The newest Star Wars movie is smashing box office records. But it’s not just a science-fiction tale of lightsabers and Sith lords. “The Force Awakens” continues the story of a democratic republic that succumbs to ruthless dictatorship when its citizens give up their civil liberties. Promising security, Emperor Palpatine didn’t simply proclaim himself supreme ruler—he asked the people for emergency powers and they said yes.
In the new video below, Lenoir-Rhyne University Professor Amy Sturgis explains that tyrants like him don’t just take power—they convince citizens to give it to them. We’ve seen it happen repeatedly in real life. Adolf Hitler, for example, assumed power legally and democratically. He exploited German fears about the economy to turn a constitutional democracy into a tyrannical Nazi superpower. Ancient Rome, Napoleonic France, and other historical examples also followed this path from democracy to dictatorship.
In the wake of terrorist attacks and widespread concern about America’s national security, Sturgis warns that “emergency powers often outlive the emergency.” This includes collecting phone records, banning refugees based on their religion, and other political proposals we hear on the campaign trail. Democracy alone won’t protect us from Darth Vader. It’s up to us.