Does America Need a New Authoritarian President?

Given the highly-publicized histories of certain authoritarian leaders, younger readers may be surprised to learn that America has already had several authoritarian presidents.  Theodore Roosevelt stands out as one of the best-known, revered by many, with John F. Kennedy running a close second. Donald Trump was and perhaps will be again, a strong authoritarian president.  And don’t forget about Woodrow Wilson either, who very much fits the definition.  Why are we afraid of the word authoritarian?  Well, because there are notorious authoritarians too, men like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Yet, let’s start with the dictionary definition and move on from there— the three definitions for authoritarian are:

  1. Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom.

  2. Tending to tell other people what to do in a peremptory or arrogant manner: dictatorial.

  3. Characteristic of an absolute ruler or absolute rule; having absolute sovereignty; – of governments or rulers.

The word authoritarian does have negative connotations, and understandably so.  Given that authoritarianism is not just a Republican or Democratic characteristic, let’s examine why most successful and especially transformative presidents have had a strong authoritarian bent and why not enough authoritarianism leads to indecisive and detrimental leadership.

It is important to note that a president’s vision occasionally conflicts with the more widely held views of the public or the political class.  While the House and Senate, which you would ostensibly think are closest to the people, frequently or mostly reflect narrow partisan interests or lobbyist money, think in terms of bringing home the bacon.  It is the president who sets the agenda, no one else.  Eight years after Kennedy said we were going to the moon, it happened.  Can you imagine if this was a collective endeavor of the House and Senate?  We would have never gone.

Times of crisis are the most profound occasions demanding authoritarian leadership.  As the United States entered the First World War, former president Roosevelt pleaded with then-president Woodrow Wilson to let him coordinate the American response.  Roosevelt was bitterly disappointed when turned down, missing his chance to leave an enduring leadership legacy.

Teddy Roosevelt stated:

If there is not the war, you don’t get the great general; if there is not a great occasion, you don’t get a great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name.

In fact, the entire military is structured upon authoritarianism; it is a cohesive unit commanded by the president himself, which sees the collective mission eclipse individual freedoms.

Furthermore, can you imagine a world where “individual freedom” is the primary objective?  (We’re getting a taste of it now.) Leftists promote child sacrifice because it’s their body, a matter of reproductive freedom and individual autonomy of course, and child mutilation practices, or “gender-affirming care” is simply a person’s individual expression and right to live as they so choose.

Our presidents are our federal leaders, while our House and Senate members are our legislators; legislative “work” often amounts to superficial debates about possible outcomes, and frequently, no consensus in the people’s interest is reached. A degree of tension was built into our system for good reason, but the tension we experience now is not what it was in the 1780s—now it’s the establishment against the people, instead of competing ideas between statesmen.  One of the roles of both the House and Senate is to either put brakes on rogue presidents, or at least buffer overly ambitious ideas and actions.  Our presidents will continue to be the most likely to restore any sort of republican ideals, and navigate us through the inevitable shoals of dangerous waters into the future.  Milquetoast presidents have not fared well in a historical context.

Authoritarianism is a new old buzzword.  For a country that prides itself on democracy, we sometimes have a problem understanding that definition.   Does it mean that our leaders are to do the people’s bidding?  Or does it simply mean that everyone gets a vote?  Senator Mike Lee said, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are.  We want the human condition to flourish.  Rank democracy (mob rule) can thwart that.”

Too few citizens even know we are a republic and what that means.  Could you pass a citizenship test? From The Hill:

All told, only 36 percent of those surveyed were able to pass the citizenship exam. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed failed to score a 60 percent, answering at least eight of the 20 questions incorrectly. And for those under the age of 45, fewer than one in five, just 19 percent, passed the test.

Our narcissistic citizenry lacks the vital interest and necessary investment of time to understand important issues.  This is why we need strong presidents with an equally strong legislative branch to keep a strong president in check.  Citizens want the appropriate degree of balance in government commensurate to our times.  We need authoritarian presidents in times of war, and less so when our necks are not in a noose.

This system has worked well for most of our nearly 250 year history.  However, something has changed that dramatically altered the balance of power…the rise of the bureaucracy.  If you want to understand how powerful a bureaucracy can become, look no further than France.  From a Frenchman:

Of course, I realize that bureaucracy is inefficient and despised anywhere, but it does seem that there is a peculiarly French style of administration where everything depends on personal sympathy with the secretary/admin officer.

America’s bureaucracy has come of age.  The French have nothing on us any longer.  Our agencies which perform vital functions, only exist to guarantee their survival.  Do you need a timely passport, a wetlands determination, an oil exploration permit, or any of the tens of thousands of “permissions” granted by state, local, or federal bureaucracies?  Their interpretation of what is permissible is frequently inconsistent, slow, and inflexible.  Too many of these people appear to lead anti-progress and anti-democratic movements.  My dealings, as well as those of friends and associates over many years of business here and internationally, reinforce those beliefs.

We see big business and bureaucracy as closely allied in inefficiency.  Our Navy can’t seem to build warships without huge cost overruns—it takes two to three times as long as some of our allies to manufacture the same product.  Why are we falling behind our enemies?  Blame what President Eisenhower used to call the military–industrial complex, or originally, the congressional MIC.  

Our next president must rein in our soul-sucking bureaucracies and the MIC before they so weaken us that we lose the next consequential war, be it one of trade, inventiveness, energy, or on the battlefield.  The Framers never anticipated that the bureaucracy would become as powerful as it has.  They never intended the federal government to grow boundlessly.  We need an ultra-strong, or morally authoritarian president, to reset the bureaucratic clock for another 250 years.  It won’t be easy, there are just too many snouts in the trough.

In the final analysis, it is all about the money.  Working for the administrative side of the government is the default choice for a certain kind of person, though not everyone should be tarred with that brush.  Still, enough of them are either initially or eventually seduced by the sureness of a paycheck.  They benefit more than the average American, along with a much more relaxed lifestyle and the power that frequently goes with mid-level or senior positions.

It’s in our nature to believe we’ve earned the money, power, and more that comes from working for the government.  It’s our job to ensure we get value from our investment and not just a hindrance to America’s future.  That job often falls to an authoritarian executive who might not be the diplomatic and “polite” statesman you think he ought to be.

God Bless America!

Allan J. Feifer—Patriot, Author, Businessman, and Thinker.  Read more about Allan, his background, and his ideas to create a better tomorrow at

Image: Free image, Pixabay license, no attribution required.

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