The Corner

The Duration of Dictatorships

In the last few days, I’ve thought of John Maynard Keynes. We all say that dictatorships are “inherently unstable.” Dictators inevitably fall. Dictatorships are doomed. Sure, sure. But they can last a very long time. And what did Keynes say? “In the long run we’re all dead.”

Qaddafi has been dictator of Libya, choking and brutalizing that country, for 42 years. How many people who are reading this blogpost are under 42 years of age?

Castro has been dictator of Cuba, choking and brutalizing that country, for 52 years. (Even if he has given his brother a front-and-center job.) How many people reading this are under 52?

Ben Ali was in power for 24 years. Mubarak, a “presidential dictator” — far, far from the worst of the lot, a man who, compared with Castro, is St. Francis of Assisi — has been in there for 30 years. I ended my series on Belarus the other day by saying the following: One day, the dictator, Lukashenko (in power since 1994), will surely fall — but he can break a lot of bones, and wreck a lot of lives, until then. He already has. You know?

Every day, every year, I grow less impressed by the “instability” of dictatorships. The Castros may well be unstable. But if they’re in there for more than a half a century — who really cares?

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