The Power Behind Domestic and Political Dictatorships


The quote by Anjan Sundaram in Stringer continues to rattle in my head. I mentioned him here when I spoke about the power of small-time tyranny–that it lasts only when those close to the dictator look the other way.

Here’s the quote as he talks about being the victim of the dictator’s myth:

It startles me how steadfastly I believed, growing up, that our dictator was just, good and wise. I was never told anything to the contrary. … the indoctrination that holds up the dictator as a savior, a sage, as all-powerful. Until recently this myth usually invoked God, a divine right to power. These days dictators have less need for mysticism: they us the tools of liberty–elections, business, schools, art, the media. The successful dictator creates at once a terror of his presence and a fear of his loss. (p. 61-2)

Terror of presence, fear of absence. Sounds similar to the experience of victims of domestic abuse. Afraid of being hit, afraid of being abandoned. In order to have someone excuse violent and abusive behavior of a dictator, you have to believe that you need them, that what they do is necessary or acceptable in light of a worse outcome. While Sundaram may be right that dictators speak less of divine right, I suspect many religious abusive husbands use a variant on divine right to excuse lording it over their wives. And abusive wives can claim that their husband’s (supposed) failure to lead gives rights to engage in verbal abuse.

What is the power behind a dictator? Myth. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. 

True power does not grasp its right but willingly gives up power for the sake of others.  Philippians 2 gives us this clear picture.

1 Comment

Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Uncategorized

One response to “The Power Behind Domestic and Political Dictatorships

  1. KL

    Living under a dictator sounds like being a child in an abusive family: terror of presence (=being abused), and fear of absence (= being abandoned). I’m an adult child in an abusive family and I have to make this choice: to stay silent about the past and continue to take abuse, or to stand up and speak out and therefore be abandoned. (I have made the choice to stand up and speak out.)

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