Book Notes | ‘Strongmen from Mussolini to the Present’
Author Ruth Ben-Ghiat has written a well-researched and carefully documented history of autocratic leaders in the 20th and 21st centuries. Starting with Benito Mussolini, who wrote the strongman playbook, Ben-Ghiat discusses Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco, Muammar Gaddafi, Augusto Pinochet, Vladimir Putin, Silvio Berlusconi, Recap Erdogan, and Donald Trump, among others.
She describes characteristics that help strongmen gain power including opportunism, a way with words, an ability to tell lies, temper outbursts, and a willingness to use violence whenever necessary. Their assent to power was often through military coups or elections with voter suppression and fraud. Once in power, they maintain that power with relentless propaganda, corruption, violence, and a promise to their populations of a greater nation. They usually feel a need to demonstrate virility and dominate and abuse women.
Ben-Ghiat carefully describes what a disaster these strongmen are for the populations under their control. They routinely lie, suppress freedom, imprison opponents, murder, and torture to maintain control. Strongmen have a tendency to make decisions based on intuition, refuse to change their views based on new information, are unwilling to listen to others, and lack respect for the rule of law.
Overwhelming, depressing, but very important
They attempt to neutralize anyone who might expose their wrongdoing. Strongmen also use their power to enrich themselves by a variety of techniques including extortion, kickbacks, plundering of state resources, and “nationalizing” and then stealing the property of enemies. Using such techniques, Vladimir Putin, for example, has amassed an estimated net worth of $26 billion.
Finally, Ben-Ghiat tells us how the rule of strongmen ends. Often the end is unpleasant. After Mussolini was executed, Italians urinated on his corpse. Gaddafi was hunted down by his countrymen and beaten to death. Recognizing that something like this could be their end, strongmen do everything within their power to maintain control.
Also of interest, Mussolini was the first autocrat to say he was going to “drain the swamp,” and Berlusconi, when under criminal investigation, was the first to claim he was the victim of a “witch hunt.”
The UMRA book group members often used words like “overwhelming” and “depressing” to describe the book. However, all seemed to agree that the topic covered was very important as the battle between democracy and autocracy continues around the world.
—John Bantle, UMRA Book Club member
Book Club I to meet November 17
Fri, Nov 17 2023, 2pm
.John Bantle will lead the discussion of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on authoritarian demagogues, when the UMRA Book Club meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, November 17. From Mussolini to Putin, this book details what authoritarian leaders have in common and how they can be stopped.
Email Pat Tollefson for more information. To read summaries of the book club’s discussions, go to umra.umn.edu and search for “Book Notes.”
Your UMRA Travel Committee has added a new Road Scholar tour in 2024 for members, "On the Road: Absolute Southwest - A Canyon Lands Adventure." The journey begins on Monday, October 28, 2024 to Friday, November 8, 2024. Register by March 1.
The UMRA Hiking Club will explore wildlife along the Mississippi River when it hikes the Pike Island Loop in Fort Snelling State Park on Monday, March 4.
Step aboard Oceania Cruises’ Marina on this UMAA trip and let your wanderlust guide you on an unforgettable 10-night journey through the vibrant heart of South America.
Explore life above the Arctic Circle with Janet and Craig Swan, and closer to home with Carol Urness when UMRA’s Armchair Traveler program meets via Zoom on Wednesday, March 6.
“Houses of worship” will be the theme when the UMRA Photo Club meets in person at the Hennepin County branch library in St. Anthony on March. Newcomers are welcome.
Mariah Snyder will lead the discussion of The Other Einstein, an historical novel by bestselling author Marie Benedict, when the UMRA Book Club meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 15.
Do you ever wonder whether it’s OK to forget names and nouns but not verbs? During UMRA’s March workshop, neurologist Paul Schanfield, MD, will simplify common neurological conditions related to dementia, including Alzheimer’s, and guide us through identifying symptoms, prevention, treatment, and acceptance.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, a recipient of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and other awards, is the Fourth Friday Book Club’s selection for March. The setting is Appalachia in the early days of the opioid epidemic.
St. Paul-based journalist Fred de Sam Lazaro has reported from 70 countries focusing on the work of change agents to address the consequences of poverty. His remarkable perspective draws us closer to the people he meets and the challenges they confront. Join us to learn why and how he uses storytelling to enhance understanding of today’s pressing global issues.
The Retiree Association at Winona State is inviting UMRA members to join them a trip to Portugal in 2024. The final date to register is October 2, 2023. You're encouraged to register some time in August as spaces will fill up.
The UMRA Cabinets of Curiosity tour will be at the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) Conservatory & Botanical Collection on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. The amazing glass-walled greenhouse features four biomes with distinct climates, landscapes, and floras, with particular emphasis on plants of the southern hemisphere. Please plan to join us in this special opportunity to visit spaces not normally open to the public.
Enroll by June 30, 2023, and receive a $100 discount.
UMN Technology Commercialization facilitates the transfer of UMN innovation beyond the research lab by helping our diverse researchers in development of new products and services that benefit the public good, foster economic growth, and generate revenue to support the University's mission.
The UMRA Travel Committee is happy to offer another trip for UMRA members, The Splendors of Egypt. Please click on the above link for the itinerary, hotels, and other details. Final registration deadline: January 27, 2024.
This session will continue the discussion begun in the May 8, 2023 session. See that article for details.