WaPo – Succession plans protect nations. Putin and Xi just threw theirs out.


  • States come and go – they survive when some procedure allows a ruler to make way for another
  • in Russia, Putin’s legacy will be the absence of any credible principle of succession
    • Some Russians speak openly now of Putin as their eternal ruler
    • no one in Russia knows what will happen when he dies
    • Putin has avoided the issue of Russia’s future by making vague references to a mythical pastdefining himself as the heir of a 10th-century ruler of Kiev whom Russians call Vladimir
  • pagan Scandinavian slave trader named Valdemar, teaches a different lesson: Charismatic men can establish states, but only principles of succession can sustain them
    • after two decades and the death of 10 of his brothers did Yaroslav (son of Valdemar) establish himself as his father’s heir. He codified law but identified no principle of succession for his realm
  • German sociologist Max Weber identified two ways charismatic leaders can institutionalize their power in durable states:
    • through custom (as in a monarchy)
    • through law (as in a modern democracy).
  • Xi Jinping and the Chinese parliament forgot the lesson of Asia’s greatest conquerors when they enabled permanent rule by undoing China’s succession principle
    • Chinese have to think in terms of the death of a person rather than the functioning of a system
  • the legacy of communism, whose weakness was precisely the absence of a succession principle, is reasserting itself
    • Lenin, Stalin and Mao took power by claiming to see the future and held it by eliminating rivals whose views they defined as unorthodox
    • Brezhnev held on to power by promising comrades not to kill them and trying himself not to die
    • China seemed to have squared the circle by introducing term limits for its supreme leader … until now
  • Putin proposes the solution to Russia’s current stagnation is to spread the swamp around the world – Europeans should be more like Russians, trading the benefits of the rule of law for empty self-praise and specious claims of eternal victimhood at the hands of outsiders
    • real democracy has to seem impossible in principle, and everywhere
  • Democracy is a procedure that allows citizens a sense of confidence about the stability of their country
  • Without a succession principle, the flaws of individual rulers are magnified by the anxiety of everyone else
  • In democracy, our inescapable errors can be blamed on our elected officials, whom we can criticize and then replace.

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