What about tyranny

Tyrants What tyrants have in common historically

Nero, Napoleon and Stalin: three tyrants who raged in their respective centuries, that is, were responsible for death, hatred and destruction. Are they exceptions, some kind of glitch in history? Waller Newell is Professor of Political Science at Carleton University in Canada's capital Ottawa. And he is convinced that tyrants are not extraordinary, but extremely normal. And they still exist - in different forms - to this day.

"[Russian President] Vladimir Putin resurrected the role of 'master' played by Stalin, and the common people celebrated the new order and stability that came with it. Because the road to the free market was more rocky than in China and the vast Russian empire more difficult To rule, Russia has not been able to follow China's march to prosperity. Instead, Putin wants to erect a monument in foreign policy. He impresses his people with provocations and military invasions and thus distracts them from a lack of economic success - a classic pattern that has been observed through the centuries can be observed through. "

The view of tyranny as a historical event is the strength of Newell's book "Tyrants. A history of power, injustice, & terror". In this story of power, injustice, and terror, Newell doesn't lump all tyrants together. Stalin is not Putin, Robespierre is not Nero.

From field, forest and meadow tyrant to millenarian ruler

He distinguishes between three basic types. There is the field, forest and meadow tyrant who is all about power and money. For Newell, Nero belongs to this category as well as Egypt's ex-ruler Husni Mubarak. Then there is the tyrant like Julius Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte, who, according to Newell, wants to create order in a chaotic world with his dictatorship. He calls him the reformist tyrant: For him, tyranny is a means to an end. The third type only came into the world with the French Revolution: the millenarian tyrant striving for a thousand-year empire or something similar.

"He is a revolutionary messiah who promises to lead us into a bright new future: men like Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Ayatollah Khomeini or IS chief Al-Baghdadi. If necessary, they set their utopia by force. These men justify their tyranny as temporarily necessary to put an end to all tyranny and inequality forever. "

Neither in this lecture at the Black Mountain Institute nor in his book, Newell leaves any doubt that he regards this type of tyrant as the most dangerous of all.

Are Some Tyrants More Harmful Than Others?

And now who is Putin? A little bit of all three, Newell judges. And doesn't just use Putin to explain what categorization is actually supposed to be. For liberal societies the inevitable question is how to respond to a tyrant. And that depends entirely on what type of tyrant it is, the professor writes.

"We should not take action against a field, forest, or meadow tyrant or a seedy reformist tyrant or undermine his rule if that increases the chances that a millenarian tyrant will take over."

But is that true? Was Syria alone a better place under Assad than it is today under Assad and Al-Baghdadi's so-called Islamic State? Was Mubarak's military rule in Egypt better than that of the pious Muslim Brotherhood Newell sees as potential Islamists? What about Libya, where the state collapse only began with the overthrow of the dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, who had ruled for decades?

Half-hearted riots create even more danger

These are not easy questions to ask while reading Newell's book. Newell makes a clear plea against tyrannical rule: he expressly supports coups or popular uprisings. But he warns against well-intentioned but thoughtless interference.

"Millenarian tyrants do not come to power when the old tyranny is at its peak. Rather, at the particularly explosive moment when the autocrat offers moderate reforms but does not really want to share his absolute power. There are liberal reform forces, half-hearted approval of the ruler, hopes are aroused and disappointed - and the liberals are swept away in favor of the extremists. "

The failure of the French Revolution was described by contemporaries as a revolution of disappointed hopes, recalls Newell. These disappointed hopes are the fuel that turns young men in particular into tyrants and their supporters - over the millennia.

Some of Newell's historical comparisons are limp, others are immediately convincing. It is similar to the question of whether to find some tyrants more harmless than others. It is also doubtful that the United States of all things is immune to tyrants, as Newell believes. But that is exactly what is valuable about the book. On 230 pages, Waller Newell deals with the bloodthirsty and brutal leaders who are so often dismissed as bizarre versions of political reality. They are not, as Newell shows, but an integral part of political reality. There were, there are, there will always be tyrants. Better to deal with them.

Waller R. Newell: "Tyrants. A history of power, injustice, & terror"
Cambridge University Press, 264 pages, 25.99 euros.