February 01, 2015

The Postmodern Autocrat's Handbook

The concept of dictatorship is badly in need of revision. The old model of remote tyrants inflicting arbitrary, often eccentric, edicts on their cowed or indoctrinated subjects, with few constraints on their behavior and few threats to their survival, no longer applies. North Korea's Kim Jong Un and Syria's Bashar al-Assad are two of the few remaining exceptions to a positive trend that stretches from the rubble of the Reichstag and the Berlin Wall to the drainage culvert that was the last redoubt of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi. Yet large and critical swaths of the earth still feature dictatorial rulers, for whom we need a new model.

This new model must be based on a clear understanding about the rise of public opinion, which now matters more to dictators than it does even to democrats. Democratic rulers have only elections to lose if they miscalculate public opinion. Today's autocrats, on the other hand, risk their lives, their power structures, families, assets and loyal advisers if they don't satisfy their publics.

Read the full op-ed at Bloomberg.