How liberty dies…

How Liberty DiesIn the Star Wars movie “Attack of the Clones” there is a scene that mirrors Americans’ frustration with our system of government.

In that scene, Anakin Skywalker (the future Darth Vader) and Padme Amidala discuss the gridlock of the democratic government that means very little gets done.

Anakin expresses his opinion on how government needs to be run: “We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what’s in the best interests of all the people, and then do it.”

“That is exactly what we do. The trouble is that people don’t always agree. In fact, they hardly ever do,” Padme, a senator in the Imperial Senate, responds.

“Then they should be made to,” the young Skywalker says.

“By whom? Who’s going to make them?” Padme asks him. Although it is never said, the answer is obvious: a dictator.

George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars fictional universe, once said his franchise has a theme about how liberty dies.

“All democracies turn into dictatorships – but not by coup. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it’s Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea… That’s the issue that I’ve been exploring: How did the Republic turn into the Empire … and how does a democracy become a dictatorship?” Lucas said

There is a real-life blueprint for how a democracy becomes a dictatorship.

Alexander Tytler was a Scottish advocate, judge, writer and historian. He served as professor of Universal History, and Greek and Roman Antiquities at the University of Edinburgh.

Most people have never heard of him, but many know of his famous “Tytler Cycle” or the “Fatal Sequence” of Democracy.

It goes like this: “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

“From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”

If we use the adoption of the Declaration of Independence as the birth of the United States of America, our nation was 200 years old on July 4, 1976. The United States has made it 42 years beyond the average life span of democracies.

Any reasonable person could determine that this country is in the “apathy to dependence” stage of the Tytler Cycle.

If you look at history, the transition from democracy to dictatorship is triggered by a short list of recurring events such as a civil war, military coup, election tampering and “emergency” situations requiring basic freedoms to be temporarily set aside while the crisis is handled by those in power.

Politicians commonly demand arbitrary power to deal with a national emergency and restore order. The irony is that the underlying problems are commonly caused by bad government policies.

The Great Depression of the 1930s gave rise to Adolph Hitler because in hard times many people are willing to go along with terrible things that would be unthinkable in good times. The nature of government is for those in authority to push for more power and less liberty.

Time and time again history shows people can be fooled into voluntarily giving up their freedoms. Liberty can be protected only if people care enough to fight for it.

In another Star Wars movie Padme Amidala watches as the head of her government is voted “emergency powers.” As the Star Wars version of a Prime Minister becomes the Emperor, the crowd goes wild and everybody cheers. Those who have abolished freedom think they have accomplished a great thing for the people they represent.

During all this backslapping and celebration, only Padme is smart enough to see that a dictatorship has just been born.

There is a lesson for all of us in her next line: “So, this is how liberty dies: With thunderous applause.”


The column above first appeared in the Saline Courier and is reprinted here with permission from Jim Harris.

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