Dictator

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
It doesn't stop at the water's edge:

Politics

link=:category:
Key players
Theory
Practice
Random strands and actors
Other concepts
Country sections

Flag of the United States.svg
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg


Dictators, also known as autocrats, despots, or tyrants, are totalitarian absolute rulers with very few (if at any) checks on their power. They tend to be brutally corrupt and repressive.

Despite being generally opposed as a method of government, dictatorships have support from across the world, although only when it suits either the people (or the interests of the establishment). The former Soviet Union, itself a highly authoritarian government for most of its history, supported dictators in its satellite, puppet, and client states.

Contents

[edit] Problems with dictatorship

While many people in democracies begrudgingly (or enthusiastically) seem to tolerate dictatorship because it seems to "work" better in times of emergency, dictatorships have numerous, numerous problems associated with them. For the purposes of this list, 'dictatorship' refers to any anti-majoritarian government such as monarchies, theocracies, oligarchies, etc.

  • Dictatorships have regularly had violent competitions for power either on behalf of the dictator or the would-be usurper. To the victor goes the spoils and when the prize is absolute power, there's very little people wouldn't do to protect or obtain it. Many examples abound, from Stalin's Great Purges to the many wars of succession for the British crown in the pre-industrial era. Even if the dictator lays out clear rules about who is supposed to succeed him or her, oftentimes rivals or pretenders just flat-out ignore it and you have conflict anyway. Democracies, by contrast, have much more peaceful transitions of power.
  • A corollary is that dictatorships rarely select for competence or vigour in the leadership below the dictator — quite the opposite. An underling who is too competent, too popular, too effective, or too vigorous will usually be eliminated, leaving incompetent nonentities. This creates security for the dictator — no rivals for power — but it plays merry hell with succession and the period after. An exception would be when a dictator expects to die in the next year or two; he might attempt to groom a successor molded in his image, as Francisco Franco did with Prince Juan Carlos (although that didn't work out as he planned).
  • Also, the skills required to successfully seize power and to actually govern successfully are rarely guaranteed to reside in the same person. Mao Zedong, for example, was a downright brilliant guerilla and military leader. This guy was able to outfox both Chiang Kai-shek and the genocidal Japanese Imperial Army (contrasting craven milksops such as Stalin) so was obviously a shoo-in for dictator once establishing the People's Republic of China. But in a very cynical and horrifying application of the Peter Principle he did not translate into prosperity for China, as he was totally fucking incompetent at actually running a country. But since he was dictator, thus holding absolute power, what were the Chinese gonna do? And despite all this the guy, criminally incompetent douchebag or no, undoubtedly earned his position. Many hereditary or yes-man dictators can't even give us the assurance of at least being good at kicking some butt.
  • Even if you could find a dictator who was qualified and benevolent enough to do the job in a way that was beneficial, unless that dictator happens to be immortal that still leaves the problem that their successor may not be so great, often with disastrous consequences.
  • Going with the above problem, dictatorships waste enormous resources on establishing security. In order to prevent challenges to their rule, dictators must obtain control of the media, army and police force, spy on the populace, etc. Classic example: North Korea. That state police and million-strong standing army ain't paying for itself, ya know. The money needed to keep a democracy functioning (polling places, franking privilege, etc.) is much lower in contrast.
  • Because dictators have absolute power, they often find themselves completely unable to forgo using their own power to enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of their subjects. See: the disgustingly sybaritic buildings of the Catholic Church at a time when folks didn't even have closed sewers (even the Indus Valley civilization that came thousands of years before had that!) or the special Communist Party shops or the opulent palaces of the Tsarist government that they used as a hypocritical justification for overthrowing. What makes this especially ironic is that even though dictatorships benefit in the short term by looting their subjects and hoarding the wealth, in the long term they'd be even richer by letting a portion of that capital escape to their subjects. Monarchs in Medieval Europe and governors in pre-modern China held ridiculous amounts of power and wealth relative to their kingdoms, but an upper middle-class Westerner from this era would laugh right in their faces at how small and weak their wealth really is. Regardless, the ruling class in dictatorships just can't break the cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul once it's established, so even after an initial period of increasing the welfare of the populace above and beyond the base trickle the march of technology allows the average prosperity hits a brick wall. Democracies put a hard limit on how much wealth the elite is allowed to accumulate, voting in policies such as progressive taxation to funnel some of the money back down to the masses.
