Uri Friedman: Dictators With Mommy Issues

Roundup: Talking About History

Uri Friedman is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

The Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, who was very close with his mother, once remarked that "people who know that they are preferred or favored by their mother give evidence in their lives of a peculiar self-reliance and an unshakeable optimism which often seem like heroic attributes and bring actual success to their possessors."

Whether you subscribe to Freud's theories or not, it's certainly true that some of the world's most powerful rulers have had fascinating relationships with their mothers -- some surprisingly loving, others ambivalent or just plain bitter. Alexander the Great's power-hungry mother, Olympias, is thought to have been a driving force behind her son's ascension to the throne of Macedonia. Napoleon Bonaparte's mother, Letizia, taught her son discipline ("she sometimes made me go to bed without supper," he once recalled) and followed him to exile in Elba and then back to Paris before the Battle of Waterloo.

Modern-day dictators have had their share of complicated mother-son relationships as well. This Mother's Day, instead of giving your mother a flashy title like "anti-Japanese heroine" (Kim Jong Il's mom) or "Mother of Militants" (Saddam Hussein's mom), you may just want to thank her for not raising a tyrant...

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