This Week’s Mtg: Is the Age of the Dictator Finally Ending?

The Age of the DictatorTM , RIP, right?  Popular uprisings like the Arab Spring, strengthened international norms for representative government, and a networked world are changing things.  But, dictators and authoritarian governments shouldn’t be counted out just yet, and I thought we could discuss why, as well as talk about specific places, like Libya and Egypt.

One reason dictatorship has had staying  power is that those that existed in the 20th century cast long shadows on their countries, making transitions to democracy difficult.   Examples:  The former USSR, Iraq,  Libya.  Second, dictators often obtain power because a country has deep-seated problems, such as poverty and ethnic divisions, and these still exist in many, many places.   Think Egypt, most of sub-Saharan Africa, or Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan.

Beyond all of this, an authoritarian form of government really doesn’t need a single strongman.  Many countries are democratic in name only and are really run by the military or bureaucratic elite, or by one tribe or ethnic group.   This phenomenon has been called, “illiberal democracy.”  Russia.  Nigeria.  (China, IMO is in a category of it own.)

I won’t lecture on Thursday.  (Pause for applause.)  It’s too broad a subject and you folks are pretty knowledgeable.  I’ll just summarize the number and “types” of dictatorships in the world today (hint: More and more varied than you think), and then tick off 1-2 brief analytic points.  During discussion, I’ll try to ask the following questions:



  1. Is dictatorship more likely to appear in some countries than in others?  Why?  More likely to endure?
  2. What brings them down?  People power?  International pressure?  Elites just switching sides and little changes?
  3. What is “illiberal democracy?”  How long can this form of authoritarianism continue, since these regimes can have many supporters, such as the military and secret police, or even a favored ethnic group?
  4. Should we be in the business of supporting dictators?  Never?  Really – is that practical?  What should we do to speed or help with transitions?


I had trouble finding short articles directly on-point.  People have been debating how to end authoritarian regimes and nurture democracy for decades.


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