"Bully" redirects here. For other uses, see Bully (disambiguation).
For school bullying, see School bullying.
Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power, which distinguishes bullying from conflict. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets. Rationalizations of such behavior sometimes include differences of social class, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, behavior, body language, personality, reputation, lineage, strength, size, or ability. If bullying is done by a group, it is called mobbing.
Bullying can be defined in many different ways. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has no legal definition of bullying, while some states in the United States have laws against it. Bullying is divided into four basic types of abuse – emotional (sometimes called relational), verbal, physical, and cyber. It typically involves subtle methods of coercion, such as intimidation.
Bullying ranges from one-on-one, individual bullying through to group bullying called mobbing, in which the bully may have one or more "lieutenants" who may seem to be willing to assist the primary bully in his or her bullying activities. Bullying in school and the workplace is also referred to as peer abuse.Robert W. Fuller has analyzed bullying in the context of rankism.
A bullying culture can develop in any context in which humans interact with each other. This includes school, family, the workplace, home, and neighborhoods. The main platform for bullying is on social media websites In a 2012 study of male adolescent American football players, "the strongest predictor [of bullying] was the perception of whether the most influential male in a player's life would approve of the bullying behavior".
There is no universal definition of bullying, however, it is widely agreed upon that bullying is a subcategory of aggressive behavior characterized by the following three minimum criteria: (1) hostile intent, (2) imbalance of power, and (3) repetition over a period of time. Bullying may thus be defined as the activity of repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt another individual, physically, mentally or emotionally.
The Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus says bullying occurs when a person is "exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons". He says negative actions occur "when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways." Individual bullying is usually characterized by a person behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.
Individual bullying can be classified into four types. Collective bullying is known as mobbing, and can include any of the individual types of bullying.
Physical, verbal, and relational bullying are most prevalent in primary school and could also begin much earlier whilst continuing into later stages in individuals lives. It is stated that Cyber-bullying is more common in secondary school than in primary school.
Individual bullying tactics can be perpetrated by a single person against a target or targets.
This is any bullying that hurts someone’s body or damages their possessions. Stealing, shoving, hitting, fighting, and destroying property all are types of physical bullying. Physical bullying is rarely the first form of bullying that a target will experience. Often bullying will begin in a different form and later progress to physical violence. In physical bullying the main weapon the bully uses is their body when attacking their target. Sometimes groups of young adults will target and alienate a peer because of some adolescent prejudice. This can quickly lead to a situation where they are being taunted, tortured, and beaten-up by their classmates. Physical bullying can lead to a tragic ending and therefore must be stopped quickly to prevent any further escalation.
This is any bullying that is conducted by speaking. Calling names, spreading rumors, threatening somebody, and making fun of others are all forms of verbal bullying. Verbal bullying is one of the most common types of bullying. In verbal bullying the main weapon the bully uses is their voice. In many cases, verbal bullying is the province of girls. Girls are more subtle (and can be more devastating), in general, than boys. Girls use verbal bullying, as well as social exclusion techniques, to dominate and control other individuals and show their superiority and power. However, there are also many boys with subtlety enough to use verbal techniques for domination, and who are practiced in using words when they want to avoid the trouble that can come with physically bullying someone else.
This is any bullying that is done with the intent to hurt somebody’s reputation or social standing which can also link in with the techniques included in physical and verbal bullying. Relational Bullying is a form of bullying common amongst youth, but particularly upon girls. Relational bullying can be used as a tool by bullies to both improve their social standing and control others. Unlike physical bullying which is obvious, relational bullying is not overt and can continue for a long time without being noticed.
Cyber bullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. When an adult is involved, it may meet the definition of cyber-harassment or cyberstalking, a crime that can have legal consequences and involve jail time. This includes email, instant messaging, social networking sites (such as Facebook), text messages, and cell phones.
Collective bullying tactics are employed by more than one individual against a target or targets. Trolling behavior on social media, although generally assumed to be individual in nature by the casual reader, is sometime organized efforts by sponsored astroturfers.
Main article: Mobbing
Mobbing refers to the bullying of an individual by a group, in any context, such as a family, peer group, school, workplace, neighborhood, community, or online. When it occurs as emotionalabuse in the workplace, such as "ganging up" by co-workers, subordinates or superiors, to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation, it is also referred to as malicious, nonsexual, nonracial / racial, general harassment.
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Of bullies and accomplices
Studies have shown that envy and resentment may be motives for bullying. Research on the self-esteem of bullies has produced equivocal results. While some bullies are arrogant and narcissistic, they can also use bullying as a tool to conceal shame or anxiety or to boost self-esteem: by demeaning others, the abuser feels empowered. Bullies may bully out of jealousy or because they themselves are bullied. Psychologist Roy Baumeister asserts that people who are prone to abusive behavior tend to have inflated but fragile egos. Because they think too highly of themselves, they are frequently offended by the criticisms and lack of deference of other people, and react to this disrespect with violence and insults.[full citation needed]
Researchers have identified other risk factors such as depression and personality disorders, as well as quickness to anger and use of force, addiction to aggressive behaviors, mistaking others' actions as hostile, concern with preserving self-image, and engaging in obsessive or rigid actions. A combination of these factors may also be causes of this behavior. In one study of youth, a combination of antisocial traits and depression was found to be the best predictor of youth violence, whereas video game violence and television violence exposure were not predictive of these behaviors.
