How Long Do Dictators Last?

I was watching the news as the Taliban sweeps fledgling state Iraq, so recently “liberated” from the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein. Are they again to become a failed state due to their own religious factionalism, enslaved yet again by new opportunistic warlords?

“Worst case scenario,” I thought, “they’ll fall to a new dictatorship. But, how long do dictatorships really last? Since ancient Greece, Rome and Persia, I can’t remember a real dictatorship that made it to a hundred years.”

I soon realized, there IS a hair-splitting difference between a dictatorship and a totalitarian regime. Regimes, under a succession of dictators, such as the USSR, last under a century in modern times. And then we have “authoritarian regimes” in which some freedom is tolerated but rigidly monitored, all the way down to “benevolent dictatorships” and kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia, where the king is still head of state and nominally the final authority.

China, once one of the bloodiest dictatorships after millennia of emperors and the indignity of the British Opium Wars, seems at the time to be a special case. North Korea, with its three generations of hereditary Kim Jongs, is almost universally held to be one of the most brutal and detestable regimes, with each generation of “Dear Leader” being crazier than its predecessor.

And finally, we have that resurgent scourge of Huns, the terrorist armies, who, having seen territory they want, simply take them and execute the opposition.

How long do dictatorships last, on an average?

My guess for maximum longevity in recent times was about right. I did some research and analysis.

To make much sense of the conclusions of this piece, you really should first quickly peruse this list at “List of Dictators.”

Their website states “The following is a list of national leaders (heads of state and/or heads of government) commonly regarded as modern dictators.” The list is mind-boggling. Look at it. You can see some patterns that dovetail with what we remember of of history, but they don’t lend themselves to easy statistical analysis.

What I liked was that their list included dates dictators were in power. I wanted durations of their reigns over time.

What is their average, high and low reign as absolute ruler? Are there any patterns over time? Would it be fair to say dictatorships are today on the decline world-wide?

I exported their web table to an Excel spreadsheet, calculated each dictatorship’s term in power, and I tried to do some simple analysis. I graphed the most significant result: dictatorships are almost always short-lived aberrations, though frequently followed by new aberrations. I could see no particular evidence they are on the wane; what changes is where and when they sprout, like poison mushrooms after a rain.

I think you could make a case that chaos and authoritarian regimes flourish after an occupying power vacates, or is forced out of, a geographical area. But this is tough to prove. Given the scholarly difficulty of tracking down the history of every individual shifting country on the list, I didn’t try to quantify my conclusion.

I’d have liked to see graphed breakouts by region, and more by century or historical period, but in most cases it is easy enough to see those patterns in the Conservapedia listing.

I compiled my chart by counting the number of occurrences of 0 years, 1 year, 2 years and so on, all the way up to a 47 year maximum duration of power. There were 230 entries total. There were a few multiple entries representing multiple terms by the same despot. My graph only answers my original question, “How long do dictatorships last, on an average?”

No modern dictatorship ever lasted 100 years. I see no clear trend showing dictatorships are dwindling world-wide. The new hotspots are Africa and the Middle East. I found 220 distinct “modern dictators.”

You’ll find a graph of my “how long do they last?” results below.


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Reflections on the 44th Inaugural

In the yard of my childhood years, we had an old-fashioned child’s swing. It was not a department store swing set, but a single plank wooden seat, suspended from a massive 4×4 framework by weathered old steel chains. All of this was enclosed in an overgrown arbor of trees and shrubbery. As I grew older, far from outgrowing the swing, I repaired myself to it more often, and spent happy restorative hours just daydreaming. I wondered about the future and what it might hold for me. I wondered also about the future and what it might hold for all of us.

In those years I devoured books on space exploration and science fiction. These depicted an Earth where everybody could explore wherever they wanted. They depicted an Earth where everybody could join in this together. In my world of the mid-1950’s, the idea that everybody could live in harmony – black, brown, red, white, yellow, people of every race and religion – was truly the futuristic domain of science fiction.
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Congratulations, America

U.S.S. Constitution

U.S.S. Constitution

Yesterday we elected Barack Obama as the 43rd president of our United States of America. It was an unprecedented election in many ways. The news is flooded with stories of excitement and hope all over the world.

As President-Elect Obama said to the nation last night in his acceptance speech, the road ahead will be long. We have a lot of work to do. We have had other presidents who took office in the middle of perilous times. Perhaps those special challenges galvanized them and the nation to decisive action; they and the nation were victorious.
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On the Age of Man

Here at we frequently avail ourselves of the rich opportunities to slam creationist sects for their perverse backward dogma that mankind was created out of earth, air, fire, water and a rib some 6,000 years ago. Yet this picture of the “true believer” is unsatisfyingly incomplete, and perhaps unfair. In my own 60+ years I myself have never met an individual who claimed to actually believe this, or who even asserted that the Bible “says so”.

