Tyrant chic: A field guide to dictators


Dictatorship has, in one sense, been the default condition of humanity. The basic governmental setup since the dawn of civilization could be summarized, simply, as taking orders from the boss. Only in the presence of an alternative—the various movements for shared self-government that descend from the Enlightenment—has any other arrangement really been imagined, The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik observes:

As the counter-reaction to Enlightenment liberalism swept through the early decades of the twentieth century, dictators, properly so called, had to adopt rituals that were different from those of the kings and the emperors who preceded them. The absence of a plausible inherited myth and the need to create monuments and ceremonies that were both popular and intimidating led to new public styles of leadership. All these converged in a single cult style among dictators.

That, more or less, is the thesis of Frank Dikötter’s new book, “How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century” (Bloomsbury), Gopnik argues. RTWT

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