Shimon Peres, the current President of the State of Israel, once said that “television has made dictatorship impossible, but democracy unbearable”. Although it is hard to agree with him completely, his words represent the problem that many nations and billions of people found themselves facing: what is better, democracy or dictatorship? It is only when we know the key differences between them that we can make wise choice. In order to do this, let us compare both forms of government in such ways: who holds the power and how they rule the country; and how efficient are countries under both forms of government.
One of the main differences between democracy and dictatorship lies in the way the country is ruled. In case of dictatorship, the power is usually concentrated in hands of a single person (it is also called ‘autocracy’). The ruler has the absolute power. That means he is not restricted by anything, including laws and opposition. While it is obvious that unrestricted power can be very dangerous, it has its advantages. Namely, it gives the ruler a chance to pass and implement any rules he/she wants. A dictator does not need to consider other opinions, have a guarantee that necessary changes will be implemented, and he/she can oversee the whole process. Such a power can be useful in some situations. For example, if country is recovering from war, dictatorship could prevent its falling back into war by taking necessary precautions without the need to consider a variety of opinions. Country recovering from an armed conflict has a 44 percent chance of falling back into war within five years (Jimenez, 2011). Therefore, it is sometimes of a crucial importance to act quickly and firmly, and there is no denying the fact that dictatorships manage crisis situations better than democracies. As Sir Trevor Nunn, an English theater, film and television director, once said:
“In a way, I have to have a dictatorship. I can't be told that I'm wrong. That conflicts with what I was saying earlier about listening. It isn't to do with receiving criticism and responding to other views, it's who has that last decision” (Dictatorship Quotes”).
Meanwhile, in the democratic state the power is divided among citizens. Citizens have an equal say in important matters, and they can control their leaders through fair elections, free media, decentralized and local governance. Democracy provides citizens a freedom of choice, the most important single thing. As Corazon Aquino once said, “It is true you cannot eat freedom and you cannot power machinery with democracy. But then neither can political prisoners turn on the light in the cells of a dictatorship”). Ideally, every single point of view is taken into account and the whole country does not rely on a single person’s opinion. Although it is true that such a system can be clumsy and it does not always produce the best results, the fact that it relies on a group decision preceded by negotiations makes it more efficient in the long run. While dictators can lead the country out of war, they are hardly great decision-makers in the peaceful times. To always make efficient choices, not only they have to be wise enough, they also need to be rational and not materialistic. Democracy implies a proper check and balance mechanism, and without it consecutive implementation of bullet-proof decisions is just miraculous (“Dictatorship is the best path to development”).
This leads us to the problem of efficiency of the countries under both forms of government. As was mentioned earlier, dictatorship responds better in crisis situations. Kenneth Arrow, the Nobel Prize winner in 1972, showed that no voting scheme can produce a rational government. While democracy is a preferred form of government, there is no theoretical basis in saying that democracy best reflects preferences of citizens. Therefore, democracies do not always outperform dictatorships. Some researches show that countries that are economically but not politically free (like China), perform better than the countries that are free both economically and politically (Hasset, 2007). Harry S. Truman once said that, “whenever you have an efficient government, you have a dictatorship”. It implies that under democracy the government is not going to pass and implement laws in the most rational way as it has to take all opinions into account. Nonetheless, it is not true that all dictatorships are efficient. In fact, dictatorships often underperform badly. Case in point: Burma. Burma used to be “the richest country in Southeast Asia, awash in rubies, oil and valuable timber” (Szczepanski, n.d.). Though, as a result of a few decenniads of mismanagement, Burma is now among the poorest countries of the world. From 1962 to 2011, military junta had absolute power in the country; it ignored international condemnation, sanctions and accusations of human rights abuses (“Burma profile”). In 2007, increased prices of diesel and petrol caused anti-government protests. In 2008, the Burmese constitutional referendum was held and as a result of it, the general elections of 2010 were held under the new constitution. Since then, the country is moving towards democracy. In 2011 National Human Rights Commission was established and an opposition leader Aung San Su Kyi was finally released from house arrest. The democratic reforms proved to be efficient as Burma's bid for ASEAN chair in 2014 was approved. The visit of the United States’ Secretary Hillary Clinton to Burma in 2011 was the first one in more than 50 years (“Burma”). Although Burma is still to resolve a lot of issues, like the release of hundreds of political prisoners, democratic reforms helped the country to recover from decades of mismanagement. As Charles E. Wilson once said:
“No one should suffer from the great delusion that any form of communism or socialism which promotes the dictatorship of the few instead of the initiative of the millions can produce a happier or more prosperous society” (“Dictatorship Quotes”).
One could have assumed that once people gain the freedom and learn to use liberating modern technologies to good effect, they would abandon dictatorship altogether. Clearly, that is not the case. Moreover, some people tend to think that even modern technologies are not so liberating after all. There is a famous quote by Henry A. Wallace, the 33rd Vice President of the United States: “It has been claimed at times that our modern age of technology facilitates dictatorship”. This should remind us that we have to know the key differences between those two forms of government. We should understand that neither dictatorship is without its advantages, nor democracy is flawless. While the latter is still a preferable choice, it is not as simple as “democracy is good, dictatorship is bad”.