Military Dictatorship: Ever-Present Threat


Whether a powerful military exists for defense or for revolution, it poses a constant threat to all but the most sophisticated and successful civilian regimes. An army, by its nature, will always have superiority of force and will tend to prefer the hammer in its hand to any theoretical conflict resolution method outside of its area of expertise. More seriously, by its nature, an army will tend to have loyal low-level functionaries (i.e., the soldiers) rather than analytical and questioning functionaries likely to evaluate honestly the propriety of the orders they receive; civilians will hardly ever be so well organized and so unified. Hence, a national army always presents at least a latent threat to the security of its own people, meaning that citizens need always maintain vigilance over the behavior of their own military and understand how a society’s armed forces can begin to abuse their power and repress the society they are created to defend.

Perhaps the most essential insight required of a citizenry wishing to protect its liberty is that military repression by a garrison state can evolve out of an advanced liberal democracy or out of a nascent state that has just won its independence and that is just beginning to organize itself. No society can ever consider itself immune from military dictatorship, not least because the temptation of honorable citizens to surrender themselves to the protection of the military increases in time of emergency much faster than the determination to shine a light on the end of the military dictatorship tunnel. Thus, historical examples of revolutionary states founded as military dictatorships are relevant to understanding the process by which mature democracies may see their freedoms kidnapped. For example, in both cases, the military may manipulate behind the cover of a helpless group of civilian puppets, exploiting any crisis to justify interference with the political system by arguing that the crisis mandates emphasis on state power rather than the well-being of the populace. Instructive is the history of Algeria, characterized as it has been by a military dictatorship, whether it acted behind the scenes or openly, that always placed  state power ahead of pluralism:

Le système du parti unique, façade de l’emprise de l’armée sur le Pouvoir a toujours été justifié par la nécessité de construire un Etat national fort, le Commandement militaire met en avant une conception de la nation qui se base sur la fusion et l’unicité des forces plus que sur le rassemblement et le pluralisme. Il en résulte une construction de  l’Etat qui écarte la diversité politique et socioculturelle réelle du pays et impose les conceptions autoritaires. Ainsi, pendant la période du parti unique,  de 1962 à 1989, fut décidée l’interdiction non seulement des partis politiques qui sont ainsi contraints à la clandestinité mais également de tout syndicat et association qui refusent de se placer sous l’égide du parti unique. Les organisations syndicales et professionnelles ne disposent d’aucune autonomie. Les appareils civils doivent mettre en musique les partitions dont ils savent qu’elles ont l’accord du Commandement militaire. [Madjid Benchikh, L’organisation de la system politique, Dossier 13, Comite Justice Pour l’Algerie, May 2004, 6.]

As the years passed, Algeria’s circumstances changed, and the military dictatorship behind the single party front insisted on defining its own hold on power as its primary goal, the cost of dictatorship became increasingly clear for no single power, immune from challenge, can possibly retain sufficient open-mindedness to select the proper policy forever:

L’incapacité du système du parti unique à imaginer des solutions susceptibles de répondre aux besoins de la société, accroît les conflits entre les dirigeants. [Benchikh, 7.]



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