argue poses an even greater threat?

    There’s a popular meme among libertarians: “If you allow politicians to break the law during emergencies, they will create an emergency to break the law.”

    It’s a cynical take, to be sure, but it contains more than a nugget of truth. Progressives have long been frustrated by the American system, which was designed to disperse centralized power, something they feared above all else.

    “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny,” James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers.

    For this reason, the Founders created a federalist (decentralized) system with numerous checks and balances. That system endured stubbornly for generations, but over the course of the 20th century, the checks and balances eroded—not so much slowly as sporadically.

    In his book Crisis and Leviathan, economist Robert Higgs points out that there’s a pattern to the erosion of constitutional limits on power: they happen during crises. In 2020, the crisis was the pandemic, which precipitated lockdowns and the most widespread infringements on economic freedom in US history (which saw the top 1 percent accumulate a record percentage of wealth).

    Mittiga is not wrong when he asserts the pandemic resulted in authoritarian “restrictions on rights of free movement, association, religious practice, and even speech.” But he may not realize this is part of a pattern. As Higgs shows, the erosion of civil liberties and the biggest power grabs in history came during periods of crisis.

    World War I brought the draft, crackdowns on “disloyal” speech, unprecedented government propaganda, the chilling Palmer Raids, and much more. The Great Depression gave birth to the New Deal. World War II brought (again) the draft and Japanese internment camps, and more. Korea brought the nationalization of steel mills. The 9-11 attacks spawned the War on Terror and the Patriot Act.

    These are hardly the only examples. What’s important is that crises have historically served as the catalyst for authoritarianism, and, as Higgs notes, the emergency powers often persist long after the emergency has abated.

    Higgs refers to this phenomenon as “the ratchet effect,” which suggests that governments simply lack the will or ability to roll back bureaucratic power strengthened for supposedly temporary needs, giving credence to James Madison’s prophetic warning that a free people would be wise to guard against “the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in government.”

    None of this is to say climate change does not exist or that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a serious problem, any more than it is to say the Great Depression, World War I, the 9-11 attacks, and World War II were not serious problems.

    Each of these events was real and consequential. None of these events, however, justify authoritarianism or the infringement of civil liberties.

    A brief reading of history shows that there will always be a crisis, conflict, or catastrophe around the corner that those in power will use as a pretext to violate the very liberties governments are supposed to pr

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      Date: January 7th, 2022
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      28 Comments...

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      1. Don’t worry. We’ve got a Second Amendment to take care of that.

        • Rabbs says:

          Then use it………

          • Not yet. People say “use it” but the time/place/conditions must be right, otherwise, it is murder: a crime.

            It must be used for self defense. Your suggestion of “use it!” is nothing but inciting violence. We will “use it!” but it will be at the appropriate time.

            • Anonymous says:

              I’ve been hearing “If not now, when?” since the Clinton administration.

              And that question resulted in the “When” coming and going leaving nothing but a whimper in its wake.

              So forget about it and look for a different way.

              • Anonymous says:

                Guess some people must be proven wrong multiple times before they will look for a different way.

              • E7698-332 says:

                If a different way would work, then it would be used. But, now as it was then, the appropriate measure of force may become necessary to defeat an tyranical administration – when the time is right.

                It’s not yet that time because we have not reached the point where our rights and freedoms are gone. Granted, they are trying like hell to take them outright, but they are still intact – for now.

                So, if you are intent on violent forceful action, then by all means, do something. But you do so on your own for now.

                When someone starts shit, there will always be someone who ends it.

          • Menzoberranzan says:

            You sound as though you are on the team that will be the lucky recipients of our God given right enshrined by our forefathers in the 2nd Amendment, Rabbs

        • Michael says:

          Let’s start with the premise that we are not a democracy. We are a constitutional republic. Also, we are citizens first, and taxpayers second. I hope this helps.

      2. Omnicron for dinner says:

        Maybe it’s time to eliminate the academic elite. Remove all that hot-air helps climate change.