Bullying may also result from a genetic predisposition or a brain abnormality in the bully. While parents can help a toddler develop emotional regulation and control to restrict aggressive behavior, some children fail to develop these skills due to insecure attachment with their families, ineffective discipline, and environmental factors such as a stressful home life and hostile siblings. Moreover, according to some researchers, bullies may be inclined toward negativity and perform poorly academically. Dr. Cook says that "a typical bully has trouble resolving problems with others and also has trouble academically. He or she usually has negative attitudes and beliefs about others, feels negatively toward himself/herself, comes from a family environment characterized by conflict and poor parenting, perceives school as negative and is negatively influenced by peers".
Contrarily, some researchers have suggested that some bullies are psychologically strongest and have high social standing among their peers, while their targets are emotionally distressed and socially marginalized. Peer groups often promote the bully's actions, and members of these peer groups also engage in behaviors, such as mocking, excluding, punching, and insulting one another as a source of entertainment. Other researchers also argued that a minority of the bullies, those who are not in-turn bullied, enjoy going to school, and are least likely to take days off sick.
Research indicates that adults who bully have authoritarian personalities, combined with a strong need to control or dominate. It has also been suggested that a prejudicial view of subordinates can be a particularly strong risk factor.
Of typical bystanders
Often, bullying takes place in the presence of a large group of relatively uninvolved bystanders. In many cases, it is the bully's ability to create the illusion that he or she has the support of the majority present that instills the fear of "speaking out" in protestation of the bullying activities being observed by the group. Unless the "bully mentality" is effectively challenged in any given group in its early stages, it often becomes an accepted, or supported, norm within the group.
Unless action is taken, a "culture of bullying" is often perpetuated within a group for months, years, or longer.
Bystanders who have been able to establish their own "friendship group" or "support group" have been found to be far more likely to opt to speak out against bullying behavior than those who have not.
In addition to communication of clear expectations that bystanders should intervene and increasing individual self-efficacy, there is growing research that suggests interventions should build on the foundation that bullying is morally wrong.
Among adults, being a bystander to workplace bullying was linked to depression, particularly in women.
Dr. Cook says that "A typical victim is likely to be aggressive, lack social skills, think negative thoughts, experience difficulties in solving social problems, come from a negative family, school and community environments and be noticeably rejected and isolated by peers". Victims often have characteristics such as being physically weak, as well as being easily distraught emotionally. They may also have physical characteristics that make them easier targets for bullies such as being overweight or having some type of physical deformity. Boys are more likely to be victims of physical bullying while girls are more likely to be bullied indirectly.
The results of a meta-analysis conducted by Cook and published by the American Psychological Association in 2010 concluded the main risk factors for children and adolescents being bullied, and also for becoming bullies, are the lack of social problem-solving skills.
Children who are bullied often show physical or emotional signs, such as: being afraid to attend school, complaining of headaches or a loss of appetite, a lack of interest in school activities and spending time with friends or family, and having an overall sense of sadness.
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Mona O'Moore of the Anti-Bullying Centre at Trinity College in Dublin, has written, "There is a growing body of research which indicates that individuals, whether child or adult, who are persistently subjected to abusive behavior are at risk of stress related illness which can sometimes lead to suicide". Those who have been the targets of bullying can suffer from long term emotional and behavioral problems. Bullying can cause loneliness, depression, anxiety, lead to low self-esteem and increased susceptibility to illness. Bullying has also been shown to cause maladjustment in young children, and targets of bullying who were also bullies themselves exhibit even greater social difficulties.
Main articles: Bullying and suicide and List of suicides which have been attributed to bullying
Even though there is evidence that bullying increases the risk of suicide, bullying alone does not cause suicide. Depression is one of the main reasons why kids who are bullied commit suicide. It is estimated that between 15 and 25 children commit suicide every year in the UK alone because they are being bullied. Certain attributes of a person are correlated to a higher risk for suicide than others such as: American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asian Americans, and LGBT people. When someone is unsupported by his or her family or friends, it can make the situation much worse for the victim.
While some people find it very easy to ignore a bully, others may find it very difficult and reach a breaking point. There have been cases of apparent bullying suicides that have been reported closely by the media. These include the deaths of Ryan Halligen, Phoebe Prince, Dawn-Marie Wesley, Nicola Ann Raphael, Megan Meier, Audrie Pott, Tyler Clementi, Jamey Rodemeyer, Kenneth Weishuhn, Jadin Bell, Katelyn Nicole Davis, Kelly Yeomans, Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, Brodie Panlock, Jessica Haffer, Hamed Nastoh, Sladjana Vidovic, April Himes, Cherice Moralez and Rebecca Ann Sedwick. According to the suicide awareness voices for education, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for youth from 15 to 24 years old. Over 16 percent of students seriously consider suicide, 13 percent create a plan, and 8 percent have made a serious attempt.
