In Defense of Dictatorship
I can see you frown reading the title of this blog. How can anyone support dictatorship? Democracy is like a sacred cow and to support dictatorship is tantamount to slaughtering the cow. Unthinkable.
But there are some models from the past. The old Romans in time of war appointed one of their leaders as a dictator because the war required total adherence to discipline. Nor even today is the military run democratically, and few if any would oppose this.
Are there any other situations that justify the presence of a dictator?
Let us see.
Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, was considered a dictator. So is Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Putin of Russia, among others.
Being a dictator means the head of state does not allow opposition. He runs a single man show.
Is this good or bad?
The founder of a new nation is like a mother or father looking after a new baby. The new country, like a new born baby, has a whole host of crises. Like protecting the new nation’s borders, generating enough economic success to feed the people, meeting financial needs, quelling internal quarrels or maybe even preventing a civil war between factions or ethnic groups or religious movements fighting for power as the new nation forms itself.
I would argue that dictatorship for a new nation where democracy has not been part of their history might be the right answer. That nation needs a strong, unifying leader, unifying even by force.
Are there any other situations where a dictator might serve as a positive functional solution?
Imagine a country in crisis. One where major strategic decisions that will cause essential change in direction are needed. A strong, decisive leader who does not allow dissent is needed. Right?
Russia during Boris Yeltsin was in that situation. The country was falling apart. The Soviet Union was disappearing. That enabled Nazarbayev to define the borders that became today’s modern Kazakhstan (the ninth largest land size nation in the world). Russia was in such disarray that no one could stem the different parts of the union from falling away.
The messy situation called for a dictator who could install order, starting with withdrawing from Afghanistan, solving the Chechnya uprising and somehow putting an end to the frenzy of how companies were being “privatized.” Putin was the answer.
I wish Israel had a dictator today. Then it would be possible to make peace with the Palestinians. Netanyahu cannot make the concessions Abbas wants. His coalition would dissolve itself instantly. Naftali Bennett would quit.
Same with Abbas. Hamas would not accept concessions he needs to make to satisfy the Israeli.
I would say that the price of democracy in the Middle East is the absence of, and inability to secure, peace. Both Israel and the Palestinians need a dictator.
Democracy is not a panacea for all problems. In this case of the Middle East I believe it is the problem.
I am arguing here that there may be optimum times when a dictator is needed. True, he is called in time of crisis and then often stays too long. For him, there is always a crisis or no one else seems adequate to replace him.
Usually, dictators who come to power do not know how to yield their power. It is very similar to the problem founders of companies have. Succession is a serious issue for them too.
The price a nation often pays for coming into being is that it will have to live with a dictator most probably for his lifetime. The founding father, if he is a dictator, does not change his style over time. He usually turns more rigid to combat opposition. (How to deal with the succession issue requires another blog).
Ichak Kalderon Adizes