  • It's almost impossible for dictators to get a handle on the entire government. It's no accident that as history marches on dictatorships steadily grow more incompetent; that's because government (and business) has become increasingly more complex both in form and the number of people they need to serve. To 'solve' this problem dictators have to end up delegating some of their power to underlings. It's already bad enough in democracies where people are encouraged to scream at bureaucratic fuck-ups — John F. Kennedy was famously completely floored at Nikita Khrushchev's demand to remove missiles in Turkey, since he had ordered them removed months before and they hadn't gotten around to it.[1] If it's that bad in democratic governments, how much worse do you think it will be in a government where delegates are immune to criticism from the masses, have the ability to reward themselves at the expense of the group, and have an incentive not to piss off Dear Leader by doing something contrary to the wishes of their leader for the good of their people?
  • Elaborating on that last clause some, making the delegation problem significantly worse is that underlings are tempted to sugarcoat bad news and avoid criticizing the dictator's plans or interventions and thus shield them from the truth. Which (notice how dictatorships are like a multi-layer marble cake of bat, dog, horse, whore, chicken, and bullshit; the deeper you go into it the shittier it gets) leads to the next problem:
  • Dictatorships invariably come to believe in their own propaganda and become increasingly separated from reality. You'd think that they would have the sense to keep their prolefeed separate from the reality of their situation, but — George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four aside — few dictators actually want to hear news that their policies are making people desperately unhappy for no good reason. Furthermore, this effect combined with the effect of dictators almost automatically trying to inflict their personal delusions and viewpoints onto the populace (rather than collecting it from the masses/bureaucracy) leads to cognitive dissonance and ignorance both self-inflicted and not. Again picking on Stalin and Mao (because they really really deserve it) this descent into a fantasy world leads to catastrophic events like the the great Soviet famine or the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Democracies are much better about knocking some sense into the people that rule them, both because the trustees have to listen to them to know what they want and also to knowingly avoid taking actions that will piss off the populace. Margaret Thatcher and George H.W. Bush were very rudely jolted out of office in their succeeding elections because of ideologically-driven groupthink that led them to make unpopular decisions. This doesn't happen in dictatorships short of extraordinary crises such as the February Revolution — long after years or even decades of misery and which have a high chance of tearing the country apart.
  • Let's have a quick aside for a second. While the "tyranny of the majority" is often cited as a problem with democracy, the oppression of minorities is exponentially greater in dictatorships. In democracies everyone belongs to a minority group of some form (white male middle-class heterosexual Protestant, while a majority in individual categories, is a minority demographic taken as a whole) and have to form alliances to protect their rights; this is why, for example, Italians and Irish in the United States are viewed as 'white' even though they weren't in the late 19th century. It's no accident that, for example, the American civil rights movement of the 1960s saw an explosion in rights for the underclass and minority as a whole because they formed alliances.[2] In a more contemporary example, even though in the 1990s American racial minorities had a more negative opinion of gay marriage than their white counterparts, recent polls in the 2010s show them as having more support for it than whites.[3] It's not hard to see that, for example, if a surge of dominionism were to infect a portion of the populace it'd be crushed at the polls not only by non-Christians but by women and minorities who saw their rights threatened next. Sexism and racism are greatly reduced because political actors, if not exactly wanting the votes of the minority groups they're opposed to, don't want them to align with other factions and crush them and in the process ruin unrelated interests like tax cuts.
  • By contrast, persecution of minorities is always worse in dictatorships. Dictatorships just plain do not need the support of anyone other than a small proportion of the population; rulers find it absolutely irresistible to persecute and crush rivals and minority groups perceived as a threat in some way or another and if they can't oppose them politically then how are they going to fight back? To make this problem significantly worse, after one minority group is disposed of dictatorships tend to look for the next minority group they can separate and crush, which allows them to steadily shape the populace in the form that they want. This process is almost inevitable in dictatorships, either by design (such as with the Nazi Party) or by trying to look for new enemies to keep the politics of fear gravy train going. Martin Niemöller puts the process succinctly and poetically:
They came first for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

All in all, want to know why religious persecution is much less intense in Turkey than in other Middle Eastern countries despite having a similar religiosity index? Because it's a democracy. Duh.

[edit] Examples of dictators

These are all from the "modern" era; that is, the last hundred years or so. Not a great record.

[edit] Axis powers in WWII

[edit] Soviet powers, satellites, and leftovers

Not all of these remained aligned with the USSR, in particular Albania and Yugoslavia went their own way.