Serial killers were frequently bullied through direct and indirect methods as children or adolescents. Henry Lee Lucas, a serial killer and diagnosed psychopath, said the ridicule and rejection he suffered as a child caused him to hate everyone which he believes to have evoked this behavior. Kenneth Bianchi, a serial killer and member of the Hillside Stranglers, was teased as a child because he urinated in his pants and suffered twitching, and as a teenager was ignored by his peers. It is realised from these recent studies that individuals who were previously involved in a violent childhood whom was effected mentally and emotionally due these experiences later rationally adapts this violent behaviour and provokes other victims. This violent behavior that is performed by these so-called serial killers allows these individuals to escape from their past of feeling trapped and weak to taking control over innocent victim.
Some have argued that bullying can teach life lessons and instill strength. Helene Guldberg, a child development academic, sparked controversy when she argued that being a target of bullying can teach a child "how to manage disputes and boost their ability to interact with others", and that teachers should not intervene, but leave children to respond to the bullying themselves.
The teaching of such anti-bullying coping skills to "would-be-targets" and to others has been found to be an effective long term means of reducing bullying incidence rates and a valuable skill-set for individuals.
Main article: Dark triad
Research on the dark triad (narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy) indicate a correlation with bullying as part of evidence of the aversive nature of those traits.
Main article: Psychological projection
A bully may project his/her own feelings of vulnerability onto the target(s) of the bullying activity. Despite the fact that a bully's typically denigrating activities are aimed at the bully's targets, the true source of such negativity is ultimately almost always found in the bully's own sense of personal insecurity and/or vulnerability. Such aggressive projections of displaced negative emotions can occur anywhere from the micro-level of interpersonal relationships, all the way up through to the macro-level of international politics, or even international armed conflict.
Main article: Bullying and emotional intelligence
Bullying is abusive social interaction between peers which can include aggression, harassment, and violence. Bullying is typically repetitive and enacted by those who are in a position of power over the victim. A growing body of research illustrates a significant relationship between bullying and emotional intelligence (EI). Mayer et al., (2008) defines the dimensions of overall EI as: "accurately perceiving emotion, using emotions to facilitate thought, understanding emotion, and managing emotion". The concept combines emotional and intellectual processes. Lower emotional intelligence appears to be related to involvement in bullying, as the bully and/or the victim of bullying. EI seems to play an important role in both bullying behavior and victimization in bullying; given that EI is illustrated to be malleable, EI education could greatly improve bullying prevention and intervention initiatives.
Main article: Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is any bullying done through the use of technology. This form of bullying can easily go undetected because of lack of parental/authoritative supervision. Because bullies can pose as someone else, it is the most anonymous form of bullying. Cyberbullying includes, but is not limited to, abuse using email, instant messaging, text messaging, websites, social networking sites, etc. With the creation of social networks like Facebook, Myspace, Instagram, and Twitter, cyberbullying has increased. Particular watchdog organizations have been designed to contain the spread of cyberbullying.
Main article: Disability bullying
It has been noted that disabled people are disproportionately affected by bullying and abuse, and such activity has been cited as a hate crime. The bullying is not limited to those who are visibly disabled, such as wheelchair-users or physically deformed such as those with a cleft lip, but also those with learning disabilities, such as autism and developmental coordination disorder.
There is an additional problem that those with learning disabilities are often not as able to explain things to other people, so are more likely to be disbelieved or ignored if they do complain.
Main article: Gay bashing
Gay bullying and gay bashing designate direct or indirect verbal or physical actions by a person or group against someone who is gay or lesbian, or perceived to be so due to rumors or because they are considered to fit gay stereotypes. Gay and lesbian youth are more likely than straight youth to report bullying.
Main article: Legal abuse
Legal bullying is the bringing of a vexatious legal action to control and punish a person. Legal bullying can often take the form of frivolous, repetitive, or burdensome lawsuits brought to intimidate the defendant into submitting to the litigant's request, not because of the legal merit of the litigant's position, but principally due to the defendant's inability to maintain the legal battle. This can also take the form of SLAPPs. It was partially concern about the potential for this kind of abuse that helped to fuel the protests against SOPA and PIPA in the United States in 2011 and 2012.
Main article: Bullying in the military
In 2000, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) defined bullying as "the use of physical strength or the abuse of authority to intimidate or victimize others, or to give unlawful punishments".
Some argue that this behaviour should be allowed, due to ways in which "soldiering" is different from other occupations. Soldiers expected to risk their lives should, according to them, develop strength of body and spirit to accept bullying.
Parental bullying of children
See also: Child abuse, Narcissistic parent, and Parental narcissistic abuse
Parents who may displace their anger, insecurity, or a persistent need to dominate and control upon their children in excessive ways have been proven to increase the likelihood that their own children will in turn become overly aggressive or controlling towards their peers. The American Psychological Association advises on its website that parents who may suspect that their own children may be engaging in bullying activities among their peers should carefully consider the examples which they themselves may be setting for their own children regarding how they typically interact with their own peers, colleagues, and children.
