The Dictators Handbook

The dictator’s handbook provides a detailed account on how leaders seize and stay in power. Bruce Bueno describes all the underlying factors that influence an autocratic or democratic leader’s ability to maintain control of the state. He states that resource rich countries are generally the most oppressive states in the world because the leader only has to pay of the army to protect him and a small coalition that maintains control of the state resources. Wealthy, educated democracy are the least oppressive. Maintaining democratic rule directly corresponds to the leader’s ability to create effective policy that benefits the majority of her people. Governmental transparency always for the people of a democratic nation to analyze and scrutinize their leader’s abilities and oust him if they believe he doesn’t represent the majority.


Ultimately, Bueno is arguing that autocrats and democrats both are seeking the same thing, maintaining their hold on power. Bueno list three groups essential for a leaders political survival; the nominal selectorate, the real selectorate, and the winning coalition. A leaders political survival depends on his ability to balance the needs of these three groups and various factors influence how each group is treated by the leader. Autocrats, especially in resource rich countries, keep a small winning coalition and real selectorate base. The wealth is distributed only amongst those that have the power to influence the government and its leadership, since resource rich autocrats don’t rely on the people a very small number of people reap the rewards. Democracy different because democratic leaders rely on the good policy and majority approval to maintain their power. Therefore, they must distribute the wealth more uniformly and invest in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. The autocrats who lead a country that isn’t overtly rich in resources walk a thin line between keeping the public happy and maintain their hold on power. Bueno stated that no autocratic country has a university that ranks greater than 200th in the world. This is strategic because a smart citizen is a threat to the winning coalition. They must find a level of education that allows their citizens to perform their job but not question their authority. This autocrats are the most prone to citizen revolt.

4 thoughts on “The Dictators Handbook

  1. A question that I find interesting in response to this book is whether or not we should subscribe to the idea that all leaders, both autocratic and democratic, exclusively care about political survival and nothing else. Empirically it sure feels that way – genuine compassion for people is a foreign attribute for most politicians, and those who have an interest in making a change for the common good aren’t usually the ones that make it out of the political arena alive. However, it does seem that in a democratic system, there’s at least more room for compassion and positive change to operate. In this regard, I think it’s interesting to consider whether or not this idea that democrats and autocrats are fundamentally equal when deconstructed to their core principles is ultimately true.

    • That’s a really tough question, is it human nature to be greedy and pursue self-interests when in a position of power or to be emphatic and compassionate? Unfortunately, it seems to be the former of the two. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” and we’ve seen it throughout history. Their is definitely more room for altruism and compassion within the democratic system, but maybe that is only because their power is being constantly checked by other branches and an educated electorate.

  2. Of course autocrats do not want their people to have adequate knowledge and the ability to question their authority and turn the masses against them. Whatever they will do to keep the people subservient to them is where the interest lies, because “knowledge is power.” Also any revolt in the country will result in mounted pressure from the international community for them to step down. So they will continue providing education, but it wouldn’t be what will change their thinking about some of the things their governments do or they experience.

  3. I agree with you argument that “The autocrats who lead a country that isn’t overtly rich in resources walk a thin line between keeping the public happy and maintain their hold on power” and I commented on Fatima argument too.This argument is advanced in many countries and showed how difficult to walk in the thin line.

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