A well-informed, convincing analysis of the most oppressive regimes of our century and what we can learn from them for the future, by Chirot (Political science/Northwestern; Social Change in the Modern Era, etc.—not reviewed). Well over one hundred million people have died and the lives of several billion have been wrecked as a result of war and political oppression in the 20th century. Chirot guides us along the ultimate rogues' gallery as he looks at modern tyrants from Stalin and Hitler down to Saddam Hussein, Kim Il Sung, and at the ongoing problems of Haiti. Along the way, he argues that the modern tyrant is different from his predecessors in history because his motivation is ideological and his cruelty is thus more deliberate and far-reaching. Modern tyranny, Chirot says, is most likely to occur when nationalism combined with deep resentment against foreign influence emerges in a weak state, and when the notion of scientific certainty is applied to theories that justify massive social and racial engineering in order to bring about utopias. Chirot's studies of his 13 tyrants are nuanced and well documented, and his thought seems to owe much to Karl Popper. He writes history in order to elucidate, not merely to relate; yet he avoids moralizing and rhetoric, drawing just a few modest and well-argued conclusions. Modern tyranny has not ended with communism, he says, and it is going to stay with us. If its essence is a ``tyranny of certainty,'' based on theories of group conflict, Chirot's prescription is flexibility, a dogged faith in democratic processes, and an unrelenting awareness that the individual is more than just a functioning member of the community. No simple answers here but perceptive insights intelligently presented.
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