Main article: Prisoner abuse
An environment known for bullying is a country's prison service. An additional complication is the staff and their relationships with the inmates. Thus the following possible bullying scenarios are possible:
- Inmate bullies inmate (echoing school bullying)
- Staff bullies inmate
- Staff bullies staff (a manifestation of workplace bullying)
- Inmate bullies staff
School bullying (bullying of students in schools)
Main article: School bullying
Bullying can occur in nearly any part in or around the school building, although it may occur more frequently during physical education classes and activities such as recess. Bullying also takes place in school hallways, bathrooms, on school buses and while waiting for buses, and in classes that require group work and/or after school activities. Bullying in school sometimes consists of a group of students taking advantage of or isolating one student in particular and gaining the loyalty of bystanders who want to avoid becoming the next target. In the 2011 documentary Bully, we see first hand the torture that kids go through both in school and while on the school bus. As the movie follows around a few kids we see how bullying affects them both at school as well as in their homes. While bullying has no age limit, these bullies may taunt and tease their target before finally physically bullying them. Bystanders typically choose to either participate or watch, sometimes out of fear of becoming the next target.
Bullying can also be perpetrated by teachers and the school system itself; there is an inherent power differential in the system that can easily predispose to subtle or covert abuse (relational aggression or passive aggression), humiliation, or exclusion — even while maintaining overt commitments to anti-bullying policies.
In 2016, in Canada, a North American legal precedent was set by a mother and her son, after the son was bullied in his public school. The mother and son won a court case against the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, making this the first case in North America where a school board has been found negligent in a bullying case for failing to meet the standard of care (the "duty of care" that the school board owes to its students). Thus, it sets a precedent of a school board being found liable in negligence for harm caused to a child, because they failed to protect a child from the bullying actions of other students. There has been only one other similar bullying case and it was won in Australia in 2013 (Oyston v. St. Patricks College, 2013).
Main article: Sexual bullying
See also: Slut-shaming
Sexual bullying is "Any bullying behaviour, whether physical or non-physical, that is based on a person's sexuality or gender. It is when sexuality or gender is used as a weapon by boys or girls towards other boys or girls – although it is more commonly directed at girls. It can be carried out to a person's face, behind their back or through the use of technology."
Main article: Trans bashing
Trans bashing is the act of victimizing a person physically, sexually, or verbally because they are transgender or transsexual. Unlike gay bashing, it is committed because of the target's actual or perceived gender identity, not sexual orientation.
Main article: Workplace bullying
Workplace bullying occurs when an employee experiences a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes harm. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of workplace aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical forms of school bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. Bullying in the workplace is in the majority of cases reported as having been perpetrated by someone in authority over the target. However, bullies can also be peers, and occasionally can be subordinates.
The first known documented use of "workplace bullying" is in 1992 in a book by Andrea Adams called Bullying at Work: How to Confront and Overcome It.
Research has also investigated the impact of the larger organizational context on bullying as well as the group-level processes that impact on the incidence, and maintenance of bullying behavior. Bullying can be covert or overt. It may be missed by superiors or known by many throughout the organization. Negative effects are not limited to the targeted individuals, and may lead to a decline in employee morale and a change in organizational culture. A Cochrane Collaborationsystematic review has found very low quality evidence to suggest that organizational and individual interventions may prevent bullying behaviors in the workplace.
Main article: Bullying in academia
Bullying in academia is workplace bullying of scholars and staff in academia, especially places of higher education such as colleges and universities. It is believed to be common, although has not received as much attention from researchers as bullying in some other contexts.
In blue collar jobs
Bullying has been identified as prominent in blue collar jobs, including on oil rigs and in mechanic shops and machine shops. It is thought that intimidation and fear of retribution cause decreased incident reports. In industry sectors dominated by males, typically of little education, where disclosure of incidents are seen as effeminate, reporting in the socioeconomic and cultural milieu of such industries would likely lead to a vicious circle. This is often used in combination with manipulation and coercion of facts to gain favour among higher-ranking administrators.
In information technology
Main article: Bullying in information technology
A culture of bullying is common in information technology (IT), leading to high sickness rates, low morale, poor productivity, and high staff-turnover. Deadline-driven project work and stressed-out managers take their toll on IT workers.
In the legal profession
Main article: Bullying in the legal profession
Bullying in the legal profession is believed to be more common than in some other professions. It is believed that its adversarial, hierarchical tradition contributes towards this. Women, trainees and solicitors who have been qualified for five years or less are more impacted, as are ethnic minority lawyers and lesbian, gay and bisexual lawyers.
Main article: Bullying in medicine
Bullying in the medical profession is common, particularly of student or trainee doctors and of nurses. It is thought that this is at least in part an outcome of conservative traditional hierarchical structures and teaching methods in the medical profession, which may result in a bullying cycle.
Main article: Bullying in nursing
Even though The American Nurses Association believes that all nursing personnel have the right to work in safe, non-abusive environments, bullying has been identified as being particularly prevalent in the nursing profession although the reasons are not clear. It is thought that relational aggression (psychological aspects of bullying such as gossipping and intimidation) are relevant. Relational aggression has been studied among girls but not so much among adult women.
