In his new literary piece, award-winning academician Frank Dikotter talks about how naked power can be grabbed and held temporarily, but it never suffices in the long term. The book also makes the reader ask that at a time when democracy is in retreat, are we seeing a revival of the same techniques among some of today’s world leaders?
Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, Nicolai Ceausescu, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Francois Duvalier: No dictator can rule through fear and violence alone. In How to Be a Dictator (Bloomsbury), the author returns to eight of the most chillingly effective personality cults of the 20th century.
This timely study, told with great narrative verve, examines how a cult takes hold, grows, and sustains itself. It places the cult of personality where it belongs, at the very heart of tyranny.
A tyrant who can compel his own people to acclaim him will last longer. The paradox of the modern dictator is that he must create the illusion of popular support. Throughout the 20th century, hundreds of millions of people were condemned to enthusiasm, obliged to hail their leaders even as they were herded down the road to serfdom.
The book also talks about how, from carefully choreographed parades to the deliberate cultivation of a shroud of mystery through iron censorship, these dictators ceaselessly worked on their own image and encouraged the population at large to glorify them.
Dikotter is Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His books have changed the way historians view China, from the classic The Discourse of Race in Modern China to his award-winning People’s Trilogy documenting the lives of ordinary people under Mao.