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 Conservapedia.com “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.

Dictator

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Turkey jails Kurdish newspaper editor

This just popped up in BBC news. Here’s a country with a civil rights track record that’s worse than Singapore’s and actually has much in common with the Taliban. And to think Turkey seeks admittance into the EU …

Read the article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8509455.stm

Excerpt:

A Turkish court has sentenced the editor of a Kurdish newspaper to 21 years in prison for publishing material sympathetic to the outlawed PKK …

The paper had in fact simply described the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, as the “leader of the Kurdish people” – and it had failed to describe Turkish soldiers killed in battle as “martyrs”.

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Geheime Staatspolizei

How far is too far?

If you know enough German to recognize this title, you know where this is headed. And we certainly hope it isn’t.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1933Here is a theme people have been eying nervously for over 50 years: the omnipotent and unaccountable state, flanked by its unassailable secret police. It is easy to over-sell. We don’t advocate Chicken Little histrionics. But the twenty-first century Big Brother model sports not only omnipotence, but the electronic and digital wherewithal to become omniscient. Are we closer than ever before? Just how close to the edge are we?
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Patriot Euphemisms

Civil libertarians are noting with unease how Washington is whitewashing the law’s impact with unimpeachably popular nick-names.

Concealing the sinister aspects of a new bill with a heart-warming name is nothing new. Americans have already learned to equate “Agricultural Reform” with farm subsidy, “Equal Opportunity” with glass ceilings, and “Family Values” with systematic class discrimination.

The PATRIOT Act already expands unnecessary surveillance and other police powers that threaten civil liberties, across a broad front of ordinary America.

The PATRIOT Act does so many things it’s hard to keep track of. According to tonight’s San Francisco Chronicle, we can already: “engage in secret surveillance, phone and Internet monitoring, and searches of personal records with little or no judicial review.” We can use roving wiretaps, secret record searches, dentention and deportation of noncitizens, monitoring of religious institutions, and we can make sure that only US citizens get to screen our persons and baggage at airports.
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