Friday, October 21, 2016

The Profile of the Despot

Yesterday, as the nagging, snarling cough that has made the last week of my life unpleasant finally abated, I went down into the basement workout room/workroom/place to store random [stuff].  Finally, finally a chance to lift weights without sounding like a TB victim.

But while down there, I became distracted by something in a box that I was putting back where it belonged.  It was a box filled with the old comic books I inherited from my uncle.  Mingled in with them, I found an old magazine.  It was "Current History," which is still published today.  This particular issue, however, dated from July of 1928.  It contained a collection of essays about the world events of the day.  There were some pro-and-con back and forths from activists and constitutional lawyers about the Prohibition.  There were articles about global politics, and some writing about the upcoming election.

More fascinating still : a long reflection on a major global political figure of the day, written by an Associated Press journalist.  It is a character study, the observation of a seasoned journalist who had spent decades observing both the country in question and that leader in particular, and sought to report on this fascinating figure to an American audience.  What was he like, as a human being?  What drove him?  What are his demons?  Why was he so successful?

I read through the article, noting the key features of this historical figure's character.  From that snapshot in history, some of the quotes seemed particularly...relevant:
He is intuitive, but not profound; he has tremendous exploitative and organizing ability, but puerile analytical powers; he is forceful, but inconsistent; impetuous and at times incoherent, he is intelligent, but has no intellectual gifts... 
Here is a perfect extravert, a man always moving into his environment, never into himself, taking and transforming, but never giving.  He has no friends, no allies, no collaborators.  He is alone on [his] plane.  All others are lower, aides or assistants. 
[He] has little power of nature a man fitted only for action, loves the boom and blare of new starts as much as he loathes the boredom of the less sensational later steps....His activity has the regular irregularity of certain fever charts.  A new "stunt" every fortnight or month, to be abandoned soon afterward through boredom, a change in adviser or greater interest in the immediately following project. 
One of [his] seldom contested claims to fame, if not to greatness, is his apparently inexhaustible vitality, his constant and tireless activity...his working day is seldom less than ten hours.  Often it exceeds eighteen. 
He is a master at posing whether before one, a thousand or a million watchers.  His skill is tremendous and seldom fails him.  His bag of tricks is inexhaustible.  Perhaps it is true that he acts to satisfy the appetite for drama and melodrama of the...people.  Unquestionably millions of persons...are captivated and disarmed by his consummately effective histrionics. 
He adores publicity and gloats openly, childishly, in the interest he produces. 
[He] is simultaneously profoundly suspicious of flattery and tremendously susceptible to it.  His vanity is colossal.
The year, again, was 1928.  The leader?  Not Hitler.  Not at all.

The journalist was the Associated Press reporter from Rome, and the personality he was describing was Benito Mussolini.

"Those who do not know history," as the saying goes.