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How would a Dictatorship make a country more successful (Wealthy, politically and materialistically powerful, secure, stable)?

Background:

In this instance the country is a monarchy to begin with. The provinces are controlled by different families who mostly do what they want... all of them have control over specific elements in the economy. Like the one family controls the Navy; another controls a large percentage of the country's produce; another controls the Banks. The Monarch is basically in place to give everyone a power check and keep the country united.

He is overthrown by the Family that happens to control the police force (but not the army, which is unprepared and not very large). The obvious answer for the benefit of a dictatorship is that the country is united behind one leader.

An important characteristic in this situation however, is that even after the change of power, the Families would still have some power...

Definition:

Dictator - a ruler with total power over a country, typically one who has obtained control by force.

* Note that this doesn't state that the Dictator is cruel or tyrannical. The common people actually aren't treated worse than before. The main difference is among the higher ups, like where the money goes and who has the final say in decision and international policy.

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    $\begingroup$ You need to define "successful". History has countless examples of dictators turning very messed up nations into superpowers. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 1 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, that's better. You may check this: Benevolent dictatorship $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 1 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ Look up enlightened absolutism. Frederick II "the Great" of Prussia. Catherine II "the Great" of Russia. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Peter I "the Great" of Russia. Gustav I Vasa of Sweden. Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 1 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ The description seems to indicate that almost nothing changes for most folks, which seems unlikely. You're describing a rift among the ruling classes - such situations often result in extremists seizing control from moderates, and extremists usually don't leave most folks unaffected. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 1 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Not going to write a full answer, but for a very similar scenario actually played out in real history, look up the decay of the Merovingian kings of Francia (which was not yet France), the deposition of Childeric III, the acension to the throne of Pepin the Short and the rise of the Carolingian dynasty. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 1 at 20:58
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A well-run dictatorship is superior to any other form of government. Well-run dictatorships are unicorns though, since most of the goals I'm about to list are the exact opposite of what dictators are aiming for.

Why can a dictatorship be great? Because you can ignore special interests and other inefficiencies. You can remove corruption. You can invest heavily in the future without worrying about temporary setbacks. You can engage in long-term planning. You can make decisions quickly.

Special interests and other inefficiencies. You said that one Family controls the Navy, one the banks, one the produce, etc. That sounds like your entire nation is a series of monopolies, which is probably inefficient. Use your dictatorial powers to open up the field for competition. Allow the free market to improve productivity.

Remove corruption. Ruthlessly execute corrupt officials and strip their family of all assets. Make it so that the rewards of corruption aren't worth the risks, and you'll find your nation operating more efficiently at all levels. This one will actually affect the lives of normal people - imagine a medieval peasant actually being able to trust the police.

Invest heavily in the future, ignoring minor setbacks. Build those infrastructure projects. Educate your populace. Invite foreign investment and make sure that they have sustained legal protection so that even more flows in (no "nationalizing/stealing" foreign assets.) Use your stability and vision to forge economic alliances that boost your economy and open up markets for your corruption-free, open market industries to compete in. Fund research and exploration. Be prepared for war even when peace is long-lived.

You can make decisions quickly. In a democracy, even the most sensible decision can take time. The dictator can cut through red tape, can issue direct orders, and can bring the nation to action as fast as his commands can be distributed. An okay decision today is often better than a good decision a year from now.

The best example I have here is Pinochet from Chile. Pinochet was no angel - he killed/disappeared thousands of people (many of whom would be considered innocent). But the general consensus is that he managed to set Chile on a path that has made them the best nation in South American by almost any economic measure except equality. Even there, the modern Chilean poor are better off and less numerous than the Chilean poor when Pinochet took power, so judge carefully.

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  • $\begingroup$ These are good points, but your answer would be better, IMO, if you discussed the likely results of these actions. For example, you can make decisions quickly, but you have to make more, so you can get a backlog. You can remove corruption, but if anyone is afraid of being executed for acting wrong, there'll either be a shortage, play the game more carefully, build their own loyal base of supporters, or do the bare minimum possible to avoid making the wrong move. $\endgroup$ – Hosch250 Mar 1 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ "Why can a dictatorship be great? Because you can ignore special interests and other inefficiencies." The book The Dictator's Handbook argues the opposite: dictators have to have the support of flunkeys (special interests), and that support is gained by supporting inefficiencies that benefit those flunkeys. Since the dictator has to buy the support of the power players, the system is built on corruption. $\endgroup$ – Acccumulation Mar 2 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ This is often termed a benevolent dictatorship. $\endgroup$ – forest Mar 2 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Acccumulation Built on corruption by a limited set of players is generally more efficient than systemic corruption. Given the side this particular family controlled, I expect the peasants will be able to trust the police in much the same way citizens could trust the police of Ankh Morpork before Vetinari became Patrician. But many other institutions will likely be forced to be much better. $\endgroup$ – Ed Grimm Mar 2 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't that sound like Singapore. $\endgroup$ – ChrisW Mar 2 at 10:17
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In your specific case:

