A Bit of Dictatorship

BERLIN (Own report) - Foreign policy specialists from Berlin's establishment are discussing possible advantages of dictatorial forms of government. According to the current issue of a leading German foreign policy review, some observers see the West as being currently in a "state of democratic fatigue with an erosion of democratic institutions." Simultaneously there are "diverse discussions of dictatorial powers and measures" even if usually in terms of a temporary dictatorship. They see as the primary question, whether "beyond the system of rule of law, legitimacy reserves can be tapped" to "rejuvenate the system (- democracy -) that has grown old" is the formulation of the journal, a terminology used in the 1930s by the key Nazi jurist, Carl Schmitt to justify the annulment of the democratic constitution. This article suggests that some business representatives are in no way adverse to authoritarian measures and are questioning whether "the constitutional state can still hold its own" in the competition of systems against China and Russia. The author, a member of the advisory board of Berlin's Federal College for Security Studies, considers that the dictatorship "has been proven to be the wrong route to take," but he does not refuse to participate in a discussion of principles on the advantages of dictatorial methods.

A New Competition of Systems

The review published by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), "Internationale Politik", considered the most prestigious periodical in questions of foreign policy in the Federal Republic of Germany, devoted its latest edition to questions of "dictatorships". "The economic boom of autocratic powers such as China and Russia," the review explains, "has re-ignited the competition of systems."[1] In its editorial, the review's editor poses the question: "have authoritarian systems refurbished their gloss - because they are quicker at making decisions than portly democracies?" The review, posing its rhetorical questions, is obviously taking part in the current debate in Berlin's establishment circles and is positioning itself squarely in favor of democracy: "The glitter of dictatorships - remains counterfeit." But in one of the articles in "Internationale Politik" variations of dictatorial rule are thoroughly illuminated. The author is Herfried Münkler, a political science professor in Berlin and one of Berlin's most prominent political advisors, as he serves on the advisory board of the Federal College for Security Studies in Berlin.[2]


Münkler writes that, "according to some observers," the West finds itself today in a "state of democratic fatigue and an erosion of democratic institutions." Münkler is referring to the British political scientist, Colin Crouch, who, in his work entitled "Post-Democracy," detects an internal decomposition of western democracies. Crouch defines post-democracy as "a commonwealth, where, although elections still take place, competing teams of professional PR experts have such tight control over the public debate during the electoral campaign, that the whole thing is reduced to a spectacle". He sees western nations headed toward this sort of social formation.[3] Münkler, then detects that a "spreading discomfort with democracy" provides "a certain seductiveness for a flirt with dictatorships."[4]

Managers and Industrialists

According to Münkler, above all, it is the inertia of democratic procedures, the sluggishness of the democratic decision-making processes, "the lack of a selection of political personnel" and the "influence of parties and interest groups" that induce a "wish for 'a bit of dictatorship'."[5] In addition one finds, "the administrative need for 'Bonapartist solutions'," the "conceptualization of pertinent, depoliticized, bureaucratic procedure." "Dictatorship arrives (...) on procedural paws and according to its motto, 'what has to be decided, is what the administration has decided." In this context, Münkler explicitly mentions "managers and industrialists", who consider that through the de-parliamentarization of political decisions, their opportunity to be able to reap the advantages of the global competition, "will come quicker." But for the moment, demands for a classical 20th Century dictatorship, do not go beyond the wishes for less red tape or just "a bit of dictatorship".

Legality and Legitimacy

Münkler summarizes that "democracy (...) shows signs of fatigue and symptoms of deficiency; it needs a revitalization cure, but an alternative form of government to replace it, is nowhere in sight."[6] The key question is: "Is there a reservoir of legitimacy lying beyond the legal order that can be tapped and claimed to rejuvenate the elderly order?" Münkler's question plays on terminology that had once been used by the key Nazi jurist, Carl Schmitt, to justify the suspension of the democratic constitution. During the last years of the Weimar Republic, Schmitt, who differentiated between legality (abiding by positive law) and legitimacy (abiding by a norm superimposed over positive law), defended the standpoint that legality and legitimacy no longer coincided, and with his thesis that to protect the legitimacy, a dictatorship may be necessary, he helped pave the way for the Nazis to come to power.[7]

A Provisional Dictator

Münkler recalls that Schmitt "differentiated between provisional and sovereign dictatorships." Whereas a "sovereign dictatorship" creates a new political order, the "provisional dictatorship" defends a "constitutional order by extra-constitutional means."[8] "If there is various talk of dictatorial powers and measures today, it is usually in the sense of what Schmitt referred to as a provisional dictatorship" says Münkler in regards to the discussion taking place out of earshot of the public. "But no constitutional institution is prepared to take the risk of installing a provisional dictator."


Münkler leaves no doubt that he, after careful deliberation, rejects dictatorial means: "Even with all of the contradictions in democracies, with dictatorships, in all their variations, the risks are too high."[9] Whether Münkler's rejection will convince those, who, according to his information, are today talking "of various dictatorial powers and measures" remains, for the time being, unknown.

[1] Der falsche Glanz der Diktatur; Internationale Politik Mai/Juni 2010
[2] see also Strategic Community, Ein neues Machtzentrum, Exclusive Contacts and Nur noch rechtshistorisch bedeutsam
[3] Colin Crouch: Postdemokratie, Frankfurt am Main 2008
[4], [5], [6] Herfried Münkler: Lahme Dame Demokratie; Internationale Politik Mai/Juni 2010
[7] Carl Schmitt: Legalität und Legitimität, 1932. Zur Rezeption Carl Schmitts durch einen hochrangigen Berater der Bundeskanzlerin s. auch Der Militärberater der Kanzlerin
[8], [9] Herfried Münkler: Lahme Dame Demokratie; Internationale Politik Mai/Juni 2010