Courtesy Reuters

Problems of Dictatorship


THE development of the West European sovereign state in the early modern period was an important innovation in the art of political organization. The most successful states of earlier times had either been large empires which were militarily strong but which failed to enlist the loyalty and active support of their subjects, or small kingdoms and city-states which secured loyalty and participation but which were militarily weak. In the great empires, only a small core of military-political leaders had any real interest in preserving the state. When their position was threatened, either by internal dissension or external pressure, the bulk of the population passively accepted the collapse of the political structure, as in the case of Rome. The little states were far more effective in using their human resources, but they seldom flourished for more than three or four generations. Sooner or later a powerful neighbor swallowed them up and their citizens sank back into apathy, as in the case of Athens. The West European sovereign state combined the strengths and avoided many of the weaknesses of its predecessors. It was large enough to generate the military strength necessary for survival; it was small enough and homogeneous enough to attract the loyalty and participation of an increasing number of its subjects.

Both these advantages, however, depended on the existence of stable, effective and respected leadership. This leadership, at first, was provided by hereditary, divinely sanctioned monarchy. The king was a focus of loyalty, and he could invest his officials with enough of his authority to obtain the obedience and coöperation of his subjects. But, as usual, success raised new problems. States developed more complicated mechanisms of government, took on new responsibilities (e.g. regulation of the economy), involved more people in their operations, and required more from them. Increased complexity and greater involvement led, almost inevitably, to wider discussion of political issues. More men had to be consulted and informed; more men were affected by decisions of

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