Imperial Russia Only Had One Czar Because It Was a Centralized Autocracy

For a couple of months now, conservatives have been launching nonsensical attacks on the Obama administration for having too many “czars” and darkly warning of incipient dictatorship. In fact, “czar” is not an official position in the government, and the president can’t do anything about the fact that people in the media may or may not refer to a given executive branch official as a “czar.” Now the nonsense really hits the big-time with a dishonest and absurd Washington Post op-ed that, sad to say, fits in the best tradition of that section of the paper. For example, Cantor writes that “Vesting such broad authority in the hands of people not subjected to Senate confirmation and congressional oversight poses a grave threat to our system of checks and balances.”

Now, Cantor is a practical politician. Lying about his political enemies when he can get away with it is what he does. In theory, the Post has editors to prevent their pages from being used as a vehicle for such lies. In practice, the Post seems to feel that its op-ed pages should be used to mislead people. Thus, though my colleague Amanda Terkel was able to verify that many of these alleged “czars” have, in fact, been confirmed by the Senate nobody on the staff of the Post was able to do so.

Meanwhile, as a basic point of logic what’s with this complaint:

At last count, there were at least 32 active czars that we knew of, meaning the current administration has more czars than Imperial Russia.


The thing about Imperial Russia is that as a centralized autocracy it only had one czar. Having multiple people in positions of authority makes a political system less, rather than more, autocratic. Consider, “under Hitler, Germany had only one Fuhrer, but in the contemporary United States there are dozens of important political leaders.” Do you find that idea alarming? Are we worse than the Nazis? Of course not.