Main article: Bullying in teaching
Schoolteachers are commonly the subject of bullying but they are also sometimes the originators of bullying within a school environment.
In other areas
As the verb to bully is defined as simply "forcing one's way aggressively or by intimidation", the term may generally apply to any life experience where one is motivated primarily by intimidation instead of by more positive goals, such as mutually shared interests and benefits. As such, any figure of authority or power who may use intimidation as a primary means of motivating others, such as a neighborhood "protection racket don", a national dictator, a childhood ring-leader, a terrorist, a terrorist organization, or even a ruthless business CEO, could rightfully be referred to as a bully. According to psychologist Pauline Rennie-Peyton, we each face the possibility of being bullied in any phase of our lives.
Children have been observed bullying anthropomorphic robots designed to assist the elderly. Their attacks start with blocking the robots' paths of movement and then escalate to verbal abuse, hitting and destroying the object. Seventy-five percent of the kids interviewed perceived the robot as "human-like" yet decided to abuse it anyway, while 35% of the kids who beat up the robot actually did so "for enjoyment.".
Bullying prevention is the collective effort to prevent, reduce, and stop bullying. Many campaigns and events are designated to bullying prevention throughout the world. Bullying prevention campaigns and events include: Anti-Bullying Day, Anti-Bullying Week, International Day of Pink, International STAND UP to Bullying Day, and National Bullying Prevention Month. Anti-Bullying laws in the U.S. have also been enacted in 23 of its 50 states, making bullying in schools illegal.
Responding to bullying
Bullying is typically ongoing and not isolated behaviour. Common ways that people try to respond, are to try to ignore it, to confront the bullies or to turn to an authority figure to try and address it.
Ignoring it often does nothing to stop the bullying continuing, and it can become worse over time. It can be important to address bullying behaviour early on, as it can be easier to control the earlier it is detected. Bystanders play an important role in responding to bullying, as doing nothing can encourage it to continue, while small steps that oppose the behaviour can reduce it.
Authority figures can play an important role, such as parents in child or adolescent situations, or supervisors, human-resources staff or parent-bodies in workplace and volunteer settings. Authority figures can be influential in recognising and stopping bullying behaviour, and creating an environment where it doesn't continue. In many situations however people acting as authority figures are untrained and unqualified, do not know how to respond, and can make the situation worse. In some cases the authority figures even support the people doing the bullying, facilitating it continuing and increasing the isolation and marginalising of the target. Some of the most effective ways to respond, are to recognise that harmful behaviour is taking place, and creating an environment where it won't continue. People that are being targeted have little control over which authority figures they can turn to and how such matters would be addressed, however one means of support is to find a counsellor or psychologist that is trained in handling bullying.
The word "bully" was first used in the 1530s meaning "sweetheart", applied to either sex, from the Dutch boel "lover, brother", probably diminutive of Middle High Germanbuole "brother", of uncertain origin (compare with the German buhle "lover"). The meaning deteriorated through the 17th century through "fine fellow", "blusterer", to "harasser of the weak". This may have been as a connecting sense between "lover" and "ruffian" as in "protector of a prostitute", which was one sense of "bully" (though not specifically attested until 1706). The verb "to bully" is first attested in 1710.
In the past, in American culture, the term has been used differently, as an exclamation/exhortation, in particular famously associated with Theodore Roosevelt and continuing to the present in the bully pulpit and also as faint/deprecating praise ("bully for him").
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We might take the demonstrative demise of strongmen such as Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and – more recently and unobtrusively – Fidel Castro in Cuba to indicate that the day of the dictator has largely passed. Alas, authoritarianism is staging a comeback. Yet it is clear to poets and political scientists alike that the new authoritarians – Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary – are not like the old ones. In his recent poem ‘Some Advice for the New Government’, the poet Adam Zagajewski gave Poland’s newly elected cabinet some mock advice on how to be a new authoritarian:
All professors of constitutional law should be interned for life.
Poets can be left alone. No one reads them anyway.
You’ll need isolation camps, but gentle ones that won’t annoy the United Nations.
Most journalists should be sent to Madagascar.
These new strongmen seem milder, less openly brutal than the likes of Stalin or Hitler. In the words of the Austrian publicist and historian Hans Rauscher: ‘Brutal, naked mass violence against subjects is, at least in Europe and around Europe, no longer declared, insofar as Putins, Erdoğans, and Orbáns govern with the consent of a becalmed people, “freed” from all critical voices.’
But the difference goes well beyond their choice of whom to oppress and how. The autocrat of the mid-20th century was a strict and demanding father out to shape you into an ideal. He wanted you to modernise, learn self-discipline and, above all, self-sacrifice. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk addressed soldiers during the Entente attack on Ottoman-held Gallipoli in 1915, he told them: ‘I am not ordering you to fight. I am ordering you to die.’ ‘In the Soviet army,’ said Stalin, ‘it takes more courage to retreat than to advance.’
