What drives the making of a dictator?

In the history of mankind, psychopathic atrocities of power-hungry dictators like Nero, Ahmadinejad, Khadafy, Idi Amin, Khomeini are not forced by their specific brain activity or genetic reasons, but due to psychological conditions of their social status that may turn a normal individual into a psychopathic leader.

Common traits distinguish psychopathic leaders from others; they prove an exercised authority, what unfortunately causes characteristics of such psychopaths. They edge with self-confidence and independence in decision-making — to the point of being self-centered. They know how to be good liars, to the point to distract and simply fool their devout grassroots. Their very common personality trait is their being compassionless, to the point of often being sadistic. They are narcissistic and megalomaniac to the point of attaching to boundless appetite for being hand-picked for divine purposes. They are paranoid, to the point of suffocating any voice of alternative thinking as a plot of foreign enemies. These are just several genuine traits of psychopathic dictators amongst many others, conditioned by specific circumstances.

There is no doubt that a deficiency of genetic or brain activity might reinforce the atrocities, what has been proved by Stalin, but the distinct psychological traits common to any psychopathic leader can be used as a starting point in studying their dictatorial attitudes. Many perverse traits found in Kaddafi can be found in other dictators, from Nero to Ahmadinejad.

All psychologically normal people with a brim of hunger for power may turn into sadist, pervert and criminal dictators like those of communist, fascist and Islamic regimes — ideologies which are morally bankrupt, but politically can always emerge as long as we do not know or ignore the psychological mechanisms of their emergence. Such dictators carry in themselves all potentials of catastrophes that may befall their people.

Despite the fact that many psychopaths are incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals and penal institutions, it has been recognised that a few of them were clever enough to enter the annals of history, creating totalitarian regimes. All these misfits need to rule is an insane ideology or belief system through which they surround themselves with devout people, who are devoted followers to the point of being blindly ready to kill. They are the actually the social pillar of dictators; without them, a power-hungry dictator cannot be totally clueless about what it means to have a sense of humanity.

In the nineteenth century, scientists elucidated the nature of that disturbing category of human beings that we now call psychopaths. History shows that they have always been living with us, and some of them would appear as “enlightened” prophets or gurus, “great” despots, and “charismatic” leaders. They might stick to an ideology, religion, or cult, as Muhammad’s self-appointed “prophet”, titled as Alexander the Great, Khomeini as Imam, Hitler as Führer. Megalomania is a common character for any self-appointed title. Nero exalted himself to a god and Stalin became the father of Russians (petit père). All of them used their intellectual capacity in the service of their immoral drives (belief, ideology, power).

As mentioned before, “They use lofty words and emotional speech — an easy thing for a fairly intelligent psychopath — but there is no genuine content to them. Being fairly bright, they learn how to imitate emotional expressions suggestive of some higher emotions (compassion, sympathy, sociability, patriotism and morality), through which they fool the grassroots. However, they hardly fool any intellectual observer because they ring hollow as there is no truth and authenticity in their words. Their fraudulent but emotional speeches distinguish them from sane leaders.

We know dictators in uniform, in suit, in a robe or turban. He would never discard the idea that he is above every one. He would consider himself as God’s hand-picked, chosen, one– even a supposed atheist dictator like kim Jong-il of communist North Korea has trend to be a hand-picked by a metaphorical force beyond all. After the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, who “joined the sun!” his son was declared the country’s lifelong president. For a lifelong president or king, lasting compromise is impossible, and thus they would refuse to allow other ideas to cramp their authority.

The guiding principle of them to guarantee their life-time authority is fear, which must be spread among the subjects, because a there is no room for a subjugated nation to threaten his authority. Fear has always been used to silence people and groups in a population. Fear is widespread in all dictatorial systems. Fear is a powerful motivator in enforcing tolerance, obedience, and making people submit to authority; it is a pillar of religious and totalitarian systems. Fear from God or State has always been tangibly present in all totalitarian, religious, and cult systems, such as Italy under Mussolini, Nazi Germany under Hitler, China under Mao, the Soviet Union under Stalin, Libya under now-ousted Kaddafi, and Iran under the Islamic regime. The threat of punishment, torture and being killed is widely dispersed enough to cause fear. Fear has systematically been increased by state and religious institutions throughout history in nearly all societies.

