Excerpts from a conversation with William Dobson, author of the recent book, “The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.” Dobson was joined by Roosevelt House Interim Director Jonathan Fanton.
In this riveting portrait of authoritarianism in peril, acclaimed journalist William Dobson takes us inside the relentless battle between dictators and the people challenging their rule. We are witnessing an incredible moment in the war between dictators and democracy—waves of protests are sweeping Syria and Yemen, and despots have fallen in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. But the Arab Spring is only the latest front in a worldwide battle between freedom and repression, a battle that also rages in a dozen other countries from Venezuela to China, Russia to Malaysia. It is a struggle that, until recently, dictators have been winning hands-down. The reason is that today’s authoritarian regimes are nothing like the frozen-in-time government of North Korea. They are ever-morphing, technologically savvy, and internationally connected, and they have replaced more brutal forms of intimidation with seemingly “free” elections and talk of human rights. Facing off against modern dictators is an unlikely army of democracy advocates—students, bloggers, environmentalists, lawyers, activists, and millionaires—who are growing increasingly savvy themselves. The result is a global game of cat-and-mouse, where the future of freedom hangs in the balance. Dobson takes us behind the scenes in both camps, and reveals how each side is honing its strategies for the war that will define our age.
“Intelligent and absorbing…Dobson has interviewed more than 200 people, and his closely observed accounts of dictators’ increasingly sly methods to control their populations are haunting….The Dictator’s Learning Curve is agile and light on its feet, but among its salient points is that pro-democracy movements need to be more than that. Happy thoughts and hippie clothes are not enough….Mr. Dobson’s book, with luck, will find its way into the hands of people who aspire to be free. They’ll find optimism here, but hard realities as well.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
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