      3. Marcy says:

        Oh yeah! And who gave anyone “authority” to push their “authority” on us? F/U

      4. Jonathan Williams says:

        Authoritarianism is responsible for 1st WTC bombing, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, a rapist-n-chief, an undocumented idiot-n-chief and his boyfriend in drag, a multiple-failed New York businessman and now a drooling, pedo fool. And the cherry on top is the 21 to 100 trillion stolen dollars by fedgov over 20+ years.

        The solution is fair trial …… followed by rapid hangings. I reckon several thousand lampposts ought to get the job done.

      5. Genius says:

        I just read that NYC is banning using natural gas and oil in all new construction. Can they possibly be any stupider? Solar and wind lol don’t cut it. 20 years to build a nuke plant? Good luck to those commies..

        • Bill says:

          Yea, that’s hilarious. For some reason a lot of people think if someone is an official they must be intelligent. Regardless of party affiliation, almost all politicians take orders from other nameless entities and faceless individuals, at every level of gov’t. Officials are not the originators of almost all “public” policy, it is nameless and faceless people who are. (Does everyone know congressmenn and sennators author almost no legislation, it is formulated and written by individuals and entities the public never hears about).
          NYC isn’t the only place banning fossil fuels, there are other areas of the country doing some version of the same. G is right, it takes AT LEAST 20 years to permit and build a nuke plant. And there are some nuke plants in the US where construction was halted because the costs were unsustainable. Vast solar and wind fields can produce only a small fraction of power a single traditional fossil fuel power plant can. I can say with absolute certainty the future cost of power will skyrocket to unaffordable rates. My second prediction is that power will be rationed. My third prediction is people will leave those urban centers in droves until cities that adopted these policies collapse.
          There would only be four reasons why all oil and gas are banned in future construction. One is the policy makers are idiots, the second is there are people who stand to gain from it at the expense of everyone else, third is there is an agenda the general public isn’t aware of, and fourth is the policy is being set by ideologues. All ideology is irrational. The best definition of ideology is trying to force reality to conform to belief rather than belief conform to reality. (Besides, if officialdom is bent on reducing CO2 they should put put pressure on China and India, these two countries alone produce 90% of the world’s air pollution.)
          If officialdom wants the public to believe CO2 is a problem, there is no need for complex solutions, and economic and public upheaval. It is estimated there are about 3 trillion trees on earth. Trees are a natural and effective absorber of CO2 and converts it to oxygen. The solution is a international plan to replant trees in deforested areas, and in other areas to reverse desertification, which can be easily accomplished in 20 years. However, the problem with that solution is that there is no political power to be gained from something so simple and elegant.

        • Anonymous says:

          20 years to build a nuke is caused by the court actions challenging them, not the difficulty in constructing them.

          FWIW, there are newer nuclear power plant designs -proven ones- that are safer than just about anything imaginable that will easily run on our current supplies of nuclear waste (spent fuel rods) and if anyone would ever put some real emphasis on developing thorium cycle reactors we would have an almost unlimited supply of safe and very cheap energy available.

          But there is no interest in them because, IMO, there is no political advantage in them.

      6. Genius says:

        I’m not that much of a “greenie” but alternate energy is pretty interesting to me. I have a 880ah battery bank 12v just sitting out in the shed (house backup power) on a maintenance solar charger and desulphator. So I think my next project will be to convert one of the bedrooms into a small grow room. Hydroponic with LED grow lights powered by my battery bank/solar. Pure sinewave inverters are cheap now on ebay. A hyrdo grow system is super easy to build and I can use a timer for the lights. Heck we have 2 unused bathtubs that can be converted also. I figure 300 watts of led grow lights will supply 50-70 sq. feet of grow tables (window sun added). Just use 1.5 inch styrofoam cut to fit for a plant raft. I have done aquaponics before and it was badassed. But hydro means I don’t have to have all that water and fish to support. And I can use my hho generator to power a still so I can have a drinky poo while I do all this lol. 😛

      7. Since the government depends on taxes, if the birthrate drops so low that tax revenue is really low, it’s not hard to imagine the government trying to require people to reproduce, basically reproductive conscription.

