© Zeitgeist Films/Everett/REX
In Martin Cruz Smith’s thriller Havana Bay, a visiting American gets caught in a plot against Fidel Castro, but then discovers the plot was organised by Castro himself. Castro is well aware of the growing discontent with his rule even in the top circle of functionaries around him, so every couple of years he orders a secret agent to organise a plot to overthrow him, in order to root out the disloyal functionaries. Just when the plot is supposed to be enacted, the malcontents are arrested and liquidated. And that’s the first thing I would do to secure my reign if I ruled the world—God himself does it in GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, so I’d be in a good company.
My next measure would be to lower the standard of living of my subjects. Why? Here I will follow the lesson of Ismail Kadare’s short novel The Pyramid, in which the Egyptian Pharaoh Cheops announces that he does not want to build a pyramid like his predecessors. Alarmed by this suggestion, his advisors point out that pyramid-building is crucial to preserving his authority, for it is a way to keep his people poor and distracted and therefore obedient. Cheops recognises the truth of this, and so his advisors examine different options to diminish the citizens’ prosperity: engaging Egypt in war with its neighbours, for instance, or bringing about a natural catastrophe (like disturbing the regular flow of the Nile and thus crippling agriculture). But these options are rejected as too dangerous (Egypt could lose the war, natural catastrophes might lead to uncontrollable chaos). So they return to the idea of building a pyramid so large that its construction will mobilise the resources of the country and sap the energies of its populace, keeping everyone in line. The project puts the country into an emergency state for two decades, with the secret police busy discovering sabotages and organising Stalinist-style arrests, public confessions and executions. I would try to find a similar mission more appropriate for our times, like investing breathtaking sums of money into human expeditions to Mars and other planets.
To finance these extravagant public projects, I would enact laws propagating smoking. Heavy smokers die earlier— just imagine how much less the state would have to spend on retirement and healthcare. Under my rule,…