News & Politics

Our Modern Belief That Tyrants Can't Be Successful Is Nonsense

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands at Mar-a-Lago, Friday, April 7, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In his article, “Lessons From George Washington and Julius Caesar as Xi Jinping Becomes Dictator for Life,” my PJMedia colleague Tyler O’Neil criticizes the Chinese leader for attempting to establish himself as China’s de facto new emperor. O’Neil compares Jinping to two other historic leaders, Julius Caesar and George Washington. His conclusion:

Even so, Caesar’s death and Washington’s great accomplishment should stand as a warning against Jinping’s current trajectory, and a suggestion that true greatness lies in serving the people and retiring, rather than grasping onto power for life.

It’s truly fascinating that we in the West always talk about Caesar, but that we never mention his cousin, August, who became Rome’s first emperor. He established a dynasty and system that would last for many centuries and that was based on the supremacy of the emperor(s). Although Rome had been falling apart for decades, August restored it to its old glory.

Why is it that this part of Rome’s history is so often ignored by modern commentators? Does it conflict with our firmly held belief that tyrants can’t establish long-lasting and successful dynasties?

You also never see anyone mention the old Chinese emperors or the ancient Persian rulers. We’re constantly being told that only fair, transparent, and, above all, democratic rulers were the successful ones. Historically, that has not been true (although I wish it were). The era of the Han dynasty is considered China’s golden age, and the Persian Achaemenid Empire still is a source of pride for modern Iranians. The Empire held a large territory and was based on a centralized and bureaucratic system—a system that would later be adopted by other empires.

Apparently, we’re not allowed to say so out loud. Now note, some dictators/rulers/emperors have also caused tremendous suffering, more so than democratic rulers. But there’s another side of the coin, one that would be wise to accept.

We have to be willing to speak the truth: authoritarian governments most certainly can be successful and long-lasting. This doesn’t mean we have to embrace authoritarianism — I don’t — but it does mean that we’ll have to use other arguments against it. “They killed Caesar while they honored Washington” just isn’t going to cut it.