Strongmen in power promise hope, audaciously. Someone glaring into the camera, insisting that he or she will lead the People’s struggle against oppression and unfairness and “social injustice” and greed is often a gripping and moving sight. Many people want to believe such persons. It’s so easy! Just sit back, relax, and let powerful Mr. Charisma handle problems, much like Superman solves problems in the movies. Bad guys beware!
Thinking more about the economic and social catastrophe that today is Zimbabwe, and reviewing some of the New York Times‘ coverage of Robert Mugabe upon his accession to power in that country 27 years ago, I’m struck by the foolishness of the enthusiasm that people have for power-mongers.
The sour fruits of Mugabe’s policies are now being harvested. And yet — judging from this December 2006 essay in The Nation – some people learn nothing. The essay’s author, Chesa Boudin, is captivated by, as he describes it, the “proven track record of [Venezuelan Hugo] Chávez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ and its gains in alleviating poverty.”
On what basis does anyone conclude that power concentrated in the hands of Hugo Chavez will be more wisely and benevolently used than it is used in the hands of anyone else, from Julius Caesar through Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot to Kim Jong-Il, Fidel Castro, and Robert Mugabe? Does Mr. Boudin truly believe that Chavez is making genuine progress in improving the lot of ordinary Venezuelans? Does he suppose that whatever “progress” might have been made up until now will not be proven to be paid for with oppression and deeper poverty in the future? Does he imagine that Chavez, unlike any other tyrant who has ever managed to capture more than a sliver of power, is different?
Why do so many people long for human saviors? I suspect that people want to believe – a desire so powerful in so many persons that such persons blind themselves to the most obvious facts of history and the most obvious features of human nature.