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Communications of the ACM

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Stopping Tyranny

politician at rally, illustration

Credit: Getty Images

Most people who live in dictatorships are decent, so why are their leaders so bad? Is there a natural law stating if a country consists of mostly non-violent people and a small group willing to use force, then the brutes will win? Is there any way for the decent people to stop the brutes?

One answer is a robust representative democracy. Unfortunately, history is filled with examples (even current ones) in which a leader is democratically elected and then becomes a dictator over time. Representative democracy suffers from the loophole that one bad election can mess up everything.


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