An article that complements the review earlier this year of the book How to be a Dictator by Frank Dikotter.
There are countless examples of past and present monstrous regimes in the real world. And they all raise the question of why people didn’t just rise up against their rulers. Some of us are quick to judge those who conform to such regimes as evil psychopaths – or at least morally inferior to ourselves.
But what are the chances that you would be a heroic rebel in such a scenario, refusing to be complicit in maintaining or even enforcing the system?
To answer this question, let’s start by considering a now classic analysis by American organisational theorist James March and Norwegian political scientist Johan Olsen from 2004.
They argued that human behaviour is governed by two complementary, and very different, “logics”. According to the logic of consequence, we choose our actions like a good economist: weighing up the costs and benefits of the alternative options in the light of our personal objectives. This is basically how we get what we want.
But there is also a second logic, the logic of appropriateness. According to this, outcomes, good or bad, are often of secondary importance – we often choose what to do by asking “What is a person like me supposed to do in a situation like this”?