World’s Strangest

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Who Embodied Evil Before Hitler?

My daughter is studying governments and needed some examples of dictators. A Google search led her to say, “Boy, everybody hates Hitler!” I gave her more examples, but they were all from the past 100 years. Before World War II, did any one person serve as a metaphor for oppression, cruelty, and all-around evil? Slate tackles the question.

The Pharoah. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, many Americans and Europeans had a firmer grasp of the bible than of the history of genocidal dictators. Orators in search of a universal symbol for evil typically turned to figures like Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, or, most frequently, the Pharaoh of Exodus, who chose to endure 10 plagues rather than let the Hebrew people go. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote: “No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April, 1775 [the date of the Lexington massacre], but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England for ever.” In the run-up to the Civil War, abolitionists regularly referred to slaveholders as modern-day Pharaohs. Even after VE Day, Pharaoh continued to pop up in the speeches of social reformers like Martin Luther King Jr.

But he wasn’t the only example, just the most commonly used. Link -via Breakfast Links


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