Edited by Stephen P. Banks
Chapter 3: Dissent in Times of Crisis
Jean Lipman-Blumen What I want is men who will support me when I am in the wrong.1 (William Lamb Melbourne, British Prime Minister, 1834, 1835–41) INTRODUCTION Like Prime Minister Melbourne, few leaders welcome dissent. While stiﬂing dissent is an unabashed hallmark of authoritarian regimes, it occurs in democratic systems as well, despite their avowed openness to debate. When crises occur, dissent is appreciated even less. Crises shake the ground beneath incumbent leaders. They also give rise to authoritarianism and secrecy. Consequently, crises create hothouse conditions for squelching dissenters and their messages, despite the potential importance of their warnings. More surprisingly, leaders are not the only ones who cold-shoulder dissenters during crises. In fact, leaders’ rejection of dissent frequently infects many of their loyal followers, too. As a result, followers often mimic the hue and cry of their leaders, who routinely subject dissenters and their frustrated brethren, whistleblowers, to professional and personal ostracism or worse (Alford, 2001). They rarely recognize how dissent provides the potential antidote to ‘groupthink’, that well-documented undertow in which policymakers can be swept away during crises (Janis, 1972). What leaders, particularly toxic leaders, have to gain by silencing dissenters is quite apparent, even to the casual observer. What followers derive from endorsing the suﬀocation of dissent, however, is far less obvious and more intriguing. That is particularly the case when the followers’ own personal freedoms, even those constitutionally guaranteed, may be in serious jeopardy. The purpose of this chapter is four-fold: ﬁrst, to explore...
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