Understanding Dictatorship

Flagg Taylor

| 2020

In How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century, Frank Dikötter provides readers with eight striking mini-portraits of 20th century dictators: Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-sung, Duvalier, Ceauşescu, and Mengistu. In a brief preface, he tells us his aim is to place “the cult of personality where it belongs, at the very heart of tyranny.” Though previous analysts of tyranny have noted the role of these cults as well as terror as instruments of power, Dikötter suggests the former has been treated as a “mere aberration.” For the most part he allows these portraits to speak for themselves, making readers draw their own conclusions about the continuities and discontinuities across these figures. The resemblances are certainly striking and the dictator’s playbook seems remarkably similar across the regimes treated here.

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