Death sen­tences

Daniel Kalder spent al­most a decade read­ing the books writ­ten by his­tory’s worst tyrants so that you wouldn’t have to. Here he se­lects five of his ‘favourite’ ex­am­ples of dic­ta­tor lit­er­a­ture (di­clit?)

Esquire (UK) - - CULTURE -


“Free­dom of ex­pres­sion is the right of ev­ery nat­u­ral per­son, even if a per­son chooses to be­have ir­ra­tionally to ex­press his or her in­san­ity.”

Many dic­ta­tors pro­claimed their sup­port for free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Of course, they were only in­ter­ested in their own free­dom; any­one who de­vi­ated from the norms they es­tab­lished would be pun­ished. Gaddafi’s ar­tic­u­la­tion of the prin­ci­ple, from his in­fa­mous The Green Book, is mas­ter­ful — es­pe­cially when read as a state­ment of per­sonal in­tent.


“It [ma­te­ri­al­ist dia­lec­tics] holds that ex­ter­nal causes are the con­di­tion of change and in­ter­nal causes are the ba­sis of change, and that ex­ter­nal causes be­come op­er­a­tive through in­ter­nal causes. In a suit­able tem­per­a­ture an egg changes into a chicken, but no tem­per­a­ture can change a stone into a chicken, be­cause each has a dif­fer­ent ba­sis.”

This gob­bledy­gook comes from Chair­man Mao’s “phi­los­o­phy” On Con­tra­dic­tion. It was reprinted in Quo­ta­tions from Chair­man Mao Tse-tung, the most widely cir­cu­lated book in his­tory af­ter the Bi­ble. The ma­nia sur­round­ing Mao’s quo­ta­tions was such that Chi­nese news­pa­pers at­trib­uted mir­a­cles to them. I read On Con­tra­dic­tion while suf­fer­ing from a fever. It made me feel worse.


“Even an an­i­mal re­spects a man’s de­sire, if it wants to cop­u­late with him.”

Zabiba and the King is a “ro­mance” by the Iraqi dic­ta­tor which blends po­lit­i­cal metaphor and dis­courses on lead­er­ship with

rape and a soupçon of bes­tial­ity. Ac­cord­ing to Sad­dam, man-bear sex is a thing in north­ern Iraq. For­tu­nately, lady bears un­der­stand that the path to a man’s heart is through his stom­ach and they steal “cheese, nuts” and “even raisins” for their hu­man part­ners, ap­par­ently to make the im­pend­ing bout of in­ter­species sex more palat­able.


“It is truly mis­er­able to be­hold how our youth even now is sub­jected to a fash­ion mad­ness which helps to re­v­erse the sense of the old say­ing: ‘Clothes make the man’ into some­thing truly catas­trophic.”

In ad­di­tion to be­ing a geno­ci­dal mega­lo­ma­niac, Hitler was a style guru.

In Mein Kampf he strongly de­nounces “stovepipe trousers” and ex­ces­sively mod­est clothes. The rules of Nazi Eye for the Straight Guy (and gal) are: Aryan youth ought to wear re­veal­ing gar­ments so that Ger­many might be­come one gi­ant meat mar­ket where beau­ti­ful bod­ies grav­i­tate to one another, thus im­prov­ing the na­tional stock.


“Amer­i­can ef­fi­ciency is that in­domitable force which nei­ther knows nor recog­nises ob­sta­cles; which with its busi­nesslike per­se­ver­ance brushes aside all ob­sta­cles; which con­tin­ues at a task once started un­til it is fin­ished, even if it is a mi­nor task; and with­out which se­ri­ous con­struc­tive work is in­con­ceiv­able.”

Al­though Stalin was ded­i­cated to the down­fall of cap­i­tal­ism, he also saw some good in the United States — as this ex­cerpt from his The Foun­da­tions

of Lenin­ism shows. Henry Ford even built a Ford fac­tory in Rus­sia in the

Thir­ties. Stalin’s hope was that by im­port­ing “Amer­i­can ef­fi­ciency”, the USSR would cut down on “fan­tas­tic scheme con­coct­ing”. It didn’t work, and fan­tas­tic schemes led to eco­log­i­cal catas­tro­phe, mass mur­der and im­mea­sur­able hu­man suf­fer­ing.

— Dic­ta­tor Lit­er­a­ture: a His­tory of Despots Through Their Writ­ing (One World) is pub­lished on 5 April

Back in the USSR: Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in his Krem­lin of­fice, Moscow, circa 1939

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