With the number of people living under dictatorships up by a billion, a reminder of dictators' deceptively humanizing traits

Stalin was an incredibly devoted father; Saddam Hussein was fantastically charming; Hitler was a streetfighter who risked his personal safety in the fray; and a surprising number of dictators, monsters and autocrats have careers in the arts, and are described by their childhood friends are not exceptionally cruel or sociopathic.

Robert Evans' list of the ways that real "horrible dictators" defy our caricature of torturing autocrats as obvious, vicious monsters is an important reminder that dictators do not merely rule by force and terror: they inspire large numbers of people to deep personal loyalty by charming them, by fighting alongside of them, by public demonstrations of human loyalty and affection.

It's a challenge to the idea that in a dictatorship, you have a psychopath at the top, a mix of psychopaths and desperate people with no choice around the dictator with guns and tanks, and everyone else, ground underfoot. Instead, it's more like the dictator at the top, inner circles with high numbers of people who have convinced themselves, based on profound personal experience, that he is a "good man" and a "brilliant man," and then, in the wider population, a mix of people who hate and fear the dictator and people who love him.

But he wasn't. History books will call dictators "charismatic," but they frame it as if charisma is nothing but the ability to hypnotize uneducated crowds with fancy slogans. It's not. It means they're genuinely likable human beings. You'd probably enjoy their company.

Before he was screaming at crowds, Adolph Hitler was charming Ernst Hanfstaengl, a hilariously named German aristocrat whose wealth and social cache were instrumental in Hitler's rise to power, by being a sympathetic buffoon. The first time Hanfstaengl had Hitler over for dinner, it was clear that he had no idea how to use utensils like a fancy aristocrat. He had bad manners, said awkward things, and at one point even poured sugar into fine wine because he didn't like the taste. His goofiness made Hanfstaengl love him: "He could have peppered it, for each naive act increased my belief in his homespun sincerity."

That's right, witnesses tended to describe Hitler like he was Michael Scott from The Office (who adorably put Splenda in his Scotch). And look at the arc of viewers' collective attitude toward that character. It doesn't matter that he's an objectively terrible boss and clearly makes everyone's lives worse; at some point in the series, you start to like the guy, and then root for him. Which is why the writers of the show had his character wind up happy and married despite being cluelessly destructive at every step. By the time he flew off into the sunset, very few of us paused to say, "Isn't this the guy who made Pam sob in the first episode?"

5 Reasons Horrible Dictators Always Catch Us Off Guard
[Robert Evans/Cracked]

(via Naked Capitalism)