Created By: Topazan on August 16, 2011 Last Edited By: Topazan on September 27, 2011

Hands Off Dictator

A ruler who uses fiat to establish and maintain economic and/or social freedoms in their society

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Do We Have This? Needs a Better Description.

See also: Democracy Is Bad

Literature
  • Vetinari in Discworld. He encouraged the immigration of trolls and dwarfs, carefully protects free speech and the rights of most prisoners, and is adamantly opposed to Ankh-Morpork becoming an empire again.
Videogames
  • Mr. House in Fallout: New Vegas, at least before the player starts working for him.
  • In NationStates, a "Benevolent Dictatorship" is defined as a state that seeks to maximize both civil rights and economic freedoms, but minimize political freedoms. It's descibed in the game as:
    • "A dictatorship ruled by someone who pays no attention to the people and allows them to do whatever they want, except challenge the government."
    • "Citizens enjoy great individual freedoms in everything except elections, which, where they exist at all, are populist shams for a dictatorship government that has no intention of ever giving up power."
Real Life
  • In John Stossel's Is America Number One: The Environment For Success, Stossel portrays Hong Kong under British rule as this.
  • It's said that when Gaozu first took Xianyang, he told the people all laws were abrogated except those against assault and theft. This, of course, didn't last once he had to set up an actual state.
Community Feedback Replies: 16
  • August 16, 2011
    deuxhero
    Mr. House only counts before the player starts working for him, then he goes off the deep end, refusing to accept peace, crushing people that don't even oppose him ect.
  • August 16, 2011
    Topazan
    Ah, ok, I never played that far. I had just assumed he fit based on things I've read.
  • August 16, 2011
    TwinBird
    It's said that when Gaozu first took Xianyang, he told the people all laws were abrogated except those against assault and theft. This, of course, didn't last once he had to set up an actual state.
  • August 17, 2011
    jaytee
    Maybe it's because you forgot to write the description, but I don't see a trope here yet.

    We have three examples (one or two of which are apparently averted later) of leaders sharing vaguely the same political views doesn't make for a trope. Why are these characters used in media? What common purpose do they serve? What kind of common inspiration do they draw from?
  • August 18, 2011
    Fanra
    Vetinari is not a Libertarian Dictator, he's a benevolent dictator.

    There is no agreed upon definition of "libertarian" according to The Other Wiki.

    We do have an article here, Sliding Scale Of Libertarianism And Authoritarianism, which claims that, "Libertarianism is about the individual having freedom to do whatever he likes. "As long as he isn't hurting anyone else" is often, but not necessarily, part of the description."

    Which is only one definition of "libertarianism". Other ones disagree.

    I'd really suggest we don't use words that have no agreed upon definition.

    In any case, Vetinari's political philosophy has been summed up by Word Of God as, "One man, one vote. Meaning Vetinari is the man and he gets the only vote."

    Speak the words, "minimization of the state and sharing the goal of maximizing individual liberty and political freedom" and he will look at you strangely and walk away. Annoy him enough and you will find yourself hanging upside down in the scorpion pit next to the mimes.
  • August 18, 2011
    Topazan
    ^^ I didn't include a description because I'm still working out how to expand this from the laconic. The idea is that in the western world, freedom is a concept associated with democracies, whereas more autocratic forms of government are associated with repression and totalitarianism. These dictators break the pattern by granting their populace as much or more freedom as a representative government would.

    I'm not expert in political science, but it seems unlikely in the real world for a couple of reasons. Most modern dictatorships find it necessary to employ an oppressive police presence to maintain their power, reducing personal freedom in the process. One thing that makes it interesting in fiction is the motivation of the ruler. He apparently believes that people can be trusted to run their own lives, but not their own government.

    ^ Please don't get too caught up on semantics. This is not necessarily about the political philosophy of Libertarianism, I just used that word to indicate that the population enjoys a relatively high degree of liberty under these dictators. If you have a better idea for a name, please suggest it.

    That said, I think that quote in no way counts against Vetinari's inclusion. That "One man, one vote" thing only shows that Vetinari is, in fact, a dictator with absolute fiat. It's what he does with that fiat that decides whether or not he counts for this trope. Seeing as Ankh-Morpork enjoys free markets, freedom of press, freedom of religion, rights of the accused, and a multitude of other protections, I'd say he counts. He constantly threatens to abuse his power, but aside from that throw away joke about the mimes, he never actually does.
  • August 18, 2011
    TBeholder
    ^^ Well, of course.

    Then again... as one of Pelevin's characters said (presenting his protection racketman), "On the absolutely free market, by this very definition, should be presented services of limiters of the absolute freedom". I.e. warlords under any other name may be an implication of primitive (anarchic) "libertarian" variants about as much as bureaucracy and Secret Police are implications of "ensure common good" models.