Tough love was thus the signature attribute of the 20th-century dictator. Even when he wasn’t demanding the ultimate sacrifice, he wanted you to lose a few pounds, mothball your fez, lay some more bricks, join a state-run youth organisation (or five), learn a new alphabet (or even a new language) and call it your own, memorise some poems, songs or passages penned by the supreme leader and call them ‘history’. Even democratic heads of state once had higher expectations of their citizenry. That line from John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech – ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ – now sounds like an admonition from an earlier, distant century.
And dictators undeniably wielded more power to transform their subjects during that era of greater expectations. The titles applied to them made it clear who was in charge: Mussolini was called Il Duce, Hitler der Führer, and Stalin Vozhd (the leader), Atatürk’s very name, granted uniquely to him in 1934, meant ‘father of the Turks,’ and paintings and statues offered idealised images of them all. Like a stern father, the dictator seemed to be everywhere at once: omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, an Ersatz-god if ever there was one. His image was on the wall of every government office and every schoolroom, statues and busts of him adorned desks, nooks and squares, and everything from streets to towns to schools were named after him.
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Today’s authoritarians, by contrast, expect very little of their ‘children’. They do not seek to transform their subjects or mould them into an ideal. They might lightly admonish them to stop smoking and drinking (Erdoğan), or to have more kids (Orbán, Putin, and Erdoğan), but they won’t generally send them to camps or prisons, or even tell them flat-out what to do or what to think. To be sure, some things are forbidden: trying to form an alternative fiefdom, initiating a coup, betraying the inner circle, etc. Try one of these and you will quickly learn that old-school tyranny still has its safe spaces. But if you criticise the government, its policies, or the person of the leader (especially in a place – such as Twitter or the international media – where someone might actually read it), you’re more likely to be trolled and harassed by the new authoritarian’s (often subsidised) supporters than sent to the mines.
For the most part, today’s authoritarians are more like the fathers of our time who, instead of demanding that their children live up to a set of idealistic expectations, are likely to send a message in the vein of: ‘Don’t listen to what those bullies are saying about you! You’ve been misunderstood and pushed around for too long. I know the real you and will see to it that you don’t have to conform to their expectations.’ Daddy understands what Junior thinks and feels: namely slighted.
They are what happens when the aspiration to betterment is conflated with a corrupt utopianism: it dies
Remarkably, although these new dictators endeavour to place themselves above everyday politics by securing a leadership position for life, or at least for indefinite duration, they tread softly around the cult of personality. None of them have assumed new titles, and Poland’s new authoritarian éminence grise Jarosław Kaczyński even seems satisfied to hold no formal leadership position whatsoever beyond that of party leader. What’s more, none of these men seems to have a vision for a ‘new man’, or even a ‘new society’. Quite the contrary. They are what happens when the aspiration to betterment is conflated with a corrupt utopianism: it dies.
And what a death. Twentieth-century attempts to create the ‘new man’ did not end well, and that legacy has made Europeans and their neighbours especially averse to visionary politics. Beyond the Nazi Übermensch, who felt entitled by virtue of his racial superiority to conquer and enslave or otherwise render subservient the entire world, there was also the Soviet ‘new man’, who was supposed to be reproduced across the globe, the harbinger of a world united under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Übermensch died an inglorious death with Germany’s defeat in the Second World War. By Hitler’s own standards, a losing army deserved to lose. ‘In this war there can be no compromise, there can only be victory or destruction,’ he said in 1944. ‘And if the German people cannot wrest victory from the enemy, then they shall be destroyed. Yes, then they deserve to perish.’ Ironically, Germany’s defeat at the hands of the Allies, and above all the Soviets, left a crucial aspect of the Nazi worldview intact: a real Übermensch doesn’t lose. Germany lost. Ergo, Germans could not have been so ‘über alles’ after all.
The Soviet ‘new man’ was destined to die a slower but all the more significant death. In fact, insofar as the new authoritarianism has its roots in former socialist countries, among them Yugoslavia and Russia, the story of the ‘new socialist man’s’ particular and ironic demise goes a long way toward explaining the new leader type we see in Europe and its surroundings.
The ‘new man’ has a long history in Russia, from the ideal ‘new people’ imagined by the 19th-century Russian utopian socialist Nikolai Chernyshevsky, to the Bolshevik writer Maxim Gorky, who declared that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were ‘producing a most severe scientific experiment on the body of Russia’, the purpose of which was ‘the modification of human material’. In 1919, the cinematic artist Dziga Vertov wrote a manifesto detailing his own means of creating ‘a man more perfect than Adam’:
I create thousands of different people in accordance with preliminary blueprints and diagrams of different kinds … From one person I take the hands, the strongest and most dexterous; from another I take the legs, the swiftest and most shapely; from the third, the most beautiful and expressive head – and through montage I create a new, perfect man.
Vertov’s new man was an abstraction: a product of visionary montage. But under Stalin’s dictatorship, which lasted from 1922 until his death in 1953, the ‘new man’ became flesh and blood. He even had a name: Alexei Stakhanov, a miner who in 1935 supposedly mined 227 tonnes of coal in a six-hour shift, more than doubling his own earlier record. That name became synonymous with both a movement (of ‘Stakhanovite’ workers who exceeded their established production and work quotas by massive margins, generally by factors of 10 and higher), and a personality type (Stakhanovite: ‘An exceptionally hard-working or zealous person’). Stalin himself supposedly rarely slept and is often pictured bent over his desk.
