Is Democracy the Guarantee?

History teaches the disturbing truth that humanity has no sure protection against the rise of totalitarianism. While democracy is the best hope, it’s no guarantee that some variety of dictatorship will not haunt the world again. The age of the dictators and their systems may be over, but totalitarianism remains a slumbering threat.

The most destructive political systems of the past century found fertile ground in the aftermath of World War I. Political, social and economic upheaval gave men with total solutions significant appeal and opportunity. The fact that they espoused violence as a means to their political ends was generally dismissed until it was too late.

In Adolf Hitler’s case, he had already told the world of his venomous hatred in his manifesto, Mein Kampf. But few believed he would ever come to office. When he did, through the democratic process, it was in the self-interest of powerful men to support him. And the fact that his unexpected rise to total power happened as quickly as it did in a civilized land is reason enough to beware the coming of new totalitarian saviors.

Hans-Christian Täubrich is an authority on the history of the Third Reich. In a Vision interview, he noted that the European Union, forged from the ruins of World War II, resolved the immediate problem of Franco-German enmity. It’s brought about more than a half century of peace, during which time 27 nations have united in a unique democratic order. The quiet hope is that democracy will prevail. Yet this historian also confided that there is no guarantee that dictators will not seize the reins again under certain conditions.

Täubrich: “How positive it ever may sound, and how simple it ever may sound that somebody has the solution for the big problems of this world or also for the smaller problems of one society, there should always be time at first to think it over, to question, to be curious—curious for the reasons behind the state. And we should always be taught that we do have this chance and that nothing comes from its own. Because if we are not interested, and if we do not take part, there might always be the chance or the possibility that somebody is there who says, ‘My goodness, they’re not interested; but they should be led in a way that I have a good idea of’—with not so respective aims, and then you have a similar situation. Take excluded societies like North Korea or Iran, where—especially in North Korea—people are totally shut up from the rest of the world and don’t know whether the sky here is blue or green—and are such a, in this way, a game ball of their leaders. So the mechanisms which have been used by the Nazis are still there. The machinery was smashed totally, of course, but all the different parts, they are still there and can be put together—maybe in a different shape, maybe with a different aim, but with the same effect.”

Another historian explained that the key to understanding the Nazi years is that Hitler created his own religion. Assessing the dictator’s many statements, Thomas Schirrmacher has found that war and religion played major roles in his thinking. Studying Hitler as the founder of a religion of war is a relatively new approach.

Schirrmacher: “Hitler believed that God created the world to be at war all the time—the races against each other, and all the races against the Jews. So war was not just an ethical question—Should we go to war or not?—but it was the essence of this world, and this is why he was sent by God to save the people, through war. Number two, the war was not a result of his worldview—that he wanted to win over other people for his worldview, and if they would not follow, he would put war on them. But war itself was his worldview. He thought this is what the world is for, which meant that peace only can be a time in between where you gather new things until you go to war again. He thought peace to be a very dangerous thing. In peace, weak people take over the power. Democracy, for him, is the result of peace; and the weakness of democracy is that weak people, the normal people, take over power (and not the genius people)—as a result of peace. And you have to go back to war, and then people like him will be the real leaders again.”

The idea that men should think of themselves as saviors or messiahs has a long history. That they should usurp the role of the true Messiah is something that Jesus foretold. Answering questions from some of His disciples about the end of this age of man, Jesus said in part, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ [that’s Christos in the original Greek of the New Testament] and they will lead many astray.” The Hebrew equivalent is mashiyach; it means “messiah,” “one who is anointed,” or “the anointed one.”

The true Messiah is the One who is specially set apart for the task of resolving all human problems. Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that the Messiah is yet to complete this task. Therefore, anyone who comes “in my name”—that is to say, counterfeiting his role and authority—is a false messiah. But very few religious figures have done that. On the other hand, there have been many false messiahs in the political realm, and they have led many astray. Among them are the justifiably despised great dictators of the 20th century.

The lesson that is yet to be learned is how quickly the wrong people can come to power despite our best political hopes. That’s why in the final outcome it will be the real Messiah who will deliver humanity from human tyranny and oppression and bring about the restitution of all things.