The most eccentric dictator in history was an 18th century Russian empress, according to the author of a new anthology of tyrants.
“Anna of Russia was an artistic virtuoso when it came to devising fiendish schemes for punishing those who displeased her – forcing them to impersonate animals and imprisoning them in cages, for example,” Gilbert Alter-Gilbert told The Daily Caller in an interview about his new book, “The Desktop Digest of Despots & Dictators: An A-Z of Tyranny.”
According to Alter-Gilbert, 19th century Turkish sultan Abdul Assiz also ranks high on the eccentricity charts.
“Where Anna had a mean streak, Turkish sultan Abdul Assiz was a study in unbridled paranoia, rigging his palace with booby-traps and hidden firearms deployed so that they would be triggered by would-be intruders,” he said.
Alter-Gilbert said he decided to focus a book on dictators because dictators are inherently intriguing — much more so than heroes.
“Dictatorship is a juicy subject dripping with all the perverse and lurid appeal exuded by sheer evil,” he said. “Villains are nearly always more alluring, more intriguing than heroes.”
See TheDC’s interview with Alter-Gilbert on his book below.
Why did you decide to write the book?
Dictatorship is a juicy subject dripping with all the perverse and lurid appeal exuded by sheer evil. Villains are nearly always more alluring, more intriguing than heroes. For another thing, the sordid saga of dictatorship is an epic soap opera fraught with characters who are larger than life, and part and parcel of universal folklore. As a discipline, history is fuzzy and woefully unscientific. History is part gossip, part propaganda, part hearsay, and part theory, often supported by unsubstantiated attribution or outright fabrication. The process of historical formation and filtration is like a daisy chain of whispered “pass it ons”: by the time a slice of the historical record has gone through several iterations, it’s been transmogrified from “the sky is blue” to “a guy she knew.” What we call history is frequently myth and rumor is more fun than fact…
What did you learn studying dictators? What motivates them?
Greed, envy, vanity. One common denominator found in low-level bureaucrats all the way to the top of the social control food chain is the craving for power over others that seems to stem from innate psychological deficits such as a sense of oppression or inferiority, or a craving for vindication of an injury or injustice. What’s really unnerving is that despots often consider themselves necessary and even beneficial and what’s still more chilling is the fact that many seem genuinely possessed, in the supernatural and demonological sense. The constant is the paradigm of an individual ego exalted above the interests of entire nations.
Who was the most ruthless dictator most people have not heard of?
Perhaps that would be Chang Hsien-Chung, the seventeenth century Chinese terror who massacred an estimated 40,000,000 people during a five-year killing spree. Although familiar to students of Chinese history, he remains otherwise obscure.