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Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Two ways to stay in power

Question: Put yourself in the shoes of an autocratic Middle Eastern leader: Let peaceful protests continue and you could easily wind up out of power, like Egypt's Mubarak. Or get tough with the protests and you'll certainly lose popular and international support. What's the best strategy for holding onto power without harming the country?

There are two ways autocratic rulers can hold on to power. Both require support from an army and police, but while one type of autocrat rules by terror, the other mixes fear with hope. Autocrats like Saddam Hussein and Josef Stalin stayed in power by following Machiavelli's advice that it is better for a prince to be feared than loved. The other type of autocrat gains some support by increasing prosperity and promising a democratic future.

An example for the Muslim world is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who after World War I led his forces to defeat the Allied occupation and the Caliphate which had ruled Turkey. To build an independent secular nation, Ataturk studied the institutions of Western democracies and led a gradual transition to a society with consensual government and an independent judiciary to protect secular human rights. He even invited John Dewey, the guru of progressive education, to advise him on reforming Turkey's schools to promote democracy.

A less attractive autocrat who held onto power with considerable support was Augusto Pinochet. In 1973 he led a brutal military coup against the democratic socialist government of Salvador Allende. Fifteen years later, Chileans voted him out of power in a national plebiscite that re-established democratic institutions. In losing, Pinochet still got 45 percent of the vote, testimony that many people appreciated that he had transformed a sluggish government controlled economy (bureaucrats set prices for all essential products) into a globally integrated growing free market economy.

The U.S. government took an active role in promoting a vote against Pinochet and for democracy. Before the vote in 1988, our ambassador, Harry Barnes, invited me along with other Americans to speak to Chilean business leaders on how democratic institutions strengthen free enterprise and economic development. Now, in this age of information, as autocratic rulers are being challenged by people who have lived in fear, we should welcome movements to overthrow those who rule by terror, but support those who will lead a gradual transition to a democratic society.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  February 22, 2011; 2:05 PM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Machiavelli was an A-hole.

Transparency of government of what it does for people.

Posted by: SoulCatcher | February 28, 2011 1:37 PM
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i would wipe out the indigenous population and place the remnants of them on reservations... then i would enslave whatever "races" required to build monuments to the great racists of my race... then i would free the slaves except abide by policies that keep them - except for a token few - in obviously subservient positions (of course the tokens would serve my agenda - which i and my media would never refer to as "racist"...)...

I would create the illusion of "equal protection" under law - except that “When the custody of children [or anything else I decide...] is the question … the best interest of the children [or some other interest of my choosing...] {shall be} the paramount fact. [Constitutional and inalienable] rights of father and mother [or whatever class of citizens i declare...] sink into insignificance before that.” Kartman v. Kartman, 163 Md. 19, 22,161 A. 269 (1932) - the names of the cases would be subject to the victims that come before my court...

in short, i would run my nation so that it appears to provide "freedom", balance of political powers, and "justice" except that only the wealthy of my race would enjoy freedom - so long as they 'served both to discriminate against ethnic minorities and to maintain advantages and benefits for the members of my race.'

I would do what "white" Americans do!

I would ensure that "black" women and girls feel better about themselves whenever they abandon loving the natural texture of thier own hair and instead straighten it to appear more "white" American - like the First Lady and her children: Sasha and Malia (all in the best interest of the children of course)


Posted by: stephendavid2002 | February 27, 2011 6:32 AM
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While Macchiavelli argued that it is better to be feared than to be loved, he also emphasized that a leader ought to strive for both. The common theme in revolts against autocratic rulers is the living conditions of the populace. In most cases, the subjects are distressed as a result of their economic circumstances, and more specifically, the differences between the lifestyles of themselves and the elites. It is certainly possible for democracy and autocracy to coexist; however, the impetus is on the ruler to develop a relationship with his followers such that both are elevated to a higher morality or motivation.

