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?

It depends.

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).

Just thinking.

Ichak Kalderon Adizes


  1. Ethan
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Oh Israel had many opportunities to be ran by a strong and unifying leader:

    4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

    6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him:

    “Listen to all that the people are saying to you;

    it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

    8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.

    9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

  2. Shabtai affias
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Should we invite the beloved leader (dictator) of North Korea to come and teach us how to install a very “efficient” regime ?!

  3. behrooz ehys
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Lobed it, sometimes “wisdom of crowd” will not help, frankly speaking, I think most of the time it wont help, especially when there are massive challenges ahead of a nation or an organisation. We need leaders like ship captains to take us through stormy weather without compromising our lives / our jobs!

  4. Posted November 28, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Dear Brother,

    Have to wonder if this would work. Depends on the character of the dictators involved, and how much practical public interest is considered. The word radiates, of course, and not necessarily in a good way. So glad you raised the point, however, going beyond political ‘correctness’ whatever that means these days.


  5. Posted November 28, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Ichak–My view is that true, just and lasting leadership requires ability, integrity, moral character and a sense for fairness and balance, lest the leader becomes self absorbed, self serving and politically corrupt. After George Washington began his winning streak against the British at Valley Forge, he could have declared himself a military dictator, but that was not in his character. On the other hand, Slobodan Milosevic was politically manipulative and dishonest from the start, like Vladimir Putin is today, and put his quest for personal power and family wealth above the interests of the people. Good leaders are motivated to do the right thing for their constituents and neighbors. Dictatorship militates against this kind of just behavior and ultimately fails totally, as with Hitler, Mussolini, Milosevic and so many others. But, democracy, without good decisive leadership, as is the case in Washington today, is not good either. So the answer, I believe, is to attract and elect the best possible people at all levels of government to make democracy work, leaving no room for a dictatorship which history shows is bound to fail miserably for all in time.
    All the best, Joe

  6. Dragan
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Two Policy Issues in a row.

    Dr. Adizes, wtih all do respect, this is:
    . Indicator how much this influence yand hurt ou and
    . Not so interesting for the rest, non-Jewish, non-Palestinian.

    Especialy if you do not live in Israel and writting this from far away. So I would like to help and suggest: please writte your thought about leadership and management from a distance?

    We have bunch of corporations, working like that.

    If I can help you othervise, please let me know. And I mean it.

  7. Terry Gregory
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    “Democracy is not a panacea for all problems. In this case of the Middle East I believe it is the problem”………..democracy is not the problem in the middle east, Islam is the problem. Islam is not a religion, it is a political ideology and is based around a male view of the world, it is sadistic, mysogynistic and intolerant. It stands for everything we here in the west oppose, particularly its treatment of women and non-believers.

  8. Sergii Bystrin
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    You forget about Hitler. Wonderful example of consolidation of the nation and bringing it out of the crisis.

  9. Costas Petropoulos
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    Dear Itchak,
    The ancient Greeks had an answer to this: The institution of the “Aesymnite”. A VOTED dictator, to deal with a failed democracy. Look it up. Two of antiquity’s 7 wise men, Solon and Pittakos, were Aesymnites, the former in Athens, the latter on the Island of Lesbos.

  10. barry
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    At least in business, if the leader is bad, a failure, if you will, the company fails. The problem, as you have stated, is when as in most cases, the leader ends up being a tyrant. I do agree that in either case, strong leadership is best. Unfortunately, for every Sam Walton or Steve Jobs that comes along, we also get an a Nasser or Hussein.

  11. Posted November 29, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I agree that a single-person dictatorship works better under certain types of circumstances, esp. in times of emergency or turmoil, but is likely to become counter-productive once the situation stabilizes or the person stays in that post for too long.

