90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Dictators Are Smarter Than You Think

Heads up democracies! We’re looking at the new staying power of dictatorship.

In this Tuesday, May 1, 2012 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency and distributed by the Korea News Service Wednesday, May 2, 2012, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center, is applauded by military personnel during his visit to the Machine Plant managed by Ho Chol Yong in North Korea, to mark May Day. (AP)

In this Tuesday, May 1, 2012 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency and distributed by the Korea News Service Wednesday, May 2, 2012, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, center, is applauded by military personnel during his visit to the Machine Plant managed by Ho Chol Yong in North Korea, to mark May Day. (AP)


Think “dictatorship” and you’re likely to think of images from history. Stalin over Red Square. Mao before the millions.

Or of goofy images.  Qaddafi, with his crazy hair and sunglasses.  A North Korean Kim in high heels.

My guest today says think again.  Today’s most effective dictatorships, he says, don’t go in for the old theater and the naked iron fist.  They’re more subtle.  Savvy.  They use media, technology, cushy carrots, subtle sticks, even a lace of democracy to nail their central authority.

This hour, On Point:  the dictator’s learning curve.  They’re smarter than you think.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Will Dobson,  politics and foreign affairs editor at Slate and the author of The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.

From Tom’s Reading List

Foreign Policy “Dictators are supposed to be dumb, or at least crazy. Muammar al-Qaddafi was a ranting lunatic with a goofy fashion sense. Kim Jong Il had a weird hairstyle and a penchant for surreal sloganeering. Those generals in Burma were brutes given to consulting soothsayers on major decisions and shooting people at the drop of a hat.

The New York Times “It’s hard not to think about Tony’s woes while reading William J. Dobson’s intelligent and absorbing “Dictator’s Learning Curve.” It’s a book that intricately explores the headache-making complexities of being an authoritarian tough guy in 2012. These despots may well be on anti-depressants too.”

Wall Street Journal “In March 2011, a few weeks after the crowds had left Tahrir Square, I sat down with Sherif Mickawi, a former Egyptian air-force engineer turned political activist. He was one of the young leaders who had helped rally the people to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak. But despite the democratic revolution’s success, Mr. Mickawi was worried.”

Excerpt

Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Mar 5, 2015
A car passes a memorial for Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson last summer, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Ferguson. A Justice Department investigation found sweeping patterns of racial bias within the Ferguson police department, with officers routinely discriminating against blacks by using excessive force, issuing petty citations and making baseless traffic stops, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the report.  (AP)

The big Justice Department report finds a pattern of racial bias in the Ferguson Police Department. Now what? We’re back in Ferguson – and beyond — for answers.

Mar 5, 2015
One in four women use psychiatric medication. The reasons for the medication aren't always so clear. (Flickr)

Are American women being prescribed psychiatric drugs – anti-depressants, anti-psychotics — for normal emotions? We’ll hear out one psychiatrist’s bold claim.

RECENT
SHOWS
Mar 4, 2015
This photo taken July 31, 2012 shows a "tiny" house April Anson built in Portland, Ore. For the past couple of months, 33-year-old Anson and her friends have been planning, measuring, sawing and hammering their way toward completion of what might look like a child’s playhouse. (AP)

Tiny houses, micro-apartments. They’re hot. Americans are downsizing.

 
Mar 4, 2015
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a keynote address at the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, in Santa Clara, Calif.  (AP)

Hillary Clinton’s week of bad headlines: about her emails and foreign money going to the Clinton Foundation. We’ll dig in.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Answers To Your Questions On Black Holes
Tuesday, Mar 3, 2015

Yale University’s Priyamvada Natarajan answers your black hole questions in full. (Well, most of them.)

More »
Comment
 
Want To Listen To Lead Belly? Here’s Where To Start
Monday, Mar 2, 2015

Loved our show on Lead Belly, but unsure on where you should start to listen? Jeff Place of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage offers his best picks for a beginning Lead Belly listener.

More »
Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: February 27, 2015
Friday, Feb 27, 2015

We won’t lead you into a debate on the color of #TheDress (it’s blue and black, end of debate), but we do wonder about the blurring lines between so-called Internet culture and general popular culture. Also, it’s snowing in Boston. Still.

More »
Comment