The Dictator’s Handbook relevant in the times of President Trump

Robert J. Boyd

Sports Editor


The Dictator’s Handbook is a gritty manual, pulling back the niceties and procedure of politics to show the back room bartering that takes place in smoke-filled rooms.

Taking the perspective that we should look at leaders and their personal desires to explain the behavior of nations, the book exposes the core structures of power and what really makes democratic and despotic regimes different and what makes them exactly the same.

The conceit of the book is Selectorate theory, which is that leaders react to the needs of the group of people who keep them in power. This ruling class is further subdivided into the three distinct categories.

There is the nominal electorate, comprising of everybody who can participate in power such as all registered voters. The real selectorate are those in the nominal electorate who exercise influence, who would in this example be active voters.

From these, the leader must gather a Winning Coalition, which is a critical mass of key individuals and groups that places the leader in power.

Large Winning Coalitions are found in democracies, where large blocs of voters must be swayed to the candidate’s side in order to win the election. Once in power, they only need to reward those necessary to remain in power, at least until the next election comes to fore.

In a dictatorship, the Winning Coalition can be a much smaller group, a handful of individuals necessary for the leader to remain in power. Generals, a cadre of scientists working on weapon technology, or even a small group of bureaucrats can be all the leader needs to sit on the throne.

One of the extensions of this that the book delves into is foreign aid, although publicly stated to be for the help of the people in troubled nations.

But as the book demonstrates, the reason so much aid can be poured into developing nations with no result is that most of it is channeled straight into the pockets of the dictators.

If the democratic leaders were to do otherwise, they would be thrown out of office when the prices of oil and other prized goods soared. People value cheap fuel more than the quality of life of those in faraway lands, and will vote that way every time.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith are the authors of this work, political scientists by training who have thrown aside conventional wisdom about the real art of thriving in the cut-throat world of politics.

From small town politics to the massive global political scene, the book shows that common parallels exist in all structures of power and the behaviors of those who seek it.

There is no room for idealism in the Dictator’s Handbook. The authors strike a cynical tone throughout the book, as they peel back the rhetoric many leaders hold dear and produce cold calculating motivations underlying actions taken at the expense of the public good.

It is not a book for anybody who wants to find hope in politics, but it may confirm the suspicions of those who have long distrusted authority.

The Dictator’s Handbook is a great book for anyone wishing to know what goes on behind closed doors in the rooms where it happens.

Although some of it may seem obvious to experts on international relations, it serves as a fantastic primer to finding out how politicians get and remain in power.