The Unbearable Stupidity of Authoritarianism

iran elections.jpgThis morning, reading this, I was struck all over again by how extraordinarily maladroit autocrats usually are.  In the last few months, we've witnessed elections in Zimbabwe, Iran, and now Afghanistan, and in each case the heavy-handedness on display has been staggering.  Can't these people at least show a little finesse when they're practicing ballot-box fraud?  If they weren't so eager to prove themselves beloved by their people, if they were only willing to commit their thefts with a marginally lighter touch, the evidence against them wouldn't be so cut-and-dried, and their defenders wouldn't be forced to look so much like poltroons and toadies and fools.


Perhaps it comes with the psychological territory: ruling with an iron fist and stealing with a prestidigitator's dexterity may not go, as it were, hand in hand.  Requiring absolute obedience while permitting a mocked-up 48 percent opposition vote may trigger a level of internal emotional conflict that's impossible for someone of a coercive temperament to reconcile.

And I suppose in a way we should be grateful.  At least, given their political klutziness, we don't merely suspect the worst, we're able to know it with absolute certainty.  Iran is not a republic, not even a republic with an Islamic slant;  Zimbabwe's parliamentary system is a sham;  and the United States has not succeeded in introducing democracy, even democracy of an attenuated, tribal nature, into Afghanistan.

karzai.jpg

Had Hamid Karzai choreographed himself into a run-off, and had he then arranged to win that run-off decisively but not quite overwhelmingly, we'd all be wasting our time debating the legitimacy of the election and the resultant regime.  But instead, it's like an old cowboy movie.  You can always tell who the bad guys are.  They wear their black hats on their sleeve.

Photo Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/2296464253, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffmcneill/3629090335

Presented by

Erik Tarloff is a novelist, screenwriter, and journalist.

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in National

From This Author

Just In