Total Posts:2|Showing Posts:1-2
Jump to topic:

The psychology of tyrants

keithprosser
Posts: 1,933
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
7/7/2016 10:35:53 AM
Posted: 5 months ago
I have just re-watched the 1930's nazi propaganda film 'Trumph of the Will' and it struck me that Hitler was not physically imposing. He didn't start from a position of wealth or privilege and I don't think was especially intelligent, or even a great orator.

Becoming a dictator is not something that just happens - it must be something that requires some effort! So what is it that drives people like a Hitler, or a Stalin or a Saddam Hussein? Certainly such people end up with vast wealth and enormous material comforts, but such things seem to be incidental and more for set dressing than for actual use. Hitler and Stalin were relatively frugal in their personal habits and tastes - they were certainly not out-and-out hedonists, although many of their close supporters undoubtedly were.

Is it something that enables them to do what most people can't even conceive of - a line of action that adds to their security but leads to the death of tens, hundreds or thousands of people? If you want to get a job one way would be to kill the other candidates for it, but even if you thought of that in jest, you wouldn't - couldn't carry it out. A Hitler or a Stalin would, could and did do that sort of thing - Stalin in particular implemented policies that consolidated his position but results in the deaths of millions of ordnary Russians.

So can anyone wake up one morming and decide to become ruler of the world and nearly succeed, or are such people born megolomaniacs, or made into one by experience?

I don't know... but I'd be interested n what other people think.
RuvDraba
Posts: 6,033
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
7/7/2016 11:07:45 AM
Posted: 5 months ago
At 7/7/2016 10:35:53 AM, keithprosser wrote:
can anyone wake up one morming and decide to become ruler of the world and nearly succeed, or are such people born megolomaniacs, or made into one by experience?

Keith, there's some evidence that dictators are selected from a combination of opportunity and fulfilling the collective needs of the people who hold them in place: so dictators don't make themselves so much as they are made by surviving negotiations with ruthless toadies.

So if you imagine a mediaeval society run by a fragmented rabble of corrupt warlords, an autocrat is simply the one who can keep enough warlords together to make a kingdom. In a fragmented rabble of corrupt warlords, there's never any shortage of candidates and potential lackeys, so it's really about how the opportunities fall between factions.

Conversely, the broader, deeper and more integrated a democracy is, the harder it is for a fragmented rabble of corrupt warlords to rise to the top and stay there. Hence there's seldom a critical mass to seize and hold a tyrant's power.

As for what that takes, I think every large corporate has it: ambition, ruthlessness, careerism and amoral opportunism. A lower bound on that could be the number of clinical psychopaths at work. It has been reported that clinical psychopathy is in about 1% of the broad population but triples to around 3% in executive positions. So one in thirty or so politicians in any government might be clinical psychopaths, but the numbers could rise even further if a democracy is strained or nonexistent -- plus there are people who might miss a clinical diagnoses, but still act in psychopathic ways much of the time.

If so, the limiting factors then aren't psychology but opportunity and the critical mass of ruthless toadies who'll hold a dictator in place.

If you're interested in more on this, I can recommend The Dictator's Handbook, by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. [https://www.amazon.com...] De Mesquita is a Professor of Political Science from NYU. Smith is a Professor of Politics at NYU also. It's a fascinating and enlightening read. :)

De Mesquita talking in a video is linked right.