Why Bad Guys Matter (Paul Collier, Foreign Policy, July/Aug 2010)
This is the section that interests me most:
“Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, leaders can be bad in many different ways, and the extremes of their badness matter out of all proportion to their frequency in the population. At the extreme of greed are kleptocrats. At the extreme of insensitivity to the pain of others are psychopaths. At the extreme of preference for getting their own way are tyrants.
“Although people with such characteristics are rare, they have a knack for getting themselves into precisely those positions where their traits are most damaging. Kleptocrats do not aspire to become monks; they want to be bankers. Psychopaths do not dream of being nurses; they strive to be soldiers. Tyrants do not plead to be social workers; they scheme to become politicians.
“At the core of all successful societies are procedures for blocking the advancement of such men.”
I interpret this to imply that it’s both the individual men and the societies as a whole that create despots: ‘unsuccessful’ societies somehow systematically create conditions in which despots can ripen, in which they, perhaps, can become despotic — so many start their careers as apparently freedom-loving liberators that one wonders whether there is either a very fine line between dictator and liberator, and why, or whether societal conditions, such as perhaps mass adulation, turns some liberators into despots — and definitely, to flourish? (“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority,” as Lord Action said. Or are some people more easily corrupted than others? One wonders what they were like as children.)
Collier’s point here, that people with major character flaws are probably more likely to aspire to high office and influence in a society, is a point well-taken, however.
If you want to refresh your memory as to despots, check out the companion article, The Worst of the Worst. OK, I’ll tell you who they are (Africa is sort of screwed): Kim Jong Il of North Korea, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Than Shwe of Burma, Omar Hassan-al-Bashir of Sudan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan (a dentist despot! Yikes!), Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Hu Jintao of China, Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya, Bashas al-Assad of Syria, Idriss Déby of Chad, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, Hugo Chávez
of Venezuela, Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Raúl Castro of Cuba, Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, and Paul Biya of Cameroon.
Also: What dictators wear (slideshow).