Today Vladimir Putin, the autocrat who controls Russia with extremely little opposition or checks and balances, did what authoritarians like him do.
In Putin's twisted psyche, he has the right to unilaterally declare that four regions of eastern Ukraine now are part of Russia, following sham referendums in those regions where soldiers knocked on doors and demanded that people vote yes or no on joining Russia.
Not surprisingly, the fake voting produced strong majorities in favor of becoming part of Russia. Now Putin can claim that if Ukraine attacks those regions, as it certainly will keep on doing, that's an attack on Russia.
So nuclear weapons could be used to defend the fictitious motherland.
That's crazy. But few people in Russia will call out Putin's craziness, because he holds virtually all of the power in his country, having smashed dissent and a free press.
On the whole, I prefer religious authoritarians who preach their own brand of craziness, because they don't control nuclear weapons or command armies. At least, I hope they don't. If Iran or ISIS were to get a nuclear weapon, I'd be deeply worried at religious zealots being able to carry out their destructive fantasies.
The appeal of autocrats is perplexing.
Many gurus, for example, attract throngs of disciples who want to be told how to behave and what to believe. I guess not thinking for yourself is easier than being spiritually independent. I fell partly into this trap when I was a member of a guru-centered religious organization for 35 years.
However, I retained a healthy amount of skepticism even as I outwardly complied with various rules. And almost certainly a large proportion of the Russian population is skeptical about Putin's ability to rule their country.
Problem is, autocrats -- whether political or religious -- appeal to the darker side of human nature. They put forward a vision where following their dictatorial orders will lead to great rewards, material or spiritual. Reportedly Putin's speech was autocratic in both regards, political and religious.
I can only hope that autocrats have a steadily diminishing fan base.
Yes, it can be easier to follow an authoritarian than to chart your own course in life. But I've never regretted leaving behind the religious autocracy of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, led as it is by a guru whose utterances are viewed as divine commands.
One day, perhaps in the far future, Russia will become a democracy. I'm less confident that autocratic religious organizations will do the same, but it's certainly possible.