In an essay on Herodotus I recently wrote: “The question that has always bothered me: how could presumably intelligent and articulate Creationists fatally wound their own beliefs with such wildly out-of-whack dates?”
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Rosa Parks 1913 – 2005

If an updated “Profiles in Courage” (John F. Kennedy, 1956) could somehow be published 50 years later, I believe my heroine Rosa Parks would be in it.

Mrs. Parks was a seamstress in Montgomery Alabama. She had no grand plan for starting a watershed civil rights movement. Waiting for the municipal bus after a hard day’s work, on December 1, 1955, she had planned some community work in the evening; it was not a day to plan to be arrested. But Rosa Parks just got tired of Alabama’s “Jim Crow” system of mistreatment , discrimination and segregation.
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Patterns of History


Please pause a moment, reflect back, and take the following multiple choice test. The events are actual events from history. They actually happened!!!

Do you remember?

1. The Symbionese Liberation Army was:

    a. A group of crazy black supremacists
    b. A rich white girl
    c. An orchestra musician’s union
    d. a Muslim male extremist between the ages of 17 and 40

2. Lee Harvey Oswald was:

    a. a deranged white commie dupe assassin
    b. a best-seller by Rachel Carson in 1962
    c. a popular fruit juice drink
    d. a Muslim male extremist between the ages of 17 and 40

3. Idi Amin was:

    a. a deranged syphilitic Ugandan who murdered 300,000 of his own people
    b. a poisonous Australian sidewinder
    c. a knockoff meditation technique popular in Los Angeles in the 1960’s
    d. a Muslim male extremist between the ages of 17 and 40

4. The Weathermen were:

    a. a radical terrorist organization dominated by spoiled liberal white kids
    b. a hit song by Bob Dylan
    c. a political reorganization of the National Oceanographic Survey group
    d. a Muslim male extremist between the ages of 17 and 40

5. The “Unabomber” was:

    a. a crazy white megalomaniac who glorified self-directed anonymous terrorism
    b. a powerful mixed drink of the Harvey Wallbanger genre
    c. a bicycling fad that went seriously astray
    d. a Muslim male extremist between the ages of 17 and 40

6. Timothy McVeigh was:

    a. a deranged white terrorist who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in June 1997
    b. a discotheque in the Washington DC area
    c. a decoction of wild grasses favored by herbalists and the “natural” movement
    d. a Muslim male extremist between the ages of 17 and 40

Nope, ..I really don’t see a pattern here to justify profiling, do you?

Let’s send this to as many people as we can. Patterns without a point? Come on, send this to everybody in your address book. Never mind if this sounds like spamming; it is not some political theory, just common sense. Wake up America! There’s one behind every tree!

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Crowd Control Parisienne

A tale of problem-solving. Contributed by roving correspondent DN …

An army officer in the 19th century, during one of the many riots in Paris, was ordered to shoot at a mob in order to force them to disperse. He ordered his troops to take up their firing positions, and then shouted at the mob:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve received an order to shoot you, but I see that there are many honest and respectable citizens among you, so I’d like to ask those citizens to kindly leave so that I can freely shoot at the mob creating the disturbance.”

Everyone left.

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In Faint Praise Of The Pope

the apologia

Pope John Paul is undoubtedly the first leader of a major world religion to issue a public apology for large-scale injustice done in the name of the religion. Now his address is criticized for not being specific enough. While it is noted that he only alluded to major historical wrongs such as the Crusades, his harshest critics have complained that he did not apologize for events for which the Catholic Church was not responsible, notably, the horrors of World War II.

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

Even as a non-Catholic, I have a problem with the current controversy over the Pope’s recent Day of Pardon Mass, better known as the “apology”.
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Origins of the Home Page

fireside web stories

Believe it or not, the World Wide Web has been a part of our lives long enough that we are beginning to forget its origins. As children will sit around the camp fire and ask the old timers, “what was life like when there was only black and white TV?”, it is important for us to preserve our anecdotal www heritage NOW.

The question related to me recently was, “what’s the difference between a ‘home page’ and a ‘web page’?”

At first glance, the question seemed ludicrous. We laughed that every page was a web page, so who cared?

It gradually dawned on me that, at one time, before database and server-generated ‘.asp’ pages, the question had made a lot more sense.
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