      8. Darth Skippy says:

        There’s a popular meme among libertarians: “If you allow politicians to break the law during emergencies, they will create an emergency to break the law.”

        Mises said that ‘society cannot exist, in the long run, if it is divided into sharply defined groups’

        “Guide a horse with a whip, a donkey with a bridle, and a fool with a rod to his back! Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.”
        — Prov 26

        No one can see artificial scarcity, can see his own replacements, and still believe in moral equivalence.

        If you have an adversary, yet are judging his civics, you might just be a Republican. In my generation, a total lack of fiscal or traditional conservatism. What do you conserve, and for whom, and am I party to it?

        “There is an evil I have seen under the sun, As an error proceeding from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, While the rich sit in a lowly place. I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants.”
        — from Ecc 10

        “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.”
        — Prov 13:22

        The problem is not that princes and horses exist, nor that all are equally liable to toil upon the ground — particularly not for some probationary period that we are all supposed to be under. You will never toil your way out of diminished status. A man behind a curtain, an invisible hand, and no legacy left to leave, under your intentional extinction.

      9. Jocko says:

        ‘Authoritarianism’ May Be Necessary to Fight Freedom, Liberty and Democracy

        They are saying it out loud now.

      10. cranerigger says:

        For the greater good, a phrase used by all tyrants to step on the rights of CITIZENS. Thanks for the great article and exposing more academians as less than individual-freedom-loving patriots. “Authoritarianism” should never be used in a FREE society.

        Semper Fidelis. Yes, like many patriots I submitted to military authoritarianism (a 20h century military necessity) in an effort to protect INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS for all Americans. That distinction is important.

        • Bison says:

          Here’s a couple more phrases commonly used.
          1. We’re all in this together.
          2. Let’s all go along just to get along.

        • jus' me says:

          Sorry cranerigger — you and I and countless other Americans have served, but the US military in the 20th century had no interest whatsoever in securing individual rights. We were sold a bill-of-goods that did not exist.

          TPTB wanted an empire and endless war. That’s what they got — on the back of domestic and foreign victims.

        • Jocko says:

          Semper Paratus. Yes, like many patriots I submitted to military authoritarianism (a 20h century military necessity) in an effort to protect INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS for all Americans. That distinction is important. AMEN!

      11. Greebo says:

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs in science.

        In politics they do not need genuine proof to support extraordinary actions, such as instituting a police state. They only need power over the people. Do they now have that through 24/7 propaganda and years of infiltration of our government and institutions?

      12. Spider25 says:

        Please destroy the WEF and tell Klaus Burger bugs to die in a hole already! We will not comply!!!!

      13. “for the greater good” is nothing but an excuse for corruption. Why? Because that “greater good” always ends up going straight to the top as it is robbed from the bottom.

      14. Brocklnd A.T. says:

        Translation: Authoritarian measures are needed to protect and promote the EU carbon credit trading financial scam.

        Free people might apply cheap and easy real solutions to climate change that solve the problem, like Ocean Pasture Restoration (OPR).

      15. Brockland A.T. says:

        Translation: Authoritarian measures are needed to protect and promote the EU carbon credit trading financial scam.

        Free people might apply cheap and easy real solutions to climate change that solve the problem, like Ocean Pasture Restoration (OPR).

      16. cranerigger says:

        Within the article a segment discusses “the argument for Authoritarian Governance”. Alexander Wuttge seems to have learned the lessons of Hitler’s authoritarianism better than most. As a student of political behavior at the University of Manheim, he must have considered a whole new meaning for the musical-group name MANHEIM STEAMROLLER.

        I agree with Wuttge’s arguments against authoritarianism.

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