Equating the individual with the office

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Equating the individual with the office is a form of equivocation in which loyalty to the organization (organizational loyalty) is equated with loyalty to the particular person currently in a position of power in that organization (personal loyalty). This equivalence, once established, can then be further subverted into personal loyalty over organizational loyalty, which is by its very nature (though not always explicitly or consciously) opposed to whatever process the organization normally uses for succession of power (e.g. elections), severely tilting the balance of power maintained by that process and thus threatening the organization's long-term viability.

In some forms of government (e.g. dictatorship) this equivalence is enforced by law. It is one of democracy's key principles, however, that government officials above a certain level (always including the very top levels) must be chosen by the citizens. Democracy as we generally recognize it (and specifically as implemented in the United States) also includes the requirements that anyone in any public office:

  • may be freely criticized by anyone, without fear of retribution, as long as such criticism does not amount to libel or slander (freedom of the press and freedom of speech)
  • may be removed from office if their performance or conduct fails to meet certain standards

Criticizing a leader of such a democracy does not therefore equate to disloyalty or anti-patriotism. Indeed, since a leader has great power to damage the country's well-being through his/her actions, it is the responsibility of the public to monitor those actions, to ensure that those actions are widely known, to publicly praise or criticize those actions where appropriate, and to take steps to censure or remove a leader who is not acting responsibly.

Unfortunately, this distinction seems to escape many people, and that confusion can be exploited by unscrupulous political agencies to further their own agenda. In recent times, for example, those who criticize President George W. Bush's Iraq policy have been attacked for being "Anti-American", "disloyal", "unpatriotic", "unwilling to fight for freedom", and other similar qualities.


2005-09-25 Defenders of Iraq war counter-rally Referring to Cindy Sheehan and other anti-war demonstrators, "The group who spoke here the other day did not represent the American ideals of freedom, liberty and spreading that around the world," Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, told the crowd. "I frankly don't know what they represent, other than to blame America first." ... One sign on the mall read "Cindy Sheehan doesn't speak for me" and another "Arrest the traitors"; it listed Sheehan's name first among several people who have spoken against the war.


"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." — Edward R. Murrow, 1954.


There's got to be a more concise term for this... something with the word "conflation" in it.