In 1940, the grande dame of Soviet cinema Lyubov Orlova starred in the musical Shining Path. Her character was a Soviet Cinderella who rises from domestic service to become a record-breaking Stakhanovite weaver. In an especially climactic scene, a factory full of mechanically surging looms sets the rhythm for her triumphant anthem to the new Soviet person:
Comrade, don’t lose heart
Be confident and make your own story
Labour is our honour, our honour and our glory
Stalinism marked the height of the ‘new man’-mania, but it was also the beginning of the end of the idea. The state propaganda around Stakhanov and other worker-heroes was meant to put a valiant face on the human cost of the second Five-Year Plan (1933-37), which set a ferocious pace for industrialisation. It is hardly a coincidence that the Stalinist purges began in 1935, the year when Stakhanov broke the national and then his own mining record. During the years to come, some of the more well-known Stakhanovites denounced managers, facilitating the spread of the purges in which more than a million were imprisoned and hundreds of thousands killed. The opposite of a Stakhanovite at the time was a ‘wrecker’, a designation that practically guaranteed imprisonment and often execution or deportation to the gulag during the height of the purges. Even in Shining Path, in the scene that follows her inspiring one-woman record weaving shift, Orlova’s character delights – along with her fellow weavers – at the news that the factory manager has been ‘fired’ and replaced by the engineer.
If the ‘new man’ wanted to stay in the party’s good graces, he had to denounce the very father who had birthed him
The ‘new man’ was becoming a ‘yes man’, hardly a courageous and visionary figure. And it did not stop there. In 1956, at the 20th party congress of the Soviet Union, Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced the deceased dictator in a ‘secret speech’ that did not stay secret for very long. ‘[W]e are concerned with a question which has immense importance for the Party now and for the future,’ he told those gathered – namely, ‘how the cult of the person of Stalin … became at a certain specific stage the source of a whole series of exceedingly serious and grave perversions of Party principles, of Party democracy, of revolutionary legality.’
The subtext of Khrushchev’s speech was that, if the ‘new man’ wanted to stay in the good graces of the party, he had to reverse all his earlier beliefs and pieties, denouncing the very father who had birthed him. This is precisely what the ‘new man’ did, participating duly and enthusiastically in the purge of the purger: melting down Stalin statues, renaming streets and squares named after Stalin, and rehabilitating his former targets. Meanwhile, as Khrushchev shifted the emphasis of the Soviet economy from heavy industry to consumer goods, the Stakhanovites went from being model producers to ‘model consumers’.
By the 1970s, the ‘new man’ appeared to have become the ironic reversal of everything he had once been. The sociologist and writer Alexander Zinoviev popularised a name for the ‘new man’ 2.0: Homo sovieticus, or ‘Homosos’ for short. Zinoviev wrote Homo Sovieticus (1982), describing his love-hate relationship with the combined idealism and subservience of the new ‘new man’:
I myself am a Homosos. Therefore I am merciless and cruel when I describe him. Judge us, because you yourselves will be judged by us.
The Homosos was conscientious in carrying out the minimum of what was expected of him, cynical about power and money, and knew how to pilfer his way to a bearable existence. He was, in short, ‘an extreme reactionary marching in the van of extreme progress. How can this be? For the Homosos, nothing is impossible.’ The Polish philosopher and historian Leszek Kołakowski wrote in 1978 of this ‘new Soviet man’ that he was an ‘ideological schizophrenic, a liar who believed what he was saying, a man capable of incessant, voluntary acts of intellectual self-mutilation’.
The personal trajectory of Zinoviev is also revealing of the ‘new man’s’ dilemma. Having spent many years in exile in Munich, writing books and doing radio broadcasts critical of Soviet communism (as well as of the West), Zinoviev later turned his efforts to defending Soviet communism – including Stalin – and blaming the West for its demise. In 1999, he returned to Russia, where he remained until his death in 2006. One of his last political causes was a spirited and outspoken defence of the Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, charged with war crimes and sent to the international tribunal at The Hague in 2002. Zinoviev formed the Russian National Committee to Defend Slobodan Milošević, which described the tribunal as ‘a lynch law’.
Zinoviev’s defence of Milošević is revealing for another reason: Milošević was arguably one of the few authoritarians to cross over from the old form of visionary and transformative dictatorship to the new authoritarianism. His trajectory is one of the most agonising examples of what happened to the idea of the ‘new man’ at the turn of the previous century. It’s even possible to pinpoint one of the precise moments when the old type yielded to the new: a speech Milošević delivered in 1987 at Kosovo Polje, on the anniversary of an epic battle that took place there in 1389. Most of the speech was about socialism and a standard defence of a multi-national Yugoslav idea, solidarity among the Yugoslav peoples, calling for ‘heroic’ behaviour, and for a progressive, new and better world.