In your case, I think the new ruler is a new monarch, not a dictator. The new ruler doesn't have enough force or influence to rule with absolute power. Any of the other families could depose this new ruler in a heart beat. So I don't think they qualify as a dictator, unless one of the major families allies with them.

The problem is as follows:

Army beats Police Force.

Bankers + Money + Mercenary Army beats Police Force.

This specific scenario might make more sense if it was the army that took over and seized the whole nation. Or some group that can leverage extreme force.

In general:

That said, the ancient Greeks thought that a benevolent dictatorship would be one of the most ideal forms of government. They theorized many different ways to make this happen. But basically if you have a dictator who wants the good of their people, there are a lot of things they can do that traditional governments can't.

Income inequality, lack of jobs, civil rights abuses, almost anything can be solved with a hand wave and overwhelming force.

The problem is not having a benevolent dictator, the problem is that the people who tend to become dictators are not benevolent (usually traitors to begin with). And second, even if you get a benevolent dictator, as there have been in history, once they pass away their is no guarantee that the next person will be benevolent.

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  • $\begingroup$ True... but not all the other families are against them... and if they were quick enough in their planning, they could destabilize the other families... for instance... if they had the family with the Navy, then they control lots of the trade and all of the shipping $\endgroup$ – L Maen Mar 1 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ @LMaen, that's the problem. The new ruler needs to wipe all the other families to become a dictator rather than new monarch, so they can't get much help from any. However, with good scheming to pit them against each other and some devoted followers a charismatic leader can do it. Many dictators raised to power using some kind of guerrilla (SS, Red Army, Revolutionary Guards etc.) that disabled or beat the official standing army, so (initial) control of army is not necessary. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Mar 1 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ The benevolent dictatorship has a lot of potential but I think it can work in theory only, or in fantasy only. Not all 100% of people won't accept the dictactor is benevolent, rebellions will arise from time to time, the dictator would have to fight to keep the power. You are forced to be evil even if you don't want to. In the end, people won't see it as a working system. $\endgroup$ – Hatoru Hansou Mar 4 at 21:01
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A common effect of political fragmentation is the imposition of economic barriers. Each subsection of the realm will institute trade barriers such as high tolls for transshipping goods, and possibly tariffs whose intent is to increase the prices of imported goods and make them less competitive with locally-produced products. The practice occurred, for instance, in many of the original American colonies.

This has a very bad long-term effect on the larger economy. Successful economies generally encourage specialization, with trade to distribute each specialized areas goods to the others.

It's entirely possible for a dictator to eliminate these barriers to the free flow of goods. This will have excellent consequences for the economy as a whole, although not necessarily for any particular realm.

Depending on the smarts of the dictator, it's also possible for him to institute (at least partially) a command economy, with resources devoted to projects with long-term payoffs which would otherwise not occur. An example might be investment in civil waterworks and piping, which will provide clean water to all, with an attendant drop in disease rates.

Of course, none of this is guaranteed to succeed. As the saying goes, "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely." This will apply to the dictator, and (importantly) to his advisors. Corruption in the application of otherwise well-intended projects can easily offset any benefits, and in the worst case produce a kleptocracy. This pattern is widely seen in third-world countries today.

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  • $\begingroup$ thank you for the insight $\endgroup$ – L Maen Mar 1 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ A command economy can be highly effective at recovering from disaster (see, for example, the Soviet Union or North Korea immediately post-World War II). It's rather less effective at growing an already-functioning economy (see, again, the Soviet Union and North Korea). $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 1 at 22:52
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The intent of this answer is not to glorify evil in any way. I simply wish to state some truth. It is true that Adolf Hitler did many evil things and I don't want to make him sound good. but it is also true that Germany and its allies got terrifyingly close to taking over the eastern world. Only were they stopped by a coalition of the greatest forces in the world and some battles won barely dangling by a strand. This occurred because of the dictatorship of Hitler. I suggest to find more information about this look up things like "how was Hitler so successful?" or "why did Hitler accomplish so much?". I can provide more information myself I just do not have the time to do so at the moment but leave a comment if you would like me to expound upon this answer.