    As to specifically Vetinari... he relied on self-regulation instead of his active control whenever he could.
  • August 18, 2011
    jaytee
    ^^That still doesn't address my real concerns. Like I said earlier:

    We have three examples (all three of which seem borderline, given that someone has objected to each in turn) of leaders sharing vaguely the same political views, which doesn't make for a trope. Why are these characters used in media? What common purpose do they serve? What kind of common inspiration do they draw from?
  • August 18, 2011
    Fanra
    Please don't get too caught up on semantics. This is not necessarily about the political philosophy of Libertarianism, I just used that word to indicate that the population enjoys a relatively high degree of liberty under these dictators. If you have a better idea for a name, please suggest it.

    How about "Benevolent Dictator"?

    Just to mention, Vetinari's "rights of the accused" is open to adjustment as he sees fit, as seen in Going Postal. At the end when Reacher Gilt is brought before Vetinari in secret, with no trial ever mentioned, and offered the choice of working for Vetinari or death.
  • August 18, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    Name ideas, but these are used elsewhere for something that may not fit:

    Video Games or Web Origional?:
    • In Nation States, a "Benevolent Dictatorship" is defined as a state that seeks to maximize both civil rights and economic freedoms, but minimize political freedoms. It's descibed in the game as:
      • "A dictatorship ruled by someone who pays no attention to the people and allows them to do whatever they want, except challenge the government."
      • "Citizens enjoy great individual freedoms in everything except elections, which, where they exist at all, are populist shams for a dictatorship government that has no intention of ever giving up power."

    Live Action TV
  • August 18, 2011
    Topazan
    ^^^ I suspect the common inspiration has something to do with Enlightenment philosophy, but I'm no expert. When portrayed positively can be a way to show that Democracy Is Bad, with the idea that one 'great man' is better at creating a free society than the collective will, as well as challenging the idea that democracy is the one and only path to a free society. Alternatively, it could be used to show that freedom requires a guardian, whether an elected republic or a benevolent dictator.

    ^^ Ok, maybe I'll note that there are exceptions. Still, considering that under one of Vetinari's recent predecessors people who broke curfew tended to disappear, I still think it's notable that he holds trials at all for the likes of Carcer

    ^ I'd call Nation States a Video Game.

    Now, as to the name, as pointed out the other suggestions are also problematic. 'Benevolent Dictator' doesn't necessarily describe one that minimizes his direct control, it could just as easily describe one that passes strict laws to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and protect the population from moral decay. Enlightened Absolutism sounds fairly close though.

  • August 19, 2011
    MidnightRambler
    If it's "economic freedom" you want, there are plenty of Real Life examples. Hell, most modern-day dictatorships exist to enforce extremely free-market economic policies (which are bad for most people but awesome for the small elite who run the dictatorship). This goes for all the dictatorships in Latin America during The Seventies and The Eighties, Russia's democracy-in-name-only, and even "Communist" China since the late-'80s economic reforms.
  • August 19, 2011
    Generality
    I'm tempted to suggest this be called The Leviathan, after Thomas Hobbes' work, but that would be confusing. The book itself is an example, though.
  • August 19, 2011
    TBeholder
    @jaytee: True, it's not a meme, and not much of a plot device or even a stereotype. On the other eyestalk, maybe this repeatedly popping up image tries to say something?

    Also, it's a part of the setting. And a plot device after all: what happens if there's someone who could drop the hammer hard at any moment, but tries not to (unless it's absolutely necessary)? The authors may have as many active and even dangerous factions as they like and leave the decisive force in reserve without a risk of either turning it into competition of backstabbing lackeys or having a Deus Ex Machina.

    I propose Hands Off Dictatorship. "Benevolent", you see, may be a little confusing.
  • August 19, 2011
    jaytee
    ^You're definitely right that a trope doesn't have to be a meme, plot device, stereotype, etc. But I also think that a particular political orientation popping up multiple times quite makes it as a trope. "Democrat" isn't a trope, after all, even though fictional democrats share lots of characteristics.

    I just think tropes need to have a deeper connection between examples... It's a hard thing to put into words. It just seems like these examples don't have much to do with each other outside of superficialities.

    On the other hand, this is much tropier than a lot of stuff here on YKTTW, so I'll lay off for a while and let others chime it.
  • August 20, 2011
    Topazan
    Some of you make really good points that could greatly affect how this trope evolves. I think I'll hold off on Rolling Updates for a bit to see what other discussion develops, and try to process it.

    I think Hands Off Dictatorship could work as a name.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=3b1lz5j7nx1n7rj9q3yu173u