Over the past years there has been a proliferation of books advocating the techniques and tactics that dissidents can use to remove dictators from power. Books like Gene Sharp’s “Dictatorship to Democracy”, “A Force More Powerful” by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, “Dictator’s Learning Curve” by William Dobson, “Defeating Dictators” by George Ayittey and “The Dictator’s Handbook” by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. All of these are excellent books and clearly present steps which can and should be taken to de-legitimize dictators to the free world, the people and (most importantly) the security services, making it clear that these governments must not be allowed to continue.
These books have both resulted from and caused many of the “color revolutions” that we have witnessed since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Yellow Revolution in the Philippines, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and the failed Saphron and Tulip Revolutions in Burma and Kyrgyzstan are only a few examples.
However as time has progressed it has become evident that simply pulling down dictators, while exciting, is too often ephemeral. The most recent Jasmine Revolution in Egypt, resulting from the Arab Spring, demonstrates the limitations of the “throw the bums out” approach to dictator-ousting. The loose coalition of opposition forces that took advantage of the decades of decay within the Mubarak government to dislodge him from power immediately handed the country over to the Muslim Brotherhood’s now-evident nouveau authoritarianism. As Louis Pasteur once said, “chance favors the prepared mind.”
The challenge here is at once apparent. The (successful) attempt to remove Mubarak from power was not motivated by a renaissance of enlightened values such as individual liberty and personal responsibility, a renewed belief in the power of private property and the markets to create freedom and prosperity returning to the steadfast guidance of natural (Jefferson’s inalienable) rights. Like in most other color revolutions that have fallen prey to renewed authoritarianism or ongoing instability, Egypt’s revolution was carried out by a consortium comprised of secularists, communists, women’s rights proponents and others exasperated by the status quo. There was no guiding principle and no undercurrent of freedom that guided their movement. They had no plan, no message and no base. The movement failed.
This is always the case when revolutions are promoted by loose groups which include (and are usually led by) collectivists instead of by those who know that individual liberty is the only path to true freedom and prosperity. History has shown this to us more times than we care to admit. Russia’s Bolscheviks disenchanted with their Tsars, the Germans frustrated by post-war reparations, Islamists incensed by their leaders’ corruption and abuse of power (in countries as varied as Iran in ’79 to the Arab Spring), and Cubans irate at Batista’s flashy dictatorship have all brought even more misery to their countries.
This brings us to the real problem; and the reason that we have been unable to make sustainable advances in freedom over these many years. Collectivists who have made political advances in the west, especially recently on the back of the financial crisis, have preached that there are several paths to freedom. They have turned their backs on the founding fathers of liberty; people like Hume, Jefferson, Madison and on through Rothbard and Mises who so carefully explained that it is only through individual responsibility, personal sacrifice, hard work, natural rights, and classical economic ideas of true market economies and limited government that lasting freedom will be attained.
Instead they say that freedom and prosperity can be ushered in on the back of big-government ideas. They carefully try and explain that natural (inalienable) rights are only “gateway” rights which help us arrive at their economic, social and cultural (what I call communal) rights. They energetically try and make the case that this is where we really want to be anyway, often even lamenting and marginalizing those of us who attempt to defend classical ideas of liberty.
The truth, however unpopular, is that those who preach communal rights are perpetuating a fraud. While they say that communal rights extend progressively from natural rights, the reality is that they are involved in a bait and switch. Communal rights in point of fact violate natural rights, because they force duties upon the state which interfere with our natural rights: cultural rights cause the violation of freedom of speech and religion, economic rights cause a violation of private property and social rights violate speech, assembly and others. More critical for freedom advocates, these social rights they espouse demand a large, centralized government and an army of footsoldiers, for which the well-organized collectivists (who are the nouveau authoritarians, in the case of Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood) are better prepared and more comfortable.
For this reason, freedom fighters like Duvall, Sharp and Ayittey would do well to focus not only on the tactics of pulling down dictators from their perches, but in laying the foundation in their societies for the principles of individual liberty and limited government which are always the only principles that can guarantee sustainable freedom and prosperity.
Joel D. Hirst is a freedom advocate, a Principal at Cordoba Group International and a published author. His latest novel “The Lieutenant of San Porfirio” is available on Amazon and shortly in Spanish through Grito Sagrado Press.