What keeps a dictator in power?

13 Jan

“Mercy and truth preserve the prince.”

— Biblical proverb

Providers of order, not freedom

The Bible promises good things, mainly that the wicked will fall and the righteous will stand. It says the first shall be last and the last shall be first – but it doesn’t say when.

Prophecy, it seems, requires patience.


Please read on, then let me know the fallacy of my musings.

The Arab world and the Arab Spring are clear examples of a great shift in a once-passive acceptance of dictatorial princes. A change of will turned passivism into activism, which the princes could not withstand. Few things are more powerful than these kinds of mass movements.


Even so, less-demonstrative methods also can effect change.

A wide-spread lack of confidence in a leader, one it is exhibited, can be enough to challenge a regime. Roman emperors would go to great lengths and expense to keep public opinion on their side. They supplied free bread to all citizens, as well as entertainment (the famous “bread and circuses”) and built public works to garner love, respect and reputation.

Without strong citizen support, emperors, dictators and princes risk having an ambitious second-in-command engineer a coup or even assassination.

Of course, there is no guarantee the new regime will do better in the Mercy and truth department, but there usually is an attempt at some improvement.

The strength and permanence of a dictator often lies in his or her ability to maintain order. In so many countries, order is more desirable than freedom. I was once asked by a citizen of a totalitarian country, “Does you wife have the freedom to walk safely and unthreatened down a city street, alone, at 3 a.m.? Mine does.”

Excellent point.

It is said that during the panic of the Depression, America was willing to accept, and even longed for, the use of dictatorial powers by the chief executive. They wanted a return to order. Fortunately, FDR refused. Americans like order but appreciate freedom much more.

Perhaps one day the Bible proverb with become prophecy and no prince will rule without Mercy and Truth. Until then, Arab Spring or not, the world will most likely have many more dictators than it needs.

Your thoughts, please.

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