The death of democracy in seventeen steps

What can you do to dissuade people from believing propaganda and fake news? What can you do to make us less gullible media-wise? What if we see how our freedoms disappear, take after take, like when shooting a motion picture? Why not demonstrate how political thugs are fooling us into believing that they are essential to us? Treating ordinary people as cannon fodder or dimwits or scum is the worst-case scenario for any community.

Those who fall into captivity know only too well with the benefit of hindsight how easy it is to end up in such a situation. The mechanism of enslavement is so obvious and simple that most people miss it. It is perhaps this ease or unfathomable “invisibility” with which people choose to lose their freedom that deprives the electorate of common sense, pushing them to place their heads into a noose. The process of how a naïve citizen becomes a slave of the state, and how dictatorships rise into power, follows a predetermined route that can be divided into specific and clearly visible stages:

  1. The Evil One or TEO who craves absolute power appears.
  2. TEO surrounds himself with those who are power-greedy and who are obedient to him. He establishes a party and clarifies a strategy of winning the next election. The party promises people what they want or tells tall stories which people are willing to believe. Dictatorial power is initially won by spreading lies.
  3. TEO strives to win the trust of the many, the least educated and the oldest. They are the most vulnerable to promises and lies and the easiest to manipulate, convince or buy. Intellectually weak, they are not able to make proper judgments and defend themselves against the propaganda of TEO. They accept it as the truth because they like it.
  4. TEO will always single out an enemy and pray on common frustrations (what makes people angry), complexes (which make them feel inferior), poor education (telling them what they understand and accept), poverty (what they want to have and what they dream of), tastes (what they like), prejudices (what they fear, shun, and criticise), traditions (what they cultivate and celebrate), and faith (what they take at face value for granted, and what they would blindly defend even at the cost of their lives).
  5. TEO’s propaganda and manipulation are grounded solely on three clear and commonly understood ideas, namely communism, fascism, and religion, since they are quick and easy ways to stupefy society.
  6. Knowing that the faithful are well-disciplined and accustomed to feudal obedience towards their priests, TEO embeds his propaganda in religious teachings (indoctrination). Catholicism or Islam or the three ideologies mentioned above are ‘user-friendly’ because at their very core lies fear of life and death.
  7. TEO reaches out to wherever possible, promising everyone the fulfilment of their dreams, with optimism and feigned reverence for his target voters.
  8. TEO wins the election and consolidates his power. At the outset, he keeps his key election promise at the expense of all citizens and the good financial standing of the state, offering money to a selected group of people ‘for free’ and dubbing it a solidarity tax or benefit.
  9. TEO strengthens propaganda by harnessing public media which are paid for from the state budget. Public media become the mouthpiece for the government and news programmes focus solely on propaganda, faking independent and professional journalism and offering a lopsided view of the world which the supporters of the ruling party take for reality.
  10. TEO fakes legal measures to bring in his supporters to courts and prosecutor’s offices with a view to ensuring that any doubt, grievance or claim is settled as the authorities see fit. Loss of independence of the courts of law paves the way for dictatorship.
  11. TEO continues to seek out enemies while the government media launch an all-out attack against the opposition. The government starts bribing the army and the police and uses them to quash street demonstrations of political opponents.
  12. TEO makes sure that his voters have simple entertainment and secures their basic needs. They are inculcated with a propaganda perfectly tailored to their emotions highlighting ‘our patriotism’, ‘our traditions’, ‘our values and beliefs’, and ‘our nation’.
  13. TEO strives to destroy independent media and to gag journalists. Only government media have a licence to operate and spread lies with impunity. Independent journalists or those who make any anti-government statements are punishable by imprisonment. Freedom of speech or expression becomes a thing of the past giving way to ubiquitous censorship.
  14. TEO and his entourage make a fortune on state-owned property, running shady businesses to ensure the financial security of party leaders. They take plum jobs in public administration and in state-owned companies.
  15. TEO starts imprisoning those of his voters who protest against plunging into poverty and dictatorial laws. Social discontent is brought to the fore in a de facto communist system which, for propaganda purposes, is dubbed as rightist, traditional, national or conservative. Naïve and stupefied voters of the ruling party become aware that bread meaning free distribution has dried up, and trashy circuses are no longer enjoyable. They painfully realise that the imperfect democracy they did not like or fought because their captive minds had been taken over by a full-scale dictatorship.
  16. TEO begins to curb religious influences and the populist narrative; after all, he no longer needs to win and share power with others.
  17. Authoritarianism and dictatorship are rife while the society is clearly divided into subordinates and the privileged ruling elite. The government quashes social revolts and eliminates enemies by resorting to the army and the police. Eventually, democracy breathes its last breath. Poverty holds sway, goods are rationed, and propaganda is rife. No one can think or act freely, and education is narrowed down to the most elementary level. Fear and powerlessness come to the surface and life becomes synonymous with suffering.

This is the mechanism of enslavement in a nutshell. Cloaked in populism, it can be set in motion anywhere and anytime. Even the mature American democracy is feuding over the election of Donald Trump as president, and the British democracy treated the country to Brexit. Similar tendencies are visible in election results of many countries where populist leanings are on the rise. These countries remain oblivious to their defeat when TEO wins the election. Neither the US, nor France, Germany, Italy, Spain or Japan will protect themselves against the populist sentiment that is fuelled in a wicked, yet professional manner. Each state has its own populist ideas and its own susceptibility to folly or political naivete. Hitler, Mao Zedong, Hugo Chavez or Lukashenko are but a few examples. Italy, France, Germany or Scandinavian countries offer more insights into the effects of the populist spread. And a look at Russia or China will suffice to see a one-man or party dictatorship in operation.

What can one do to defend democracy and freedom from enslavement and dictatorship? There appear to be only two ways. The first is to make people aware early on of the significance of freedom and – tactfully and truthfully – of their real capacity to judge reality and, by extension, to develop their immunity to propaganda. The other is for democratically elected governments to look after the most populous and the least educated people and to provide them with an adequate level of ‘bread and circuses’. The distribution of wealth and income must always factor in their needs.

There is only one answer to the question of who to vote for: the party or the politician who guarantees as much freedom, liberties, and tolerance in their agenda as possible. Despite its imperfections, only a world such as this offers bearable living conditions for the majority. And if you struggle hard to follow or agree on this truth, you are a promising candidate for a slave or… a dictator.


Jacek Dabala (in Polish: Dąbała) is a professor at Jagiellonian University. He is a media specialist and auditor of media quality (, novelist, scriptwriter, and former journalist. His publications include Thinking. The Heart of the Media, Creative Paths to Television Journalism, and Mystery and Suspense in Creative Writing.