I know the above terms seem to be at odds with each other but I wonder, has there been instances of countries ruled by someone who really does seem to be a good ruler who sees to the needs of their people, yet the people themselves have no vote in the government?
These are all loaded terms. To a dictator’s fans and supporters, the dictator was benevolent even when his opponents thought otherwise. And who’s say whose definition of the people’s needs is correct?
The Wiki article has some(possible) examples but you need to decide for yourself if they qualify.
King Alexander I of Yugoslavia is sometimes said to have been a “benevolent dictator”, but in consideration of what PatrickLondon this consideration is mostly in the West because of Alexander’s anti-communist proclamations.
Atatürk of Turkey is sometimes said to have been a “dictator to end dictatorship”, but again the anti-communist proclamations are probably the reason for the “benevolent dictator” label in the West.
See the pattern here … “benevolent dictator” and “anti-communist”? It’s certainly fair to say that a communist would profoundly disagree …
I suppose you could associate something like this to good kings back when kings actually ruled.
In our own timelines, the term that was used in the old days was “Enlightened Despot” and it basically considered the notion of a well-advised and just monarch/ruler who could overpower the various feudal/aristocratic factions and impose progress and Rule of Law while maintaining order and peace. This view has extended to our lifetimes with cases like e.g. Singapore where there was a clear strongman figure. However in our historic period it is generally considered that refusal to yield power is per se unjust.
In Spanish there is a pun that is used – dictatorship is “dictadura” and taking as staring point that the word “dura” means hard, some wags use the term “dictablanda”, from “blanda” meaning soft, to refer to undemocratic rule that is not excessively harsh.
Some ancient Kings were surely superb. Note that being an optimal King did not mean freeing all slaves and serfs — that would be a way to get deposed and limit his own usefulness.
Persia’s Cyrus II the Great is considered excellent and benevolent (once you were conquered :p). England had several admired Kings, Alfred the Great and Henry II to name just two.
At times Franco and Stroessner might fit here. Both had extensive Human rights issues, but in the end their nation was better off and they both ushered in a stable democracy.
You’ve got a bizarre definition of “benevolent.” Regarding Stroessner, although the economy and infrastructure of Paraguay improved, it remained a benighted backwater. And he certainly didn’t “usher in a stable democracy” - he was ousted in a bloody coup.
From his obituary in the NY Times:
Stroessner is one of the last people I would think would come up in a discussion of benevolent dictators.
Regarding Atatürk, there’s some non-Turks who would strongly disagree with the “benevolent” part. Greeks, Kurds, Armenians, etc.
Banning of other languages, property confiscated, forced relocations, etc. People were even forced to change their last names! Whenever you see the latter, you know you got yourself a run-of-the-mill despot.
How about Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings?
I vote for Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor. As seen in the Amadeus movie.
I lived in Paraguay for a while a couple of years after the departure of Stroessner. He was still dearly missed. When I was there, Paraguay was a clean and well-organized country with an appearance of prosperity hard to find in Latin America, and almost no visible poverty. When I asked people how Paraguay had changed, they said more corruption, more crime, higher taxes.
I also lived for two years in Jordan, when King Hussein was pretty close to an absolute dictator. Everyone in the Middle East admired Jordan, and envied the Jordanians, lucky enough to live prosperously in a stable country, despite an absence of oil resources.
A few months ago, I spent four days in Brunei, another absolute dictatorship. I could very easily live happily in that country, the peole are very contented.
Of course, dictators can be benevolent toward the elite and those who don’t make waves. Not so much to those who step out of line.
Stalin made the USSR into an industrial country, but he was anything but benevolent.
Yaweri Museveni of Uganda is the only one that comes immediately to mind. He played an instrumental role in overthrowing Idi Amin and Milton Obote, two of the more ruthless African leaders in history. Through his first few terms as president, he did some good things for Uganda, launching an aggressive campaign to prevent AIDS. However, he also maneuvered to change the constitution in a way that nearly guaranteed his status as “president for life”.
That said, like most people who are in office too long, Museveni appears to be sliding downhill, having embraced fundamentalist Christianity in 2008 and attempting to institute the death penalty for gays. Additionally, he has increasingly tried to muzzle the press.
Janos Kadar (dictator of Hungary from 1956-1989) would qualify in my book, as would Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, Khrushchev and to a lesser extent his successors in the Soviet Union. Economic statistics for East Germany are hotly disputed, but at least one academic, Gerhard Heske, has argued that their growth rates after the early 1950s were comparable or a bit higher than west Germany, and they had the lowest level of economic inequality in the world.
Most of Africa was ruled by one party states or dictators between the mid-1960s and 1991 or so. Some of them were terrible, some benevolent, some in between. This guy in particular is one of the most fondly remembered African leaders:
In Latin America, I’d put Fidel Castro, probably General Rojas Pinilla of Colombia and General Velasco in Peru in the benevolent boat. Peru’s economy suffered severely under Velasco due to the collapse of the fishing industry, but that was largely due to weather fluctuation (El Nino, specifically) which he can’t really be blamed for.
Some of this comes down to how you define benevolence: do you care about political freedom or do you think economic and social well being is more important?
Even model democracies make things pretty difficult for people who make waves. Look at Israel’s Mossad. The institution of power, whether it be an elected executive or a single tyrant, is going to employ every means of force to take down any movement seen as a threat to the existence of the state principles or ideology.
The defining characteristic of a benevolent dictatorship is that it is benevolent to the rank and file going about their normal business, not benevolent toward revolutionary uprisings.