Book Talk: A Discussion of William Dobson’s The Dictator’s Learning Curve

On July 24, 2012, Jonathan Fanton sat down with William Dobson for a conversation about his recent book entitled, “The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.”

The Dictator’s Learning Curve

July 24, 2012

Good Evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute located in the historic homes of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. The Institute offers undergraduate programs in domestic public policy and international human rights, supports faculty research and sponsors programs for the public.

Tonight we welcome William Dobson for a discussion of his important new book The Dictator’s Learning Curve. He helps us understand how both authoritarian regimes and their opposition are using new technologies in the struggle to advance democracy.

Mr. Dobson notes in his introduction: “…Today’s dictators … are far more sophisticated, savvy, and nimble than they once were. Faced with growing pressures, the smartest among them neither hardened their regimes into police states nor closed themselves off from the world; instead, they learned and adapted. For dozens of authoritarian regimes, the challenge posed by democracy’s advance led to experimentation, creativity, and cunning. Modern authoritarians have successfully honed new techniques, methods, and formulas for preserving power, refashioning dictatorship for the modern age.”

But, as we will hear, this book is about much more that the Dictator’s Learning Curve. Mr. Dobson gives equal time to the learning curve of the opposition and the global conversation among dissidents about how to mount non-violent revolutions. And he helps us understand the importance of local opposition in eroding a regime’s legitimacy, puts in perspective the role of international actors like the US and the UN, and offers practical insights about the patient path to democratic change.

William J. Dobson is a distinguished journalist, scholar, and foreign policy commentator. He was a Truman Scholar, an award recognizing exceptional college students interested in public service, and holds both a law degree and a Masters in East Asian studies from Harvard University. In 2006, Mr. Dobson was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and from 2008 to 2009 he was a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has published articles and op-eds in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe, among others. Most recently, he produced a series of online articles for the Washington Post that used the first recorded accounts of the Egyptian military’s human rights abuses of female prisoners to highlight the brutalities of modern authoritarianism. Prior to his current post as the Politics and Foreign Affairs editor for Slate, Mr. Dobson served as the Managing Editor for Foreign Policy magazine, Newsweek International’s Senior Editor for Asia and the Associate Editor for Foreign Affairs. He can be heard on major news outlets including ABC, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, and NPR.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome William J. Dobson.

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