As we watch the Syrian dictator struggle to survive, and the Egyptian would-be dictator run from an angry mob, and as we think back to the many fallen dictators of the recent past – Gorbachev, Ceausescu, Pinochet, and their numerous ilk– we might well ask ourselves two questions:
Why does that job look so good?
And why do so many intellectuals cozy up to the dictators?
Machiavelli knew that tyrannies were the most unstable form of government, while republics were the longest-lived. Anyone who has lived through this age of Revolution must be impressed with the spectacular number of fallen tyrants. But most leaders know less and less history, and Machiavelli died a long time ago, so dictators continue to exercise a certain fascination. They inspire mass movements and strike down their enemies with abandon. Democratic political leaders envy them, because the tyrants can just DO things; they don’t have to negotiate, wheel and deal, split the differences, or look for middle ground. They don’t have to run for reelection. They wave their scepter, and that’s that. Until the scepter doesn’t work any more…
Tyrants fall at a much faster rate, and usually in a much less pleasant manner, than democratic leaders. George W. Bush did not end up hiding in a hole in the ground like Saddam Hussein, and Nicolas Sarkozy was not raped and slaughtered as Muammar Qaddafi was. To be sure, the French nation did not cry oceans of tears for Sarkozy, as the Russians did for Stalin, but the French Republic still stands, while the Soviet Union has been dumped in history’s dustbin.
Maybe it is not altogether good to be king, although the power to just DO things sure looks good to lots of folks in the free worlds. Think back a few years, when the Israelis were turning over territory to the likes of Yasir Arafat. At the time, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres convinced themselves that things would now go better in Palestine because the new rulers would not have to worry about legal niceties or international criticism for ugly human rights violations. President Obama is sometimes given to complaining about the existence of a political opposition to his designs, and you can be sure that tyrant envy seizes democratic leaders everywhere, even if only momentarily.