Why Autocracy Is A Bad Idea

Why Autocracy Is A Bad Idea


Leonard Zwelling

Autocracy is basically a system of government under the control of a single person. China, Russia and Iran are all autocracies despite having the trappings of representative leadership, like meaningless parliaments. There is no shared governance in these places and the boss doesn’t consult with anyone when he wants to do something—like invade the Ukraine, or Taiwan, or Israel.

This poses a real problem for the United States which is anything but an autocracy. It’s supposed to be a republic (not a democracy) with representative government, an elected President, elected congresspeople and federal justices appointed by the executive and approved by the legislature. In essence running an autocracy is far more efficient than running a representative government and decisions can be made faster in the former, but it’s no way to run a government if the people’s will is to be considered in important decisions. This puts our current national leadership in a bit of a bind.

President Biden is the titular head of our foreign policy apparatus and as such will have to respond if Russia invades the Ukraine as Mr. Biden presumes it will do. What is a sufficient response that is good for the world, good for the United States, and resonant with the will of the American people?

It appears for now that the response will be largely symbolic sanctions (no Platinum AMEX cards for the politburo) and perhaps, a unified answer from NATO to cut Russia off as a customer or a supplier, although I cannot imagine this really happening. That’s easy for Mr. Biden to do, but harder for the leaders of Germany who need that gas pipeline to stay warm this winter. I understand what Mr. Putin wants and from his point of view, he perceives himself to be in the same position that President Kennedy was in during the Cuban Missile Crisis—thinking he’s got enemies too close to his border for comfort. Putin wants no more additions to NATO from states that were in the former Soviet Union and no more military hardware from NATO surrounding him.

Besides, Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet Empire of which the Ukraine was a significant part. Biden may be right. Putin may launch an attack on its neighbor. I am not sure I see a deterrent to this action on the part of NATO that would likely work unless the NATO nations can act as one to cut off Russia from their economies and try to prop up the Ukraine with aid—weapons and money. As I said above, this is not likely. What Biden needs is to give Putin something so Putin saves face and appears to his people to have gotten what he wanted. We’ll see if Biden is as clever as JFK was in 1962.

The point is only that autocracies can move quickly and are difficult to oppose.

MD Anderson was established by R. Lee Clark as an autocracy. The president was more king than executive leader. Over the years, the faculty has been successful in eroding the power of the President of MD Anderson simply by becoming the essential cog in the MD Anderson mission and forming the Faculty Senate under Dr. LeMaistre to gain a voice in sharing the governance of the institution.

Since then, it has become as much the rule as the exception for there to be clashes between the MD Anderson President and the Senate. The concept of shared governance was introduced to make certain that the faculty has some input into the forming of new laws and policies that would affect the lives of faculty members. Presidents of MD Anderson have not been keen on the shared government concept and the current incumbent appears to be no exception as recent blogs have pointed out.

I think this natural push and pull between the faculty and the executive is really healthy. It tends to keep the executive mindful and the faculty engaged.

But it can also become a distraction.

The real job of the executive is to outline his or her strategy for fulfilling the mission of eradicating cancer, keeping the bottom line whole, and embodying the spirit of the institution. The major job of the faculty is to execute that strategy through the tactical work in the academic departments—clinical care, research, education and prevention. In the end it would be nice if everyone rowed in the same direction, but that can only happen when the faculty participate in the governance of the institution.

In the beginning, MD Anderson was an autocracy. On paper, it still is. Operationally, it cannot be any longer. It’s too big, too complicated and the implementation of the mission is way beyond the ability of one person to oversee.

MD Anderson, like the United States is a vast collection of individuals with different ideas about how the cancer problem should be addressed. Yes, it’s the President’s job to lead, but he cannot do so in a vacuum and he must have the most insightful of advisors to guide him in his strategic and tactical work. The question class is how close to that ideal is MD Anderson right now?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *