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Dictators are dinosaurs

11:44 AM  Nov 20th, 2017
by Erin Frey ’18, Photo credit: Kristin Davis ’18

Applause echoed throughout Kennedy Union ballroom as William Dobson, chief international officer of NPR, kicked off The Social Practice of Human Rights conference Nov. 7, sharing his views on democracy.

Dobson, who has both a law degree and a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University, discussed the evolution of democracy, the decline in dictatorships and how that phenomena affects the international community.

“It’s not easy being a dictator these days,”  Dobson said. “It is impossible to keep your worst deeds a secret.”

Dobson said the idea of democracy as a legitimate government structure came to the forefront toward the end of the Cold War. He said there was an estimated 41 democratic regimes in the 1980s but by 2005, there were around 120 — a significant increase.

In regards to how some dictatorships have stayed in power this long, Dobson said: “Today’s authoritarians are more savvy nimble than ever before. They have new techniques, methods and formulas for preserving power. In the modern world, the best forms of coercion are subtle.”

Dobson joked that dictators were dinosaurs — in that they were a dying breed. Thanks to the media, he said, authoritarians are constantly being questioned and challenged.

“Just as dictators have grown more nimble so to have those who challenge them,” Dobson said.

Dobson also spoke to America’s current political atmosphere and the strong feelings felt by both republicans and democrats and said he believes the bold reporting methods of today’s journalists would continue to keep leaders in check.

He said: “I remain convinced that if it’s hard to be a dictator these days, it’s not getting any easier.”

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