Dictatorship - Its History and Theory - PDF by Alfred Cobban

Dictatorship, Its History, and Theory

Dictatorship, Its History, and Theory

The aim of this book is to make a general survey of dictatorship, taking into consideration both its theoretical sources and its actual historical development, analyzing its principles as they can be observed in, operation, and indicating its prospects so far as they can be deduced from experience. For comparison, an appendix has been added on medieval and classical tyranny, though for practical reasons I have preferred the term dictatorships which is now generally used, rather than the strictly more correct tyranny.

The plan of the book can, I hope, easily be grasped from the section headings, so of this, it is not necessary to say more here than that the early chapters endeavour to trace the development of the idea of sovereignty up to the French Revolution and Napoleon, here taken as the first modern dictator. 

After a study of the rise of the contemporary dictatorial movement there follows an analysis of the elements which have contributed to the making of th^ modern totalitarian state, with which the dictatorial form of government is so intimately connected. Finally, a fairly long chapter is given to the attempt, to sum up, such conclusions seem legitimate to flow from the previous history and analysis of totalitarianism and dictatorship.

Obviously, it is not possible for one writer to speak with authority on so many different historical periods as are perforce included in the scope of this book. It would be equally impossible, even if it were a profitable task, for a single student to exhaust the immense bibliography that has already grown up around the contemporary dictatorships. 

Two subjects of which I have made softie detailed study — French history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the development of modern political thinking — occupy a considerable place in the material to be discussed. As for the other periods into which I, have been driven, I can only plead that I have tried to behave,  these with appropriate caution and decorum. In these fields I have attempted merely to utilize accepted ideas: I should be surprised and shocked to find that I had said on medieval or classical history anything original. The political scientist who is examining dictatorship cannot, however, afford to neglect the evidence that these earlier periods provide.

 A serious difficulty involved in the subject under discussion arises from the fact that it necessarily includes a considerable amount of present-day material. Attempts to write contemporary history are seldom successful, and it has indeed been argued, on general considerations, that the events of current politics are not susceptible of historical treatment. 

Not only is it difficult at best for a contemporary to see the facts of his own day in a reasonable proportion, but so far as concerns dictatorship, they have to be groped for in the midst of an opaque cloud of propaganda. Our defence for venturing into this field would be that, though much of the material is historical in nature, this book professes primarily to be a contribution to political science. The analysis — which must be distinguished from history — of the contemporary situation, however difficult, is essential to its theme.

Publication: 1939


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