    Part of the problem is that most leaders have a tendency of being “one trick ponies”: very good at dealing with certain types of situations, but quite ineffective (or even counter-productive) in other situations. The phrase “what got you here, won’t get your there” comes to mind…

    It takes a truly exceptional kind of person to either be able to adapt to the changed circumstances (i.e. to remain capable of being an effective leader after the country has moved on from the emergency state, during which he had become a leader), or to be self-aware enough to recognize that their set of skills no longer fits the requirements of the situation, and to step down.

    Democracy, on the other hand, “evens out” the extremes: it will always under-perform compared to a really effective leader, but at the same time will prevent things from turning bad quickly (which can easily happen under a dictatorship).

    The “Achilles’ heel” of the democracies is this: they work best when the electorate is well-educated and actively involved in the political process (i.e. a significant part of the electorate pay attention to what the government is doing and *understand* what the government is doing).

    This is where things are likely to go wrong: in most Western democracies people (1) lack the motivation to spend their time and energy getting and staying informed about politics, and (2) often lack the skills to be able to understand what the likely outcomes of the proposed policies will be.

    The only way to address the #1 (lack of motivation) problem is to redesign the system in such a way that individual’s involvement in politics can credibly bring significant change to their lives.

    By far the best way to achieve this is to devolve most of fiscal and regulatory powers to the lowest (local government) levels possible, so that (a) the leaders are much closer and much more accountable, and (b) laws can be changed easier if the area is small (i.e. much less internal friction in the system, compared to the time and effort it takes to pass a law affecting a country of tens or hundreds of millions of people).

    I discuss this in greater detail on my website

    The solution to the #2 (electorate’s abilities to understand what the gov. is doing) is to set up a system that makes “getting educated and staying informed” much less time-consuming for an average person. In this internet age, there is a way to do it virtually for free, but so far I haven’t seen any jurisdictions actually coming anywhere close to the effective implementation.

    Once both the motivation is increased + it’s easier to stay informed and to understand, this would make democracies much more functional and successful – both politically and economically.

    So, coming back to “what is better: dictatorship or democracy?” question… Dictatorship can be much more effective at getting the country out of trouble. But when a country is stable, a system that “minimizes the downside” (i.e. democracy ) is statistically a safer bet because it’s much easier to inflict a serious damage to the country than it is to recover from that damage.

  12. Posted November 29, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    My view throughout my consulting career has been: “when there is high risk, a dictatorship or authoritarian command structure is best.” In business and military often it makes sense. As I have moved through life, I have observed that context is more important.

  13. Posted November 29, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    This seems like an appropriate point to say Thank you for your constant stream of valuable, though-provoking and more often than not wise reflections on our human condition. I thoroughly enjoy them and your books.

    I believe it was Winston Churchill who, on being asked to name the ideal form of government responded with the marvelous quip. “Dictatorship, tempered with occasional assassination”.

    Best wishes

    Steven Wilkinson

  14. Posted November 29, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I am agree and this post should be concerned as part of post about integration vs. disintegration three weeks ago. Israel is sick society, in previous post we can see scientific formulation of it. Israel is trying to present itself nicely to foreign world even if it is damaging it’s own security (external integration). But, in internal field Bivi is occupied mainly in his political survival and the result of this is liquidation of all potential opponents either in his own party or outside of it. In the same time, social gaps are deepening (another sign of internal disintegration) and the result is more polarization in society and more energy wasted in internal fights. Good example is the new budget which is made to appease all coalition partners and it is nothing to do with real social problems which are going to escalate in framework of proposed budget. Bivi is unable to present any program for peace process or to openly recognize that he is not interested in any. His powerful weapon that works perfectly is again disintegration, i.e. accusing leftwing opposition for betrayal and on another side, opposition can not offer anyone that can win elections against Bivi in spite his catastrophic social policy which pushed a half of Israel’s citizens in poverty.
    It seems that in certain points democracy can not work, simply too much energy is wasted in eternal fights instead on common welfare, politicians are looking their own interest and not on common one.

  15. Carlos
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Dear Ichak,
    Dictatorial powers are needed in case of war and other emergencies, since such situations require immediate decisions.

