“Illiberal democracy” – from someone inside

You hear this term all the time thrown to politicians as insults. I’d like to explain, mostly to people living in the liberal West what “illiberal democracy” actually means. Hint: absolutely not “autocracy” as the liberals claim. I know the difference, since I’ve also lived under communist autocracy.

The (classical) liberals believe in freedom, no doubt. To understand illiberalism, we must separate it into two fields:

  • Personal freedom: the ability to do things that do not affect (significantly) any non-consenting adult. For example deciding who to have romantic relationship with. Or what film to watch. Or what joke to tell to your friends. Where to work, what to wear, what to play. These look obvious, but in autocracies, you can’t decide it. Gays being thrown off buildings in Islamist dictatorships, films and books censored in all dictatorships, uniform is enforced (as you can see on North Korea photo), private conversations listened to and sanctioned.
  • Political freedom: the ability to change your community against the will of other members. The second part is crucial: doing things that everyone agrees on is not exercising freedom, it’s charity work. As a political citizen or party member you support partisan decisions that are opposed by other political people. If you raise taxes, the capitalists are mad at you. If you lower them, the socialists are. Both are equal citizens in your community.

As I’ve said, classical liberals (not SJWs) are believing that both are needed for a good society. Autocrats believe in neither. Illiberals believe in the first and in not the second. SJW-s are example of illiberalism, so is Putin or my Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The basic illiberal idea is that while political freedom would be good, it’s not attainable due to people not being perfect. Free press is not attainable because journalists will write whatever the magazine owner tells them to write. Free political speech is not attainable because some people have platform and others don’t. Free business can’t be attainable because big business will regulatory capture. According to illiberals, by chasing these pipe dreams, we just open the door to autocrats. There will have a power center anyway, fighting against this fact is futile, we must fight for a better power center over a worse.

So political freedom is taken away by illiberals. But they don’t even aim to take away personal freedom. The illiberals don’t reject freedom, most of them would prefer to live in a classical liberal world, merely acknowledges that it’s impossible because people are weak and immoral. For example SJWs don’t want to take away one’s right to have heterosexual relationship with someone of his own race. They don’t care what you do behind closed doors, they just don’t want anyone to propagate these kind of relationships (the irony).

An illiberal can be democratic or ideological. This practically means that he accepts the power to be transferable by the will of the majority. Theoretically it means that the real power center is the majority itself. Ideological illiberal does not mean autocratic. Again, think about the SJWs: they do not accept people voting against the SJW agenda (see: “not my president”). They do not even consent to discussion of the agenda (“hate speech”). But they still don’t want to tell you how to behave with consenting adults. I’ve never encountered with an SJW who gave me any trouble when I was minding my own business. Autocrats do it all the time.

Putin and Orbán are democratic illiberals. Their ideology can change over time to mirror the changing majority opinion. They back off when they find themselves at odds with the majority. They constantly poll approval ratings and try to keep them high. No doubt that political freedom is very limited in these countries. If you try to start a critical political newspaper, you find yourself a tax authority inspection just as fast as Goolag would censor you for some conservative speech. If you actively organize against their rule, you might end up beaten just as fast as a conservative in Berkeley. This isn’t something I’m happy about, but it’s something that I gladly accept instead of autocracy or failed state – something that liberal democracies often devolve.

Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

11 thoughts on ““Illiberal democracy” – from someone inside”

  1. Can you give a definition for the term “failed state”?
    Also, could you list the european (ex-)liberal democracies that you consider failed states?


  2. “They back off when they find themselves at odds with the majority.”

    The problem is, that the forces in power will have the power to doctor facts and perceptions so that they rarely (or ever) find themselves at odds with the majority. It’s not uncommon for political parties now to have hordes of internet trolls and direct access to the press, to be able to influence the masses in a greater degree than it was possible in the past.

    20 years ago if you wanted to stay in power by all means necessary, autocracy was mandatory, leaderships are turning to ‘illiberal’ tactics because essentially they function just as well for them (stay in power, devour all the wealth you can find) without the bloody mess of a dictatorship and the eventual trial and public execution.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. @VP of Others: simple, a failed state is a place where you can’t know whose orders you must follow to avoid punishment. It says nothing about the morality of the rule, just its existence. North Korea is not failed state because you’ll be OK while you do as Kim says. In Libya you obey one gang and the other kills you for it and the first is unable to do anything about it.