  • Joseph Stalin - Soviet Union
  • Aleksandr Lukashenko - Belarus (though his first election was democratic, there have been no free and fair elections since then, and all power has been consolidated into bat'ka [father].) (currently in power)
  • Islam Karimov - Uzbekistan (currently in power)
  • Wojciech Jaruzelski - Poland
  • Erich Honecker - East Germany
  • Nicolae Ceaușescu - Romania
  • Enver Hoxha - Albania
  • Josip Broz Tito - Yugoslavia
  • Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow - Turkmenistan (currently in power)
  • Nursultan Nazarbayev - Kazakhstan (currently in power)
  • Askar Akayev - Kyrgyzstan
  • Emomalii Rakhmon - Tajikistan (currently in power)

[edit] Europe

[edit] Asia

For Western Asia, see Middle East

[edit] South and Central America

Dictatorships in the Americas are a rather sticky subject for the apologists of imperialism, as many of them were supported at some point or another by United States authority.

[edit] Africa

Dictatorship has been the curse of Africa, post-colonialism. Many of these dictatorships have not lasted long.

  • Idi Amin - Uganda
  • Robert Mugabe - Zimbabwe (currently in power)
  • Muammar al-Gaddafi - Libya
  • Gamal Abdel Nasser, Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi - Egypt (currently in power)
  • Jean-Bédel Bokassa (aka. "Emperor Bokassa I of Central Africa") - Central African Republic/Empire
  • Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Yakubu Gowon - Nigeria
  • Laurent-Désiré Kabila - Congo (DR)
  • Mobutu Sese Seko - Zaire
  • Haile Selassie; Mengistu Haile Miriam - Ethiopia
  • Hastings Kamuzu Banda - Malawi
  • Samuel K. Doe; Charles Taylor - Liberia
  • Yahya Jammeh - The Gambia
  • Francisco Macías Nguema, Teodoro Obiang - Equatorial Guinea (currently in power)
  • Maumoon Abdul Gayoom - Maldives
  • Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir - Sudan
  • King Mswati III - Swaziland
  • José Eduardo dos Santos - Angola
  • Blaise Compaoré - Burkina Faso
  • Idriss Déby Itno - Chad
  • Omar Bongo Ondimba - Gabon

[edit] Middle East

See also Africa, Asia

[edit] Pacific Islands

  • Sitiveni Rabuka, Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama - Fiji

[edit] Not quite dictators

  • Deng Xiaoping - China (never held formal leadership and shared power with seven other elder statesmen, but pushed through so much of his policies that he was effectively the de facto leader of the People's Republic)
  • Hu Jintao - China (he was in charge of an authoritarian government, but was more hands-off and cautious, so he wasn't an autocrat)
  • Xi Jinping - China (See Vladimir Putin, though obviously without any pretence of democracy)
  • Kwame Nkrumah - Ghana
  • Indira Gandhi - India (declared martial law and assumed "emergency powers" that tented towards authoritarianism, but had to fight in elections like any other politician...and got assassinated too, because y'know, death stops you from being the head of a country)
  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - Iran (did not not have all the power, nor was he the head of state, but he stacked the government with members of the Revolutionary Guard, making him instrumental at instituting a military run by the Guards, with massive influence over even the religious sectors of the nation).
  • Nouri al-Maliki - Iraq (you darn goofed, you know).
  • Hans-Adam II - Liechtenstein (yeah, the locals voted against curtailing his powers)
  • Princess Grace - Monaco (said to rule with a rod of iron)
  • Vladimir Putin - Russia (almost, but just barely democratic enough to avoid the label; lately, hiding behind the "democratic" curtain and pulling the levers)
  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan - Turkey (his crackdowns on protests, restrictions on the media, banning of public websites, purging of prosecutors looking to investigate him, and general curbing of civil liberties follow the path of a typical autocrat, but he still has to run for election and he has dozens of sections in government that oppose him... for now)
  • Dick Cheney - United States (anyone who signs off on extraordinary rendition and waterboarding, then runs behind the head of state's back warrants attention)
  • The Pope - Vatican (he technically answers to the ruling oligarchy of old men, who actually elects him)
  • Hugo Chávez - Venezuela (sought absolute power, but it was rejected by the Venezuelan people)
  • The Dictators, they're a rock group.

[edit] See also

[edit] Foototes

Personal tools
Namespaces

Variants
Actions
Navigation
Community
Tools
support