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politics

Why Autocratic Regimes Depend on Fear and Insecurity

Situation: Political Leader A is threatening to invade Country B for asserted reasons of historical justice, retribution, pride or security.

Explanation: Political Leader A is threatening to invade Country B in order to keep their own people in line.

Creating a sense of fear and insecurity is a way to make people feel like they need a strong leader to protect them. This is a classic psychological pathology and political playbook in which the cultivation of an external threat inversely becomes the self-validating kernel and core around and upon which self-identity and nationalist narratives are built. In other words, creating a vivid sense of fear and insecurity becomes used as a narrative tool and political or media spectacle to justify the repression of one’s own people.

When a country’s leader creates a sense of fear and insecurity in their people, it makes them more likely to reflexively believe they need a strong leader to protect them. This is a classic psychological (as much as ideological) gambit in which the cultivation of the perceptions of an external threat inversely becomes the self-validating kernel and core around and upon which self-identity and nationalist narratives are built. This means that when a country’s leader or their political delegates create a sense of fear and insecurity, it justifies the repression of their own people. This is because when people are scared, they are more likely to look to someone else for protection. This can be dangerous because it can lead to the repression of people’s rights and freedoms.

Ironically – all this projection of an external threat has a psychological (and cultural) consequence of generating an internalised paranoia and fear. The political consequence of the cultivation of such an emotionally and psychologically fragile self-identity is that the external threat needs to be continuously regenerated. This kind of endlessly belligerent fear-mongering and threat-making is precisely what we currently see in at least (but not only) two significant contemporary international flashpoints.

The cultivation of an external threat is used to justify the excessive surveillance and control of their own people and that, in a nutshell, is the basis of power in autocratic political systems. External belligerence is the source of internal fear and were it not that this is such an endemic property of human minds, we would not see it repeated again and again at all scales and in almost all social and cultural contexts. It is, in short, an infantile absurdity that threatens the freedom and future of all peoples, all nations.

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