When Dictators Dictate

‘In his remarkable book, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Simon Sebag Montefiore does a service by focusing on the intimacies of power. In his detailed, highly readable account of Joseph Stalin’s entourage, Montefiore shows how power is often a byproduct of informal interaction, a thing of the dinner table, the hunting expedition, the boudoir.

‘But Montefiore also poses another question, one more specific to the Soviet leader. Why is it that the experienced, ruthless, conceited men and women around Stalin could so easily fall under his ruinous power, to the extent that some remained loyal even after the murder or imprisonment of members of their families? The answer is deceptively simple: There was no sovereign rule of law to mediate the relation. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Stalin himself became the law, replacing the hard but more egalitarian conventions of the Communist Party. The absolute leader destroyed a system and replaced it with his own absolute ego.

‘Observing that the absence of the rule of law leads to the abuse of power is trite. However, this can be applied to state systems, and helps explain why destabilizing dictatorships can so easily impose their will on other sometimes more powerful states around them. The Arab state system is a prime example of this condition. Looking back several decades, and up to this day, a recurrent pattern in the Middle East and North Africa is that of the most thuggish regimes managing to get away with murder, even though their reckless behavior endangers the interests of other regimes.’ (Reason article).