By Dr. David Laing Dawson
I watched Fareed’s Zakaria’s Putin documentary on CNN the other night. He ends the narrative by suggesting we not look for clinical explanations but rather make a moral judgement of the man. And then he uses the word “evil”.
During the documentary we got to see Vlad singing in English, “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”, and George W. Bush and Donald Trump praising Vlad’s intellect and honesty.
But it occurred to me that two character traits would be essential and necessary from the start for anyone interested in becoming a dictator, and these two traits would have to exist in extreme form to enable someone to succeed in such a position. And they would be, of course, narcissism and psychopathy. It is easy to understand the meaning of “narcissism”, and in this instance “psychopathy” would mean lacking the capacity for guilt or empathy and having the capacity for ruthlessness.
Now usually a degree of empathy is necessary for any social success, but it can be replaced by, or substituted by, cleverness, intellect, scheming and manipulation. Hence the ability to charm George W. Bush without actually experiencing any empathy for anyone.
And thus rather than thinking of Vlad as a man who was good but went bad, so to speak, it would be more useful to think of any and all dictators as being, by the very fact of their achievements, narcissistic psychopaths. And thus realizing where they are predictably going to lead their countries when either their power and control are threatened or they simply grow older and bolder.
I am not an historian but a survey of the strongmen dictators who have arisen in my lifetime seems to bear this out.
The democratically elected governments of our world tolerate, enable, and even support these dictators for economic or strategic reasons in fair weather times. But all of them, at some point, either wage a killing purge of dissidents or particular ethnic groups within their own countries, or decide the time is right to expand their realms and go to war. Some do both.
They are also, by definition, grandiose, so they usually, eventually overstep, but still the damage is done.
- Hitler, Mao, and Stalin, each responsible for 10 to 20 million deaths.
- Saddam, emboldened, decides to kill off his Kurdish minority and then annex Kuwait.
- Pol Pot, a couple of million deaths purging his own country.
- Slobodan Milosevic, bolstered by the west as a “peacemaker”, attempts to create a Serbian empire by war and genocide.
etc. etc. etc. etc.
But if there is a point to these observations it is that we should never support, embolden, encourage, appease or enable any dictator. By the very nature of these men they will, sooner or later, commit atrocities.
Only in fiction do High School Chemistry teachers become psychopathic drug lords. Only in fiction do professional hit men have soft spots for children and little dogs. Only in fiction do psychopaths give up their life of crime and devote their remaining years to good works and charity. And only in fiction might a successful, ruthless dictator, decide that, really, he should help transition his country to a healthy inclusive democracy with an independent judiciary and a free press – and be a good friend to his neighbours.