One of the happy developments in human history is that, by and large, we’re no longer ruled by madmen.
Midway through the last century, most of the world’s people were governed by tyrannical despots who were dangerously unhinged from reality, from Hitler to Mao to Stalin.
It used to be a fairly normal state of affairs for heads of state to keep their power even when certifiably bonkers, or at least defiantly neurotic.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, who helped topple Europe into the First World War, was hardly the sort of guy you’d want holding the reins of one of the world’s biggest economies — not to mention one of the world’s biggest armies.
Fortunately, the last few decades have seen the rapid spread of true democracies.
And even countries like China and Russia have evolved toward more complex, participatory forms of government.
These days, to find a sociopath like Mussolini or a crackpot adventurer like Napolean in any role of real power you have to dig right down to the bottom of the national barrel.
Countries like Iran and North Korea — and to a lesser extent, Cuba, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe — still suffer under the rein of megalomaniacs. But you can do the math.
With the exception of Venezuela’s oil and Iran’s dabbling in regional terrorism, these states are bit players on the global stage.
The wrinkle, as we are reminded today, is that some of these nutters are scrambling to perfect nuclear weapons technology, and perhaps even armaments sophisticated enough to target the US.
In any other country, Kim Jong Eun would be a goofball nerd, acting out his sad fantasies on a Nintendo console. But in North Korea, he’s just triggered a powerful atomic bomb.
And in any other part of the world, Iran’s fundamentalist clerics would be fringe theologians churning out apocalyptic visions to small congregations and muttering their sad, misogynistic social views.
Yet Tehran moves ever closer to perfecting nuclear-weapons technology.
Some pessimists are convinced that nuclear proliferation is inevitable and that these weapons will eventually be used, either by rogue states or by the equally mentally ill fanatics who lead many terrorist organizations.
I’m not so sure. I wonder if we’re not experiencing the last growing pains of a world transitioning to a different and better and more peaceful way of governing our affairs.
From the Arab spring to the tense stand-off on the Korean Peninsula, these might one day be seen as sort of mopping-up developments, the last death throes of a horribly outdated form of government.
Still, it’s clear that vigilance and care are very much needed in the short term.
Kim Jong Eun will never field an army like that of Germany in the 1940s, and I suspect that within a couple of decades his sad prison state will have crumbled.
But for now, these throwbacks to another, darker age could still do a lot of terrible harm.