Dictatorship in Theory and Practice

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George Peabody Gooch
Dr George Peabody Gooch M.P. (1873 – 1968). Image by Walter Stoneman, 1930. Copyright: the National Portrait Gallery
John A Hobson
John A Hobson (1858 – 1940)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 13 March 1935. Chaired by John Hobson and presented by Dr. G. P. Gooch M P.

The post 1918 dictatorships in Europe have largely resulted from the turmoil created by World War One. Their advent shows that democracy is by no means a secure institution in the modern world. However, democratic systems will probably continue to predominate, if with difficulty. The countries in which democracy has collapsed- Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Turkey- have no long tradition of political freedom, whereas democracy has survived in nations with that tradition, Hence, the more widespread the experience of democracy is, the more likely is democracy to prevail.

The democratic outlook accords with everything we regard as human progress and the advance of civilisation: rationalism, individualism combined with public spirit, and the idea of the state as servant rather than master of society. Also, democracy is actually more effective than totalitarianism in waging war. The many dangers involved in totalitarianism revolve around the misuse of power by single individuals and their coteries, and the denial of civil and personal liberties: all resulting in the stunting or crushing of individuality and mental freedom. Such liberties are the basis of western civilisation. The more they are respected, the smaller the role played by force, both within societies and between them.

To avoid the further spread of totalitarianism, democratic and liberal societies must seek to create a better quality of life for their citizens than is possible under totalitarianism. This does mean widening the administrative province of the state, especially in economics, but always with the purpose of serving society and enhancing the wellbeing of its members.

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