Most common psychopathic sign of a dictator is narcissism, which explains his utopia in grandiose. He feels himself in a kind of splendid isolation from the outer world, in which his megalomaniac grandiose takes precedence over legal, moral, and interpersonal commitments. Although such a psychopathic leader gives no real affection, but he immensely is greedy of receiving affection of his subjugated followers. His affection is nothing but a false inspiring affection of often fanatical degree in his followers. Indeed, he has no genuine human qualities to give, but opportunistically adapts himself to any affective relation. This is not a normal type of behaviour normal people would adjust themselves to, but purely a trick of dictators, amazingly an important factor of their popularity.

Leaders with psychopathic attitudes have no feeling of guilt or remorse no matter what happens. A good example is the famous Khomeini’s response when he was asked about his feeling in his flight to Iran after 15 years in exile, when he surprised a whole nation by saying: “I have no feeling on my return to Iran!” His spontaneous, unscripted and unadvised reaction to a simple obvious question that would require him to express either empathy or caring and compassion for others, including the millions of his followers waiting enthusiastically for his arrival, shows his real side and his lack of human feelings.

Although Khomeini’s peculiar sentence in itself was very revealing, it was not seriously taken into consideration at the time. Khomeini’s fumbling with statements and phraseology was not a proof that he was merely unintelligent in a conventional sense; he even showed his typical apathy for Iran and the Iranians, and considered all the people and resources of the country as spoils of Islam. Khomeini showed from the beginning no sense of concern for his people. Why those people accepted his leadership? This is because of the odd and controversial factor that a dictator like Khomeini is not an isolated phenomenon; he is a product of a social psychology wrapped in a belief system.

Only so, a mediocre dictator like Khomeini, who was not intelligent enough to make correct sentences in his mother language, could grab power. In fact, Khomeini is not alone in the arena; his devout followers were his most reliable help for his victory. Nobody can become a psychopathic dictator without mad followers. A dictator’s subordinates have to be devoted followers and blindly obedient. Without them, Khomeini, Pol Pot, Stalin et al. would not succeed in forming their dictatorship and sacrificing millions of lives. Devotees are there to cheer, identify, arrest, torture, and kill innumerable individuals as a sign of their loyalty to their leader. In other words, the more devoted they are, the more dictatorial the leader will be, and the more cold-blooded. Even though some of the devoted followers can be the future pathetic victims of the beloved leader, some remain so mesmerised that their last words before execution can be “Heil Hitler!” or “Long live Stalin!” -- which proves their pathological depth of devotion to the leader.

Although after two centuries of occupation, Iran became free from the Muslim occupation force, people did not restore their own religion and culture but remained voluntarily faithful and submissive to the cult of the primitive and brutal Arab-Muslim invaders. The reason of this submission remained a taboo for a long time until, thanks to the plague of the Islamic Republic of Iran, inner calls finally slipped through approval of the facts. The obvious reasons of submission are no longer unnoticed. Among others, a general and psychological factor of submission called Stockholm syndrome is one of the main factors.

The reason of pathological submissiveness must be explained by Stockholm Syndrome. It was a new discovery of psychology after analysing a pathological love of a female hostage to her brutal captor in Stockholm in 1973. If the syndrome functions for a single hostage, why it must not be functional for a group of people or a nation? In this case, Muslim invaders of the 7th century massacred, raped, enslaved, humiliated and destroyed the advanced civilisation of Iranians during a two-century- long occupation. When finally Iran pushed the invaders back, the brutal invaders left behind their primitive cult of Islam, a cult that was amazingly accepted, loved, and promoted by the Iranians! This, at least, explains the fact that a dictatorial system or belief system is not only due to atrocities of the dictator, but accomplice of pathological submissiveness of subjugated people.

Khomeini, Hitler, Stalin were not born despotic, but because they became, at least for a period, the heroes of people. People, particularly clueless and politically underdeveloped, rally around their “heroes”, seeing in them both a reflection of themselves and a promise of a “victory” that would release their frustrations, and avenge their sorry and hopeless fate. Of course, what they do not realise is that their leaders would not care about people’s fate. To such fanatical leaders, people are an echo chamber for their words and cannon fodders.

