The psychology of dictatorship: Why Gaddafi clings to power

John Cloud writes:

Muammar Gaddafi continues to hold tightly to power even as NATO bombs rain down on Tripoli. Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 1,000 of his own people in an effort to quash protests. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has refused to step down despite months of unrest that has intensified into near civil war this week. The question is, why do all these guys fight so hard to keep power? Why not decamp to Saudi Arabia or Venezuela and live out their lives in luxury before being killed or held for trial like Hosni Mubarak?

Any attempt to diagnose a defining psychological feature of dictatorship would be facile. But in the public record available on many of them — Stalin and Mao, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi himself — one can begin to see patterns that shape a dictatorial personality. At least since the Office of Strategic Services (now known as the Central Intelligence Agency) commissioned a secret profile called “A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler,” which was issued in 1943, psychologists have sought an explanation for the authoritarian mind. New research has brought us closer than ever to understanding how leaders become despots.

There are at least three explanations for dictatorial behavior:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email