Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ich liebe Dich

Niccolo Machiavelli coined one for the ages when he opined it is best to be both feared and loved, however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved. Obviously, the man knew that one of the many perks of being a dictator is having a better than average shot at both.

Now obviously, some dictators have failed at having it both ways. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini managed to endear himself with the people, but never quite found a way to actually scare Italians. Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin got the fear part down to a science, but even with a relentless cult of personality that managed to engender respect - even reverence, Uncle Joe failed miserably on the "loved" portion of the equation.

Which leads us to a man who most people would view as history's least lovable dictator, German Führer Adolf Hitler. Adolf certainly had the "fear" part down pat, but how did he score on being loved? Well, according to an upcoming book called Letters to Hitler: A People Writes to Its Führer, Hitler did far better than one would expect from a short, bloodthirsty megalomaniac whose primary form of communication was screaming. The book compiles letters to Hitler recovered by Soviet troops in East Germany written by ordinary Germans to their dictator, and while some sycophancy is obviously included, there appears to have been a genuine outpouring of affection towards Hitler. Sure, he may have been bristly and aloof, but there had to be something that inspired a woman to write to him and declare "I would like to make you my little puppy my dear, my eternal, my lovely Adolf".

Historians would like us to believe that Hitler was some sort of magician who "wove a spell" around the Germans, but this is just a tedious cliche used a shortcut to explain how people internalize their feelings for authority. Hitler himself was about as lovable as a viper with the ebola virus, but something about his mien stirred genuine feelings of affection from ordinary Germans. Could it have been daddy issues on a national scale?

Nowadays, dictators appear to have largely dispensed with the loved part of Machiavelli's equation, opting largely to rule through one or the other. Hugo Chávez buys love with oil money, and Than Shwe uses riot police, but is it so much to ask that one of today's crop manages to provide some balance? Call me old fashioned, but I'd like to think we've got a right to expect more from the world's most notorious tyrants.