The future was about strength through vanity: a giant presidential palace, opulent inauguration ceremonies dripping with gold
But at one point that day, Milošević said something to which the crowd reacted with genuine enthusiasm rather than polite applause. It was a phrase that moved the tone in an altogether different direction, and Milošević along with it. A group of Serbs who had tried to reach Milošević and were pushed back by police with nightsticks began chanting: ‘They’re beating us!’ Milošević, who was not on the high podium from which he delivered the speech, but standing amid the crowd said: ‘No one is allowed to beat you!’ This statement straddled two meanings – one regarding the concrete situation with the police, another a general declaration of defence of the nation – and was the bridge from the old utopian authoritarianism to the new.
Thereafter, Milošević’s speeches came to be increasingly focused on the matter of national sovereignty and defence, a favourite topic of the new authoritarians, and fixated on the idea – borrowed from Soviet rhetoric – that the West, meaning mostly the United States and ever more so Europe, was the real problem, an oppressor engaged in a conspiracy to undermine and destroy the nation. The speech was also one of the last in which Milošević spoke of a ‘new, better future’. In a speech he gave on 24 December 1996, the Serbian leader declared that ‘a powerful Serbia is not wanted by many forces beyond our country, which is why they are joining forces with a fifth column here that seeks to weaken [Serbia]. Of course we won’t allow this.’
Milošević made it clear that the new authoritarianism was no longer going to be oriented toward the future and the creation of a ‘new man’, but toward the past: past glories, defeats, and ‘lessons’ of history. The future would be about defending against enemies of ‘national sovereignty’, and demonstrating strength through vanity projects of the leader: a giant presidential palace (Erdoğan), a soccer stadium (Orbán), opulent inauguration ceremonies dripping with gold and livery (Putin), and military parades on an unprecedented scale (Putin again).
Although history is their element, the new authoritarians are not historians. The strongmen of the previous century tended to both read and write history themselves: Stalin with the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks):Short Course (1938), Hitler with Mein Kampf (1925), Atatürk with Nutuk (1927) and the alignment of his chosen birthday with the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence, Mao’s Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1964), also known as the ‘Little Red Book’. Today’s authoritarians, by contrast, are not ideological and will even ignore entire scenes from the historic nationalist playbook (anti-Semitism, territorial revisionism, longstanding national rivalries) at will. As Kołakowski wrote in Modernity on Endless Trial (1990), constructing an ideologised cult of personality is nearly impossible in the wake of all the 20th-century foment around ‘totalitarianism’:
There is much less willingness to offer unconditional support to existing ideologies, and more inclination to keep a distance from political matters, with a consequent tendency to withdraw into more secure and specialised areas. As a result, we probably now have fewer influential lunatics and swindlers, but also fewer intellectual teachers.
In lieu of ideology, the new authoritarian offers the paradox of state-sanctioned dissent. To the predominant liberalism he sees in the EU, he counter-poses illiberalism. ‘The Hungarian nation is not a simple sum of individuals,’ said the one-time anti-communist dissident, now Hungarian prime minister Orbán, in a 2014 speech, ‘but a community that needs to be organised, strengthened and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.’ This rhetoric is less about inspiring the polity to great achievements than it is about explaining who has prevented the people from achieving great things. ‘A confidence problem exists on the part of the people of the region who desire democratic rule in principle, but remain suspicious of both the fashion with which democratisation is presented and the purposes of the democratic world,’ said Erdoğan in a 2003 speech.
The new authoritarian does not pretend to make you better, only to make you feel better about not wanting to change
The new authoritarians are thus a product of the epic flame-out of the ideological cult of the ‘new man’, paired with the success of Cold War dissidents. From the Hungarian dissident György Konrád’s book Antipolitics (1982): ‘A society does not become politically conscious when it shares some political philosophy, but rather when it refuses to be fooled by any of them.’ In yet another ironic twist, the anti-political dissident starts to resemble the Homo sovieticus. In Homo Sovieticus – published the same year as Antipolitics – Zinoviev wrote: ‘And here’s yet another mystery for you: what I’m saying here doesn’t express my convictions. And, what is more, it’s only an apparent mystery: I haven’t got any convictions.’ The Homososes, he declared, were at once ‘born administrators, critics of the regime and secret service agents’. Perhaps this opposite-in-one combination of yes-man and dissident is why Zinoviev described Putin’s Russia as a ‘hybrid’ and a ‘hare with horns’.
Zinoviev hated Putin viscerally, but the Homosos was already possessed by some of the non-convictions, ideological skepticism and sense of grievance that made him easy prey to the new authoritarian. An entropic stasis emerged: the father stopped expecting anything beyond lukewarm love from the child, and the child stopped expecting anything beyond lukewarm love from the father.
The new authoritarian does not pretend to make you better, only to make you feel better about not wanting to change. In this respect, he has tapped a gusher in the Zeitgeist that reaches well beyond the domain of state socialism, an attitude that the writer Marilynne Robinson disparages as ‘nonfailure’, and that the writer Walter Mosley elevates to a virtue: ‘We need to raise our imperfections to a political platform that says: “My flaws need attention too.” This is what I call the “untopia”.’ Welcome to the not-so-brave new world.
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is associate professor of history at Brown University and the author of Between States: The Transylvanian Question and the European Idea during the Second World War (2009).