William Dobson, author of ‘The Dictator’s Learning Curve,’ on how modern tyrants rule


The dictatorships of the 21st century maintain power by adopting the trappings of liberal democracy, says the author of a new book on despots and democracy movements around the world.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a good example of the savvy modern dictator, said William Dobson, author of The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy, on Tuesday’s edition of The Dylan Ratigan Show. “Last week, he went to the parliament, like presidents might, to have a law passed that would help squelch protests.”

“It’s important to understand that this is more than just a facade,” he went on. “I mean, you could rightly point out that East Germany, one of the most totalitarian regimes of the Cold War, was the German Democratic Republic. That’s what they called themselves. Now that was just a bland facade. These are regimes that understand that it’s actually useful to have an opposition because it soaks up some of the dissent.”

One of Putin’s advisers, the shadowy Vadislav Surkov, has called this style of government “managed democracy” (sometimes translated as “sovereign” democracy). Here is how the British documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis described Surkov’s theories:


Surkov believes that the truth is that the idea of democracy will always be an illusion, that all democracies will always be “managed democracies” whether east or west. So the solution is for a strong state to manipulate people - so that they feel they are free, while they are really being managed.

Dobson was quick to point out that pro-democracy movements in Russia and elsewhere are also become more sophisticated. “There’s a very global, dynamic cat and mouse game being played,” he said, “where each side evolves, employs a tactic of some sort, and then the other side responds.”

William Dobson, author of 'The Dictator's Learning Curve,' on how modern tyrants rule