Ingeborg van Teeseling

About Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website, and runs, telling people's life stories.

Wanna be a dictator? Try totalitarianism…in five easy steps

Once again, the political strongman, the dictator is vogue. But it’s not like the old days, you can’t just take the throne by the edge of a knife – here’s how you do it.  



Today, of course, is about voting. And voting, at the moment, everywhere in the world, is about political strongmen. From the generalissimo in the US to his Rear Admirals in Indonesia, Brazil, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Turkey, Japan, the Philippines and other places, the dictator is back with a vengeance. According to a poll of the Lowy Institute which I’ve quoted here before, more than half of young people prefer “other kinds of government” over democracy. And other age groups must like them too, because country after country is falling for the lure of the autocrat. So I thought it was time, for all the other would-be despots out there, to help them out with a how-to, a simple guide to totalitarianism.



Ask Joseph Goebbels: it all starts with some good old-fashioned promotion. Preferably part misinformation, part marketing, part fear-mongering. This is why a good dictator needs to be a great salesman. He (women are not as good at it) should have the gift of the gab. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that he has to be a talented speaker. On the contrary: simple words, often repeated, are best. They cater for the lowest common denominator and that is where the build-up of numbers always starts. Jokes are good too, but never self-deprecating. And they can’t be too complicated and have to be repeated often. Everything, really, has to be repeated often. Repeated often, so followers, not always the sharpest tools in the shed, can remember and tell others. Then, the speaker has to be fluent at body-language: wagging fingers, jutting out the chin, smirking, tugging the cuffs, bruising people’s hands while shaking them, displaying gestures of power: especially the ring sign. You also have to have big signatures. BIG signatures. In fact, everything has to be big, bigger, biggest. You need to repeat that often too: I am the biggest, the best, the greatest. And you, because you believe in me, can warm yourself in my glow.


Choose your enemies

Far more important than having a program is having enemies. We know that from Australian experience. Tony Abbott won the elections on the back of saying no. We didn’t know what he was saying yes to, but we didn’t care. No felt like a powerful word, a word of action, a strong word. No, obviously, needs things to be against. And history tells us that people, groups of people, work best. Over time, there have been favourites, popular picks: Jews, the media, the “elite”, migrants, people of colour in general, women and Indigenous groups. Unfortunately for would-be dictators, most countries have already either killed or kaltgestellt (as Goebbels called it) their Aboriginal people, so those are no longer an option. But there will always be migrants, who you can accuse of criminality, bringing in illnesses, fucking like rabbits and abusing your welfare system. So those are a good choice.

The media is lovely too, because they can’t win. If they write the facts, you accuse them of bias. If they don’t, you accuse them of bias. Best of all are female journalists, who you can catch when they wear tight skirts, or don’t wear tight skirts. Or have their periods. Or don’t. Obviously, all women are a good target. Not only because men will love you for it, but whole masses of women do too. Apparently, American women admire Trump’s “strength, family mindedness and fun”, which says a lot about the education system in the City upon a Hill, but still, if it works, it works. And schooling is a bad idea anyway. That leads to “elites”, people who think. Before you know it, they will start asking questions. Don’t want that.



In order to become a good dictator, language is important. First of all, there can be no greys in what you say. Statements have to be either white or black, and nothing in between. You have to promise things, but don’t be specific. Say what you want (or preferably what you don’t want), but not when you are going to do something, or how, or how much it is going to cost. Those are details and you are a man of the big picture. So are your followers. You need to remember that they only care about what sounds good, not what actually happens. Although, of course, you need to do something once in a while, but we will come to that in a minute. Whenever you speak, you have to exude confidence.

“Leave it with me,” your words need to convey. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about any of it. Just go to sleep and let me fix things.” If you do this well, they will, in fact, trust you and go off to the Land of Nod. Which is when you can do whatever you want to do. Starting with things that profit you, obviously. By the way, lying is good too. The more, the better. After a while, they will get used to it, especially if you show them that you don’t really care about whether something is real or not. This way you can create your own universe, where lies are just facts that haven’t been “facted” yet. A new word I just thought up. You can do that too. Shakespeare did it, and look what happened to him.



Always a favourite with the punters is to tell them how important they are, and that they live in the best country in the world. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi! It would be my advice to start slowly. Give the reasons why your nation is the best and others are second-rate. Then say that the others are the cause of your country tanking in the top-100. Promise you will “make <insert-country-here> GREAT again”. Accompany that with flag waving, then with uniforms and violence. If you’ve got them, sending troops to the border looks good too. Any border, it doesn’t matter if it is a swamp. It is the optics, as they say in politics. It needs to look impressive, that’s all. Obviously, important within patriotism is the cult of the leader, and that will be you. Oh, sorry: YOU. Your ego has to be at the centre, and all adoration should go to you. That is now mandatory. Whoever refuses will be picked up and shot. Or put in a camp and forced to print t-shirts with your face on it.



Once you’ve got the public where you want them, you have to make sure they are afraid all the time. It is important to fabricate a crisis every day, so they never have an opportunity to think. You need to orchestrate a life for them where they go to work, take care of their children and feel threatened 24/7. Anxiety is good, because it leads to depression, and depression leads to people under their doonas and on medication. And while they do that, you’ve got free rein. Fearful people are also looking for somebody to be a good father and take on their worry and dread. That, of course, will be you. Then you can promise them that you will solve all of their problems, as long as they give all power to you. When they do – and if you have followed my instructions to the letter, they will – you can get rid of this ridiculous election caper and the democracy attached to it. Job well done, you. YOU. And you, voters of the world. Congratulations!



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