There was outrage last Thursday, September 14, when the chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein, Abdullah al-Amiri, said to him: “You were not a dictator. However, the people or the individuals and officials surrounding you created a dictator (out of you). It was not you in particular. It happens all over the world.”
Touché ! Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Ataturk, Mussolini and Mao were - like Saddam Hussein - highly intelligent, skilful, ruthless, possessed of enormous will power and self-belief, and (when they wanted to be) charming men. But it was the people around them who surrendered their own independence who enabled these men to realise their ambitions for power.
There are a host of reasons why people become servile. Napoleon summed them up nicely when he said that “there are two levers for moving men - interest and fear”. On the interest side, may be included ambition for money, prestige, the power to boss others and the sheer excitement of being part of events; and there is also love of country or tribal group, and a desire to contribute even if the man in power is not well thought of. On the fear side, there is the potential loss of what one has: life, liberty, family, and all those “interests" which come with being subordinate and servile.
Yet, there is also something else - and it is illustrated by a recent survey which links trust in George Bush to an individual’s concept of God. The study, American Piety in the 21st Century, released last week by the Baylor Institute for Religious Studies, showed that 32 per cent of people who believed in a god which was “highly involved in their daily lives and world affairs” also trusted Bush “a lot”. The researchers called this type of god “authoritarian”.
The study also identified three other categories of god: “benevolent”, “critical” and “distant”. The “benevolent” god “is very active in our daily lives” but less so in the affairs of the world than the “authoritarian” god, and less wrathful: only 23 per cent of believers in such a god trusted Bush “a lot”. Only 12 per cent of people who believed in a god that “really does not interact with the world” - a “critical” god - trusted Bush a lot; and the figure was only 9 per cent for those who saw god as “distant”, more as a “cosmic force which set the laws of nature in motion”.
In short, people most anxious to believe in a “highly involved” god - in spite of a complete lack of evidence that any sort of god exists at all - also want to believe in Bush. They are very ready to surrender their own critical thinking to an authority figure, be it a god or a man.
When they have to think, they - as the researchers note - “believe that God helps them with their-decision making”. It is a god at the controls. Albert Speer explained the phenomenon, and his support for Hitler, this way: “My inclination (was) to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts … In this I did not differ from millions of others.”
There is an almost wilful blindness to reality in this attitude which leads to extreme gullibility. In spite of a complete lack of evidence - once again - 63 per cent of those who believed in an “authoritarian” god also believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks. This percentage declines rapidly when people are less dependent on authority, and more willing to take responsibility for their own thinking: it is 47 per cent for those who believe in a “benevolent” god; 37 per cent for a “critical” god; and 29 per cent for a “distant” god.
Those people who strongly desire to believe in someone and hand-over their critical thinking to another - be it god or man, or both - are ripe pickings for aspiring dictators who market themselves as “the Man”.
Angling to rise from First Consul to Emperor, Napoleon put out a pamphlet comparing himself to Caesar and Cromwell, who “in classical times” would have been considered “as living under the protection of a genie, or a god”. Hans Frank described what he thought was “the secret of Hitler’s power”: “He stood up and pounded his fist, and shouted, ‘I am the Man!’ - and he shouted about his strength and determination - and so the public surrendered to him with hysterical enthusiasm.” George Bush would love to get the same response; and, in some quarters, he does.
People are generally fearful, gullible and ever-willing to believe in a saviour. It is ironic, and even terrifying (for a rational mind, perhaps even more terrifying than terrorists) to think that - psychologically at least - Bush’s strongest supporters are also those who may have most favourably looked upon Saddam Hussein.