    That cannot be expanded to running a country or even a single organization, and the reason, learned from you, is that no single individual can provide all the roles an organization and even more, a country requires.

  16. Orest
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the insight. It will be very interesting to hear the next part of it, which is about dealing with the succesion issue.

    I look forward to it.

  17. yehuda
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    well,this is the first time that I disagree (completely) with you.
    Israel does not need a dictator. Israel needs a LEADER !!!
    Ben-Gurion wasn’t a dictator yet he succeded in disarming the opponents groups (etzel Lehi ecc)even by fighting them (shooting at “altalena” ship ecc).
    Generally speaking: when there is no history of democratic experience the change towards democracy requires a leader who is a dictator but with a democratic agenda (like in Spain after Franko).

  18. ichak
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    God was (I) and they walked away from (I) to (PA)

  19. ichak
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    No but the one from singapore will not be bad

  20. ichak
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    This problem is ageless. Plato raised it in The Republic: who should govern us
    Obviously i am not for dictators ala Hitler or Milisevic
    But Nazarbayev and lee q u maje perfect sense

  21. ichak
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Oh steven this was the best. That churchil had it all. Thanks a lot

  22. ichak
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you yehuda. You articulated it better. Strong leader with values…….

  23. Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I wish that the American leadership understand that some Arab countries can not live under a democratic system. It’s been proven over and over again.
    Great thought

  24. Yehoram
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink


    I find the debate on this topic fascinating, but like many, confusing. The reason for my confusion is the definition of “Being a dictator” which in my opinion does not fully represent any of the examples (Putin, Nazarbayev or Kuan Yew). your definition is “Being a dictator means the head of state does not allow opposition. He runs a single man show.”

    Take as an example President Obama, does he run a “single man show”? – if we look at Obama Care and all the recent “executive orders” – he does ignore the opposition. the theme of his Presidency is allowing blaming the opposition for what he does or does not. While Vladimir Putin get his congress to approve his agenda. That is the only difference – Putin does not need “executive orders” Obama does.

    The second argument that you bring is the demise of dictators when their time “pass”. Winston Churchill knew how to vacate his post at the end of the war. He was a wartime leader and the UK needed a new and different leader (since the Monarchs are just figures or symbols of incapable leaders).

    So, I would submit that what makes a dictator is a person who defies term limits and not a person who may or may not be “running a single man show”. Mubarak was a dictator because he attempted to install his son as his successor and so were Assad. Gaddafi and Kim Il Sung. Putin using the constitution got himself three terms or maybe four, but still has term limits.

    Now to the main question what is the difference between a “good dictator” Julius Caesar, and a “bad dictator” Nero Cesar. well the difference is what they did for their country or for their people.

    In that respect Adolf Hitler and Napoleon started as “good dictators” and ended as bad dictators. the cause for their rise or failure was not “allowing opposition” or even “running a single man show” it was their failure to execute leadership supported by their people and to the benefit of their people. Both failed to understand the history of colonialism which means that once you occupy land that include other people you need to rule so their lives are better and not worse in comparison to the life that they had prior to being occupy. Otherwise they will revolt and fight for their freedom.

    The 80%+ approval rate of Vladimir Putin and overwhelming vote by the citizens of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to join Russia, are less alarming than the riots in Ferguson Missouri and many other cities incited by the opposition to President Obama call for calm.

    In America we are on the verge of a civil war that will start with looting and war with the US government (police) very much like happened in the past in many “democratic” countries. It will not be because the US President is a dictator, it will be because the Presidents in the US allowed freedom or democracy to become anarchy. It will be because the leaders here talk about the “rule of law” and are the first to abuse it.

    my two cents of thinking, Yehoram

  25. Yehoram
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    One more comment about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Both sides need a strong leader NOT a dictator. A person who will have the ability to cease the historic opportunity and make a move toward settling the conflict.