Normally, political or cult leaders have an outstanding ability to charm and win over followers. They are good at rhetoric and present plausible solutions for any problem. They beguile and seduce through certain logic, but this is not the case for all leaders. Khomeini did not have such an intellectual ability; his political knowledge was less than average. His success at garnering attention was due to people’s fatal belief in the utopia of Islam to the point that many at the time doubted Khomeini’s credentials but did not dare to say so. This is an odd subject to see how a character like Khomeini could seduce his followers. Even later, when Khomeini learnt to answer questions well on advice of his advisors, who reminded him to be sensitive, he could hardly express his sympathy for his people. Amazingly, this lack of emotion was rarely a problem for his followers. The devotees never expected Khomeini to be assimilated to their national problems or even to their Iranian identity. This is another proof to how a common person like Khomeini can become a monster through social condition, not forcibly through psychobiological anatomy.

All religions share, to one degree or another, a denial of the modern and civilised world. All “true” believers subscribe to a belief in delightful ideals of their archaic thoughts. Religious fanatics believe in a selective class of elite believers (Mullahs, priests, rabbis etc.). They eliminate the possibility of any critical thought. While all these aspects are true for most religions, they are particularly flagrant in Islam and practiced in its political form in Iran. The Islamic regime in Iran, as a recent example of a political Islam, characterises the dark period of the Inquisition in a time that the civilised world had already many centuries far from the effects of the Inquisition. The danger of religious ideology is not only found in mentalities as before, but radically in methodologies of Islamism. Islam, as practiced today as a political ideology, denies the civilised world, and forces an unhealthy backwardness upon society. In its paranoid and naive fashion, it develops its own perverse ideology of a new “Dar-al-Islam” (territory of Islam), pushing the methods of divine violence into an extreme and dangerous level of a jihadist strategy. In this perspective, dictators in the Islamic world are particularly dangerous because their dictatorship is a direct heritage of religion.

As soon as a dictator is enthroned, he can turn to be an unchained ferocious beast with revengeful hatred for all. In the realm of politics, a psychopathic leader in his end days is at his worst. We know that Hitler at the end of his reign ordered to burn and destruct all German infrastructures, saying a country without Nazi leadership would not need them anymore. We know that ousted Kaddafi and many other psychopathic rulers would do the same. In full possession of his political ability, a psychopathic leader demonstrates an inability to comprehend the meaning and significance of his own faults. This is why he never tries to remedy the faults; instead, he punishes critics and abolishes what his personal ambitions cannot satisfy. He is often astounded to find that people are upset by his exploits, as acknowledged by some enthroned despots. Although he knows intellectually what punishment is decreed for certain crimes, when caught for the same crimes, he puts up elaborate rationalisations and defences, and seems surprised when he is actually punished, as seen in Saddam’s process in 2004 before being hanged.

Members of a dictatorial regime need blind followers, devotees who are free of remorse and understanding, because they cannot, under normal circumstances, be heroes of people. Some will ultimately find out that they can lose the head, if they desert the camp of leadership; otherwise they remain symbols of shame. Once they were heroes, their “bravery” helped them to win the affection of theirs fellow followers, but they also know that people, one day, may not accord their regime the status of hero. Authorities of a dictatorship may be disillusioned by a subsequent comprehension, but too late their destiny is tied with the whole dictatorial regime. In this light, we saw some Iranian deserters of the totalitarian Islamic regime, who in power-struggles were thrown out of the leadership. Many ex-members of the leadership or ex-collaborators of the Islamic regime still never condemn the whole regime, because in the case of its fall, they would sit on the same bench of accused as those still in the leadership.

Another aspect of the thoughtlessness of psychopathic dictators in power is their complete obliviousness to any future punishment toward oneself. Not only a punishment has no power to deter him from wrongdoing, but actually punishment does not reform him. Historical experiences and most psychiatrists consider such psychopaths untreatable. It is historically proven that there is no way to handle psychopaths when they possess political power. Tragically, as a nation, we will remain in the dark ages as long as some of our people keep choosing or tolerating psychopaths as their leaders.

In conclusion, the basis for emergence of psychopathic dictators is not their helpless condition, namely functional and structural brain, in comparison to normal people, but mainly a series of common patterns favouring their promotion. Although there must be certain factors such as functions in the cortex – in the frontal lobe and, the anterior-medial temporal lobe especially in the amygdale, and adjacent limbic cortices such as the anterior cingulated cortex, and chromosome XY combinations – but the main factors remain social impacts. Atrocities of dictators or dictatorial regimes are rather the products of social conditions.

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