Advancing a Free Society

Kaddafi and His Ilk Are Not Crazy: Are Dictators Predictable?

Monday, February 28, 2011

As Kaddafi machine guns demonstrators, we are told these are acts of an insane man. We must be careful what we say or do because the criminally insane are erratic and unpredictable. Using such logic, the U.S. was among the last to call for his ouster. Examples of insanity are his public rants, the ordering of the bombing of Pan Am 103 (for which he thought he would never be caught), the ludicrous philosophizing in his Green book, the pitching of his tent in New Jersey, and his refusal to ride elevators. Other dictators are pictured in the same way: Iran’s ruling mullahs are religious fanatics; Stalin was a psychotic paranoid.

Insanity is the easiest explanation of dictatorial atrocities for Western minds to fathom. That “criminally insane” dictators follow a common pattern, transcending time and place, argues however that they share a common goal and use the same instruments and practices to achieve it. Just as we can explain business behavior through the profit motive, so can we understand and even predict dictatorial behavior by analyzing how they generate and use political power. If their actions consistently promote the paramount goal of power, their actions are completely “rational,” no matter how morally repugnant or obscene. Rational behavior can be analyzed; insane behavior cannot.

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(photo credit: Andrew Heavens)