    It is my belief that a dictator could not be better than the current leader because the window of opportunity to settle the conflict is CLOSED.

    the main and only issue that prevent an agreement is the demand for a “right of return” for the Arab refugees and the belief that freedom of religion should be given only to Muslims (temple mount).

    That demand means the demise of Israel and not a two state solution. Until the window of opportunity opens – aka the funding sources of the Palestinians agree to a comprehensive solution (that will include settling the refugees where they are and allowing freedom of religion to Jews as well as Muslims and Christians on Temple Mount and throughout the region mobsters will continue to kill civilians calling themselves “Martiers”.

    Abbas need to learn from Ben Gurion’s “Altalena experience”, otherwise he (and the rest of the Palestinians will never have piece with themselves or a state of thier own.


  26. Posted December 2, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    The situation in Ferguson is a bit more complex than “a civil war between the US government and the citizens “. The fight is actually between two highly diverse groups:

    Group 1 is composed of “my grand-grand-grand-grand-grand-grand-parents were slaves and our grand-parents in some parts of the country lived under segregation, therefore you whites (some of whom are descendants of the former slave owners) owe us reparations in perpetuity, but we are still poor and still feel persecuted”. This group is supported by a former Chicago community organizer (who is now the head of the federal government) and his attorney general (i.e. the head of the federal law enforcement system). For this reason, group 1 is effectively supported by whole federal law enforcement apparatus, most notably the FBI.

    Group 2 is composed of the “silent majority”, supported by the state and local government (and the corresponding law enforcement agencies: state national guard and the police).

    If you look at the situation this way, it’s much easier to make sense of what’s going on.

  27. Shanil
    Posted December 3, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I have found what you said so true. I live in a country that got its Independence in the 1970’s. I do believe democracy is a good thing but it is a good thing in certain times. Where I live, the country has 3 dominant ethnicities and all democracy has done is to create political machines that split the country under ethnic and religious banners making consensus almost impossible. Most successful countries who push this system as a ‘fit all’ solution if you look deeper are culturally homogeneous or started that way. They cannot understand the complexities of a true heterogeneous society which in itself has no understanding of democracy outside of a conceptual one post colonialism.

  28. Joe Noga
    Posted December 6, 2014 at 5:24 am | Permalink


    Your posting initiated my recalling McGregor’s Theory X, Theory Y management, studied at length in graduate school. Remembering a 2×2 matrix, with the lower left being an organization that was either in chaos or in its early stages, and proceeding to the right as the organization “found its legs or became less chaotic” then up to the higher, right hand quadrant as it developed into one where self-motivation among managers and workers was beginning to take place, culminating in the upper left hand quadrant where the organization was driven by self-motivation. So it seems that McGregor was making, in another sphere, a similar hypothesis as you proffered–that there is a place for more authoritarian leadership–where chaos exists or where organizations are in an early stage. Now, my career essentially in its waning stages, I compare this to raising kids. Parents are certainly more authoritative in their kids’ early life, as the kids need very close supervision. As they mature, they earn the trust of the parents, which prompts a softening of the authoritative style, eventually leading, hopefully, to a fully democratic, mutually respectful one.

    So your case for a “dictator” has merit, both academically and practically; however, it might be flawed, if a dictatorship or quasi-dictatorship were to surface in a society or organization where there has been autonomy or near individual autonomy and responsibility.

    I immediately think of the current US President’s style and that encouraged by his minions, suggesting that “they know best what the people and the nation need”, many times without considering advice and consent from Congress or admonitions from the Supreme Court. This could be dangerous to personal liberty.

    However, there are advanced societies–like Poland in the 1980s–where a more authoritative leadership was required as that nation emerged from Communist rule. Even in that case, the leader thought himself to be “bigger than the movement” as was ousted. Once he got his bearings and adopted a more collaborative approach, he was again elected to the leadership position.

    Thank you for initiating this thought-provoking subject. I know nothing of Kazakhstan, so I recuse myself of any comment thereon.