    @tithian: that’s not a problem. If you can convince the people by facebook trolls, that’s the people’s fault and not dictatorship. Also, it’s limited. You can convince people that invasion of Iraq or Doneck was “moral”. You can’t convince them that it’s OK that they haven’t eaten this week.


  4. @Gevlon: True, it’s still incredibly dissapointing to see people falling for obvious lies and propaganda again, and again… and again. It has kinda cemented my view that a good chunk of the people are legitimate morons, which shouldn’t come as a shock really. It’s a bit depressing really.

    @VP of others: Egypt came really close to becoming a failed state. Since we do business there, I got to see the whole thing unfold with Hosni Mubarak going to jail, the Muslim Brotherhood coming into power (the riots, as well as the elation during the first general elections), the near economic ruin that followed in the next couple of years, and the eventual intervention of the army (again) to end the second wave of riots.

    It’s a very legitimate example of illiberalism jumping in at the last time to save a state from autocracy and worse.


  5. If Putin closely follows polls trying to make his people happy, it is no different than a democracy. It’s actually better, as most politicians do not follow on their campaign promises, or fail at them due to legislative inertia.
    As for authoritarians brainwashing people via media: the same is being done in the west. I’d rather have government controlled papers, where at least I know who is doctoring the news and I can take it into account when analyzing them. When the media is owned and controlled by behind-the-scene billionaires, I have no idea what their motivations are and can’t “unspin” the news.
    Example: Poland in the communist times. Everybody knew the news was fake, everybody knew the government was lygin for their own benefit and everybody knew how to read them to extract the bits of truth. Nowadays papers are “free”, which means most of them are owned by German or American mega corporations, with a few lower subscription nationalist papers and state-controlled public TV. It is impossible to know the biases and agendas of all those liars, therefore it is impossible to extract the facts from lies.


  6. @Tithian: them being idiots is the REASON for illiberal democracy. SOMEONE will lie to them and get their vote. Why not me?

    @stawek: we are talking about (classic) liberalism here, not democracy. That would allow minorities to express their problems and fight for their rights. The rule of the majority can be oppressive, especially if a minority is culturally different. For example I have no doubt that a public vote on punishing gays would win, despite gays are harmless.


  7. @stawek: “As for authoritarians brainwashing people via media: the same is being done in the west. I’d rather have government controlled papers, where at least I know who is doctoring the news and I can take it into account when analyzing them. When the media is owned and controlled by behind-the-scene billionaires, I have no idea what their motivations are and can’t “unspin” the news.”

    That an interesting view of it, and one I can relate with since in Greece we always had press and TV stations being influenced by the various political parties. And everyone knew the allegiances , so it’s easy to see how the news is manipulated… if you have a basic degree of critical thought. Most people don’t.

    What happens in the end is that people pick the news outlest that fit their world view and stay in that echo chamber forever, unless something really drastic happens that forces them out (i.e. they are starving, or their children start suffering for their choices). The more complicated it becomes to sort out the truth, the easier it gets for people to ‘truths’ that are more convenient or familiar. Thinking is hard, you know.

    @Gevlon: I know this is a gaming blog, but I would really like to see more of this kind of posts. If you don’t want to dilute the gaming content, have you considered starting a second blog?


  8. Well. Between this and “Populist democracy is the only way” you’ve nailed it. It’s difficult to even come up with a “devil’s advocate” rebuttal that can’t be construed as dogmatic by rational analysis.


  9. “I’ve never encountered with an SJW who gave me any trouble when I was minding my own business.”

    That isn’t true. SJWs tend to be really interested in policing what you say and do in private, and will go so far as to financially ruin people who dare to go against their world view – like harassing companies to fire people who tell off-color jokes, making pariahs of people who don’t speak out against Trump, or committing/condoning violence against people with whom they disagree politically . They aren’t Illiberal, they are autocratic.


  10. (SJWs) “But they still don’t want to tell you how to behave with consenting adults.” Like her body, her decision? Unless you want for example to buy the service of a willing prostitute, then suddenly she become an poor oppressed woman, who needs protection. And do not try to wear your hair in dreadlocks unless you are black., because cultural appropriation. And while all the black rappers can use the word “nigga” and all variation, if you as a white man try to use, the whole world will collapse.
    SJWs _are_ targeting your freedom!
    You don’t even have to use the “n-word”, it’s enough if somebody THINKS you are racist.


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