New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

When is a Dictatorship Like a Democracy?--NYU Politics Professors Have the Answer in New Book

September 23, 2011

Wilf Family Department of Politics Professors Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith maintain that leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don’t care about the “national interest”—or even their subjects—unless they have to.

Their work, The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics (PublicAffairs, 2011), contends there is no difference between tyrants and democrats because governments do not differ in kind—but, rather, only in the number of essential supporters they need to stay in power. What holds them together, the authors posit, “is the logic of politics, the rules ruling rulers.”

“One important lesson…is that where politics are concerned, ideology, nationality, and culture don’t matter all that much,” Bueno de Mesquita and Smith write. “The sooner we learn not to think or utter sentences such as ‘the United States should do . . .’ or ‘the American people want . . .’ or ‘China’s government ought to do . . . ,’ the better we will understand government, business, and all other forms of organization.”

While the authors acknowledge they offer a cynical—but accurate—view of politics, they conclude that once we understand what brings leaders to power and keeps them there, “we will also begin to see how to fix politics. Politics, like all of life, is about individuals, each motivated to do what is good for them, not what is good for others.”

This Article is in the following Topics:
Arts and Science, Research, Staff

Type: Article

Press Contact: James Devitt | (212) 998-6808

When is a Dictatorship Like a Democracy?--NYU Politics Professors Have the Answer in New Book

Wilf Family Department of Politics Professors Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, in their new book, "The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics", maintain that leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don’t care about the “national interest”—or even their subjects—unless they have to.


Search News



NYU In the News

NYU Offers Financial Aid to Undocumented Students

The Wall Street Journal reported that NYU will begin offering scholarship aid to undocumented students for the school year beginning next September.

NYU Adopts Lean LaunchPad Program to Teach Entrepreneurship

Startup guru Steve Blank, in a Huffington Post blog, described how NYU adopted the Lean LaunchPad model to teach entrepreneurship to students and faculty at NYU.

Biology Professor Jane Carlton Examines Wastewater for the City’s Microbiome

The New York Times’ Science Times column “Well” profiled Biology Professor Jane Carlton and her research project to sequence microbiome of New York City by examining wastewater samples.

Steinhardt Professors Use a Play as Therapy

The New York Times wrote about a play written by Steinhardt Music Professor Robert Landy about the relationship between Adjunct Professor Cecilia Dintino, a clinical psychologist in the Drama Therapy Program, and a patient, former Broadway actress Jill Powell.

NYU Public Health Experts Urge Strengthening Local Health Systems to Combat Ebola

Dean Cheryl Healton of the Global Institute of Public Health and Public Health Professor Christopher Dickey wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post saying international health agencies need to strengthen their presence in countries at the local level to prevent future ebola outbreaks.

NYU Footer