    Be well & happy holidays,


  29. Natalia
    Posted December 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Interesting topic! I believe that the dictator comes only when people are waiting for him, accepts and ready obedience. Incidentally, when such a situation takes place in the state, democracy cannot occur, people will perceive Democrat as a “weakling”. This is to some extent takes place in Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus. I wonder what will happen in Ukraine? Today they are busy with anything, but not the construction of a democratic state! Ukrainians feel humiliated, accusing the Russians in their own bed, and this is a strong impetus to dictatorship! By the way, Putin is in General not a dictator, but forced them to be. Not so much because of what the people want, but because eager to stay in power law enforcers to allow you to develop another system. That is, the government does not have the ability to rely on her too patient people, because it is under strong pressure patterns having much in common with the mafia. And this system is unlikely to be broken at the bottom, though on the good will of these structures is difficult to hope. Another thing Lukashenko – he is a real dictator, next to which the mafia there. The same and Nazarbayev. When they leave will begin lawlessness, if it’s not a good replacement. Today it is “good”, but dictators.
    As for Israel and Palestine, there is probably a strong power and is good. But it must be very strong contradictions between these peoples too deep. Moreover, the Jewish community would need to call for understanding and forgiveness, but the Palestinians have to “keep in check”, which will coincide with their subconscious desire for order and discipline. And this at the same time – no easy task!
    But it is important to understand that the export of democracy is not open to the will of another. But developing people, instilling the values of democracy, by the people of inner freedom and teaching people to respect human rights is possible to move the society forward.
    By the way, today, and democracy itself is perverted. When the President is not a man, and PR-product, collected from the wishes of the voters, it’s not a democracy but a different type of power for a certain group of people!

    Интересная тема! Я полагаю, что диктатор приходит только в случае, когда народ его ждет, принимает и готов к послушанию. Кстати, при таком вот положении в государстве демократия не может возникнуть, народ воспримет демократа, как “слабака”. Это в какой-то мере имеет место в России, Казахстане, Белоруссии. Интересно, что получится у Украины? Сегодня они заняты чем угодно, но только не строительством демократического государства! Украинцы чувствуют себя униженными, обвиняя русских в собственных бедах, а это сильный толчок к диктатуре! Кстати, Путин в целом вовсе не диктатор, но вынужден им быть. Не столько из-за того, что народ этого хочет, но и потому, что жаждущие оставаться у власти силовики на позволяют сложиться другой системе. То есть власть не имеет возможности опираться на свой ​​слишком терпеливый народ, потому находится под давлением сильной структуры, имеющей много общего с мафией. И эта система вряд ли будет сломлена снизу, хотя и на добрую волю этих структур трудно надеяться. Другое дело Лукашенко – он настоящий диктатор, рядом с которым этой мафии нет. То же и Назарбаев. Когда они уйдут начнется беспредел, если не будет хорошей замены. А сегодня это “добрые”, но диктаторы. Что же до Израиля и Палестины, то возможно сильная власть и будет неплохим выходом. Но она должна быть уж очень сильной – противоречия между этими народами слишком глубоки. Причем еврейское сообщество надо будет призывать к разуму и прощению, а вот палестинцев придется “держать в узде”, которая должна будет совпадать с их подсознательным желанием порядка и дисциплины. И это одновременно – Задача НЕ из простых НО важно понять, что экспорт демократии не работает по чужой воле. А вот развивая народ, прививая ценности демократии, воспитывая в людях внутреннюю свободу и приучая людей к уважению прав человека можно двигать общество вперед. Кстати, сегодня и сама демократия извращена. Когда глава государства не человек, а PR-продукт, собранный из пожеланий избирателей, то это не демократия а иной тип власти некоторой группы людей! – See more at:

  30. Brianna
    Posted March 22, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Prior to the founding of America, the country had no prior experience with a democratic form of government, yet we have stood for more than 200 years.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *