The end of tyranny: seemingly imminent downfall of Muammar Gaddafi may not represent “the end of history”, but, for the moment at least, it’s pretty close to being the end of tyranny, in the historical sense of absolute rule by an individual who has seized power, rather than acquiring it by inheritance or election…. Forty-odd years ago, this kind of government was the rule rather than the exception in most regions of the world (notably including South America and the Communist bloc), and was represented even in Western Europe by Franco and Salazar. Now, there’s Mugabe… a couple of shaky-looking strongmen in the ‘stans, and that’s about it…. There’s Kim jr, Assad jr and Castro minor… all of whom inherited their positions, as of course, did the remaining absolute monarchs. More surprising to me are the number of cases where classic tyrants, having established one-party states, have been succeeded by self-selecting oligarchies – China is the most striking example. Looking at the evidence of the past, I would have predicted that such oligarchies would either collapse in short order or see the emergence of a new tyrant, but there is no sign of that for the moment.
I don’t have a good theory to explain the rise of so many tyrants in the modern period, beginning with Bonaparte (or maybe Cromwell), or the sudden disappearance of this form of government from around the mid-1960s. But it seems that it’s a development worth noting.