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
Oct 24, 2014
Ottawa police officers, with Parliament Hill in the background, guard the area around the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa on Thursday. (Reuters/Landov)

Gunfire in Canada’s capital. Billionaire millions hit the midterms. Huge airbag recall. Ben Bradlee is dead. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Oct 24, 2014
Andrew (Miles Teller) and his often demanding conductor, Terrence (J.K. Simmons) in a scene from the new film, "Whiplash." (Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

The new movie “Whiplash”. The thin line between obsession and abuse on the road to greatness. In music, the arts…sports.

RECENT
SHOWS
Oct 23, 2014
A screenshot from the interactive game, "Depression Quest," the game at the root of the ongoing #GamerGate controversy. (Courtesy  "Depression Quest")

#GamerGate. Sexism, misogyny and rough stuff in a video game world culture clash.

 
Oct 23, 2014
Specialist Ronnie Howard, center, calls out prices as he works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. Beyond the turmoil shaking financial markets, the U.S. economy remains sturdier than many seem to fear. (AP)

The global economic wobble. Europe weakness. China fears. Wild markets. We’ll lay out the global economy now.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Introducing The Explicast: A New Podcast From On Point Radio
Friday, Oct 17, 2014

Confused about the news? Don’t worry: so are we sometimes! Introducing a new On Point Radio podcast: The Explicast. You can find Episode One right here.

More »
3 Comments
 
Two LIVE Tracks From Jazz Violinist Regina Carter
Friday, Oct 17, 2014

Regina Carter shares two live tracks — one arrangement, and one original composition — with Tom Ashbrook in the On Point studio.

More »
Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: October 17, 2014
Friday, Oct 17, 2014

We talk Facebook mishaps, whether Katy Perry was actually right and the glory of architectural giants and their iconic windows.

More »
Comment