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Why malevolent leaders will always be among us

Evil leaders are not a new phenomenon. Stories of of malicious Pharaohs, kings, tribal leaders, and Czars have been handed down from ancient times, so it should come as little surprise that we’re reaping the outcome of Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine.

David French, author of an online newsletter entitled The French Press, recently wrote an article about Ukraine’s President Zelensky, following the attack on his country by Putin. In a follow up to that piece, Mr. French writes in The Dispatch:

Zelensky is the uncommon hero, the entertainer-turned-president who is becoming the Winston Churchill of Ukraine. But this week, let’s talk about his enemy, Vladimir Putin: why he’s a common villain, and why men like him are ubiquitous in human history. They rise and fall with almost metronomic regularity, not just because there are always men who are drawn to absolute power and military glory, but because these men connect with specific human needs and unlock the darkness in human hearts.

 

It’s easy to forget as the western world unites in revulsion at Russia’s invasion, but as recently as ten days ago significant figures in the United States and the west obviously and openly admired Putin, including Donald Trump, the former president and frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Days before the Russian Army launched its unprovoked attack on Ukraine, Tucker Carlson, the most popular cable news host in America, was so pro-Putin that his remarks were rebroadcast on Russian state media.

French goes on to describe how the West seemed to view Vladimir Putin even in our very recent past:

In the years since his rise, Putin has been admired as a defender of Christian civilization, as a man at the “heart” of the “post-Soviet revival of Christianity in Russia.” In 2017 Christopher Caldwell, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, delivered an address to the Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar, entitled “How to Think About Vladimir Putin.” Hillsdale, for those who don’t know, is arguably the premier conservative college in America. It reprinted Caldwell’s remarks in Imprimis, a monthly digest that reaches more than five million Americans.

 

Caldwell’s words are worth remembering because they describe—perhaps more eloquently than anyone else in the west—not just why Putin built a following abroad, but also how he became (at least for a time) popular at home.

People have long had a desire to be ruled if they believe they will be better off than the current state in which they find themselves. As French points out:

Throughout history we see familiar patterns, in times of stress and confusion, people cry out for salvation and strength. Success—including military success—builds a bond with the people. The victorious ruler connects not just with human pride, but also with profound human longings for protection, purpose, and identity.

 

This is an ancient need. One of the most fateful passages of scripture is found in 1 Samuel 8, the moment the people of Israel demand a king. Dissatisfied with the leadership of Samuel’s dissolute sons, they demanded a king “to judge us like all the nations.”

 

Samuel warned the people of the oppression to come (including, notably, his military demands), but they insisted, in words that have echoed to this day, “There shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (Emphasis added.)

Evil rulers are easily named throughout human history.

To read French’s entire column, click here.

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