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    $\begingroup$ I did and have studied it... but he also used an ideology, Nazism... which made his whole country weaker in that he was making enemies of a good chunk of the population that could and probably would have been quite loyal and devoted to Germany. That always seemed really impractical to me (which is the least of that whole notions problems) $\endgroup$ – L Maen Mar 1 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ In the context that i want to use this info for, the Monarch is basically removed (permanently) in a coup... and the other families don't want a civil war (because of the way the economy works), so they have to let it stand... and do as they're told. The object of the coup is to remove the weaker "puppet" king and build the country up to be stronger. $\endgroup$ – L Maen Mar 1 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ @LMaen I did not say everything hitler did was ideal. but he had a good basis. if your people get to where they believe there is no recovery, and are hopeless or discouraged, they're likely to accept any solution. this is a great way to band people together. every dictator though needs a scapegoat, someone to blame. In order to unite the people you have to unite them against something. hitler united them against their own. if you dont like this then unite your people against another country, blame a foreign government and you will have a solidly united group of good followers capable of a lot. $\endgroup$ – Elias Rowan Albatross Mar 1 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ I'm just saying, finding someone to blame after WW1 shouldn't have been too hard. Thank you for the idea... i'm still playing around with it. $\endgroup$ – L Maen Mar 1 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ Germany under Hitler is a case study in how not to run a stable, effective dictatorship. Yes, he brought Germany out of the Great Depression faster than any of the democracies, and his foreign policy up to 1939 was highly successful. But the level of infighting between his subordinates was incredible, and there was a distinct lack of coordination (three armies with four chains of command between them, at least six intelligence services, and so on). $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 1 at 22:49
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After about half a century of attempting to absorb information about history and feeling I may have acquired what Oscar Levant referred to as a smattering of ignorance, I feel it possible, when evaluating the potential effectiveness of dictatorship, we may lead ourselves into an intellectual corner by the use of the word "absolute" when discussing the nature of dictatorship or what is referred to often as "absolutism".

I am left with the impression that no matter how effective a given individual has been in consolidating power, it is never literally "absolute". It is always dependent on factors that are essential for the acquisition and maintenance of the power, more often than not the interested loyalty of what Alexis de T. called "the organized adolescents of the world known as the military class". In some cases it may depend on having a wife who will not poison you or a Praetorian guard who will not slit your throat in that tunnel up on the Palatine Hill or having a populace that will tolerate the autocrat.

There seem always to be important and essential factors that limit an "absolute" autocrat, beginning with the degree of the individual´s competence/incompetence. (The last Czar of the Russian Empire is a good example.) I can think of a myriad of other examples, but, I recognize the degree to which my opinion may be well-received depends on not going on at length too much.

Suffice it to say, my point in answer to the question posed is that the success of any dictatorship (in the eyes of those of us who would judge him/her benevolent or tyrannical) in making a country successful, depends, in the first instance on what you mean by a successful country, (a Switzerland or a Norway or some totalitarian state that has temporarily defeated its competition, North Korea or Venezuela, perhaps.)

In the second instance, when a dictator is involved, it depends on the degree to which the dictator either cows opposition (using, deceit, intimidation, fear of violence or the use of it) or placates it, (using bread and circuses, munificence, permissiveness, public works, easy credit and other bribes) and uses scapegoats for whatever does not placate the unruly masses and whether there exist factors or institutions that limit the power. A good study on this is Rome under Augustus, the Pax Romana. (See, Stark, Rome on the Euphrates, page 149, "Augustus´Handling of Power" and page 153, Tragedy of the Facade".)

If this makes sense, then, to judge success, after defining what a successful country is, I suggest we may need to look less at the manners and mores of a putative dictator and examine closely his/her methods and the available factors that limit the exercise of the power. In the ultimate instance, it is the results that count and, looking at history, one might conclude that no dictator can make a successful country unless, over time, he/she becomes less and less of a dictator.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, Christopher, welcome to the worldbuilding StackExchange. Would you consider improving the formatting of your answer? At the moment it's one huge block of text that's both quite an eyesore and difficult to read. Separating it into paragraphs might substantially improve your answer's reception. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Mar 2 at 15:02
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It's impossible because the intention to seize totalitarian power contradicts the intentions to do actual "good".

