Kapuściński: On Revolution VII

From Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book Shah of Shahs (about the last Shah of Iran):

A despot believes that man is an abject creature. Abject people fill his court and populate his environment. A terrorized society will behave like an unthinking, submissive mob for a long time. Feeding it is enough to make it obey. Provided with amusements, it’s happy. The rather small arsenal of political tricks has not changed in millennia.

Thus, we have all the amateurs in politics, all the ones convinced they would know how to govern if only they had the authority.

Yet surprising things can also happen. Here is a well-fed and well-entertained crowd that stops obeying. It begins to demand something more than entertainment. It wants freedom, it demands justice. The despot is stunned. He doesn’t know how to see a man in all his fullness and glory. In the end such a man threatens dictatorship, he is its enemy,. So it gathers its strength to destroy him.

Although dictatorship despises the people, it takes pains to win their recognition. In spite of being lawless — or rather, because it is lawless — it strives for the appearance of legality. On this point it is exceedingly touchy, morbidly oversensitive. Morever, it suffers from a feeling (however deeply hidden) of inferiority. So it spares no pains to demonstrate to itself and others the popular approval it enjoys. Even if this support is a mere charade, it feels satisfying. So what if it’s only an appearance? The world of dictatorship is full of appearances.

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