If an autocratic ruler is truly intent on maintaining power while not harming the country, he first must understand the frustrations of his constituents. If he can work to dispel the notion that the upper class is oppressive to the middle and lower classes, he has a chance to reform the opinions of the people. Through the maintenance of these relationships, the leader can better comprehend the driving forces of the people, which tend to be their living conditions. A powerful economy that affects the entire populace is the best way to ensure a happy and loyal nation. While fear can control a population, love can protect it from harm.

Posted by: MarkBrundage | February 25, 2011 12:27 PM
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While it is undoubtedly true that Machiavelli focuses on the idea that it would behoove a leader more to be feared than to be loved, we must not ignore the fact that this line does not at all imply that it would be negative for a leader to be loved. In fact, Machiavelli himself also goes further to emphasize that it does remain an important factor for a leader to be loved by his people; however, he indicates that fear should come first.

In the example with Pinochet of Chile, it is obvious that he was feared by his people as a result of his successful efforts in overthrowing the pervious democratic government with a brutal coup; out of this fear, the people he ruled clearly respected him. However, Pinochet's devoted efforts to transforming his country's economy and standard of living had not gone unrecognized throughout his reign; his attempts to turn Chile's floundering economy into an entity shrewdly integrated into the world market had undeniably increased his levels of popularity - "love" - in his people. Though he was eventually voted out of office, this increased popularity helped him achieve much of his agenda while in office and has kept him from being denounced as an unpopular figure out of office.

Posted by: AngelaGuo | February 24, 2011 12:42 PM
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Building of what you said about Machiavelli, I think that it is important to note that Machiavelli actually suggested three possible scenarios: to be loved, to be feared, or to be both loved and feared. Machiavelli believed that it would be best for a leader to be both feared and loved – a situation that neither Stalin nor Hussein found themselves in. Thus, building off of Machiavelli, we might suggest to an autocratic Middle Eastern leader that he seek to fill both of these. Through autocratic (i.e., heavy-handed but fair) practices, a leader retains the element of fear. Yet according to Machiavelli, it is also important to be loved. How can these Middle Eastern leaders ensure that they are loved by their citizens? For many of them, it means making sure that the markers of a stable society (low unemployment rate, good access to social services, high levels of literacy and education, etc.) are in place for their citizens. Take, for example, Qatar. The oil-rich state has an absolute monarchy under Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani, yet the protests rocking the Middle East have barely touched Qatar. Why? For those who are citizens (which is actually a minority of those living in Qatar, as many are expatriates who take up employment in many of the industries), the markers look great. Qataris are some of the wealthiest people in the world, thanks to a government that has shared its massive oil revenue with its relatively small population. Many other Middle Eastern leaders don’t have the resource of oil to help back them up, but if in the long term they can build up a reservoir of intellectual talent, they’ve built up a resource that is both sustainable and empowering. Do that, and your people will love you. As an autocratic, you have then achieved Machiavelli’s ideal: to be both loved and feared.

Posted by: JonEndean | February 24, 2011 2:19 AM
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I wonder why Mr. Maccoby praises the role
of the US to get rid of Pinochet, but does not mention the role of the CIA under
Nixon to oust Allende in favour of Pinochet.

Posted by: human4 | February 23, 2011 1:34 AM
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There are many ways for an autocrat to hold onto power. Martial law, public punishment of dissidents, brutal police tactics, and other means of violence and dominance have all been employed by some autocrats. The qualification of how to stay in power as an autocrat without hurting the people, however, is much more complex and arguably lacks a sample large enough for empirical merit. It is difficult to transition a country from actual or perceived repression and oppression to political freedom and economic prosperity under the direction of the leader who brought the initial suffering. Howard Gardner said leaders lead by telling attractive stories to their followers and the key to a successful story is character. An autocrat who is being pressured to resign due to oppressive policies cannot craft a new story of prosperity to the people under his watch because he has no credibility. In truth, autocrats cannot hold onto their power without hurting the people because the foundation of their power is in hurting the people, binding them through force or coercion to their will. That foundation, that ethos, makes change impossible because it will not be believed, and if it cannot be believed it must be achieved through force. Thus the cycle of oppression and repression of the people by an autocrat is never broken while the autocrat is in power.

Posted by: DannyCohen | February 22, 2011 5:32 PM
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