Let's take a more libertarian/philosophical approach. The types of relations humans can have are essentially this:

  • Based on (continuous) negotiation and reciprocal benefit: "We both agree to benefit each other, and we both are free to stop."
  • Based on power with winner and loser: "Obey or suffer the consequences. I command you, and if you refuse, I will destroy you."

What must a dictator be as a baseline in order to be a dictator before even actively "doing" anything specific?

  • He must be willing to invoke taxes on all people he has control over.
  • He must be willing to exert force and coercion over people who refuse to pay taxes or comply with his laws and demands.
  • He must be willing to hold, perpetuate and benefit from a collectivist ideology, which promotes state power and the foundational idea that it is just and reasonable to initiate violence against people for the sake of the higher good.
  • Along with that, he must be in opposition to individualism - he must be convinced that he can micro- and macromanage people (and the economy) better than they themselves, and that individuals would just "waste" their freedoms for things he doesn't deem useful.
  • He must be complicit with the idea to hold power as centralized, undivided and undeluded as possible.

The magnitude of course matters - the same ruler could either starve its citizens or just take less from them. But the practice in essence is the same - and if he doesn't take enough, he can not be a dictator. So let's assume a high magnitude.


So - the question boils down to this at this point: What can a dictator, who is already exploiting and oppressing its people en masse to a large degree, prevent his economy to collapse too rapidly?

A significant correlation is this: The more individual liberties (free speech, property rights) and economic opportunities (less taxes, less restrictions), the more economic success and prosperity. And for the sake of definition let's say that is actual "good", along with having ethics, internal peace, more negotiation based relationships, less power based relationships.

Let's not expand on the reasoning, but let's assume it is true - can a dictator ever go towards these goals without ceasing to be a dictator, without removing himself from the power he once desired and succeeded to seize - or likely intends to hold as he might claim to "fight corruption" (which often is the result of special state and big corporation interactions in the first place)?

The answer is no. One would have to fight his own beliefs, his own being.


What can a "benevolent dictator" do? He can pursue planned economy or economic fascism. The best case scenario is that it works out on the short term - and as such probably even tremendously, mustering massive resources for war and major social plans - but will fail on the long term. "Success" would be merely temporary.

Also it causes major issues which slowly and inevitably lead to internal and/or external conflicts and issues - rendering the system and the regime highly unstable. Getting rid of "corruption" is also a questionable goal if state power is the soil it depends on, which is maximized in the first place. It's more likely to replace one type of corruption with another type (which can be just a different type of unethical practice).

Besides, if there is a regime which has a structure set up to serve the will of a benevolent dictator, it wouldn't be too difficult to replace him with someone who is more fitting to such a position of power - who would no longer be "benevolent".

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A few good things can come from Palace coups d'etat. The most important are the churn in key personelle, if the new decision makers are competent, and the need to buy up popular feeling, which might lead to pay increases, redistribution of land or grain, the sacking of the outgoing title holders to pay promises to supporters, and perhaps reformation of banking and land title law, rental caps, employment incentives.

The bad aspects of dictatorships generally outweigh the good. The personalities of the Junta, in order to pursue absolute power, are not at all considerate or sensitive, but rather, murderously egoistic.

They are schooled and experienced in the emotional realities of dominance/ submission, and unlikely to engage in negotiations toward compromise, let alone collaboration. Avoidance of conflict is not on their radar.

Any good good that comes of them, with rare exceptions, is not by their own conscious design.

The success of the nation resulting from the coup d'etat could be the result of new personelle bringing creativity to old problems, and also from a freeing up of social mobility , at least for a select group. New business deals and management strategies from new relationships, with an aura of new beginnings, could perhaps create business optimism.

Rewriting of the official narrative, (ie, the deposed group will now be depicted as bad), could make many people more energetic for psycho-emotional reasons, as anyone who had sufferred under the last regime can speak out and direct their anger toward the past, also giving an aura of positive change.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! This seems to refute the premise of the question wihout actually answering it. I notice you've posted a few answers without signing up for an account; would you consider doing so? It would let you track your answers more easily, and allow you to earn reputation and badges for your contributions here. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Mar 3 at 16:38

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