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As reported in The Economist this week:
Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for a second term as Venezuela’s president. He then gave a speech which lasted nearly four hours.

Four hours!

Fidel Castro was also known to go on for many hours in televised speeches.

Visit any less-than-free country in Africa, the Middle East, or Asia and you'll find that television and radio are dominated by one or two government-run channels which broadcast hour after hour of presidential speeches, lectures from government officials, government proceedings, official ceremony, etc.

Why do dictators and autocrats give such long speeches? Is it that the kind of person who becomes a dictator must by definition be an egotistical megalomaniac who loves his own ideas and words? Or could it be that dictators feel just a twinge of illegitimacy which bothers them and are desperate to convince the citizens of their legitimacy through endless explanation?

Or maybe ALL politicians everywhere love to talk and are eager to share their vision of a better world, only that politicians in a democracy are constrained by voters who won't endure endless speeches. Maybe dictators are the only politicians who are at liberty to talk so much (and can enforce a captive audience).

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    In a democracy, there are long speeches and ceremony, but they are not broadcast all that much. – o.m. Jan 22 at 5:40
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    That's what they are called and that's bwhat they do: dictate! – user1721135 Jan 22 at 8:13
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    There probably isn't a scientifically analyzed reason, but my guess would be, that the kind of person that becomes a dictator also tends to be the kind of person that likes to hear himself talk – Morfildur Jan 22 at 9:46
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    @o.m In democracies they are still broadcast, but people are allowed to ignore those broadcasts. – Caleth Jan 22 at 10:13
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    I would dispute the validity of this question. Other than two examples of what some may call dictatorships and others call democracy or something between, you don't demonstrate that Dictators on average speak longer or more often that other types of leaders. – Joe Jan 22 at 17:49
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It is assumed that dictators are evil. And as evil, how could they have any education, savvy, charisma, astuteness or intelligence. This assumption is a mistake. Although Maduro did drop out of high school, he did receive intensive post secondary education in Cuba. Most of the leaders that may be included in this category, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, etc. did have post secondary education in various accredited universities.

Let us not discount the individual's personal presence and charisma. Their history almost always shows the ability to sway people with their speeches, their street smarts and presence put them on the path to leadership.

I thought it was important to discuss their background not to justify these people. The reason is to illustrate that their speeches are deliberate, even down to the length of time, the emotion shown and the hitting of the podium with the fist. They are rehearsed, edited, criticized and polished.

What you are seeing with the long speeches in general is populism, the talent to play to the audience. You do not give the same speech you would give in a symposium in Yale that you would give to the uneducated poor. The effect of a posh speech to a group like that will turn them against you (see Brutus' speech at the funeral to Julius Ceasar)

To answer why they are so long, because they need to be.

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If a dictator does something that mildly offends or annoys the citizens, nothing happens. Because to replace a dictator is a big undertaking.

If a democratically elected representative does something that mildly offends or annoys voters, someone will tell the representative to cut it out. And if the representative makes a habit of it, the voters will replace the representative in a democratic election. Because democratic elections are a regular undertaking, this tends to remove the really bad ones.

Short of a rebellion or coup, dictators are only subject to their own judgment. There is no one to tell them that they are talking too long and should cut it short. A democratically elected representative has to recruit good campaign staff, who will act to curb the worst abuses. They don't have to listen to their campaign staff, but if they don't, the campaign staff leaves. If enough campaign staff leaves, they are likely to lose their election.

Also, democratically elected representatives have to get elected the first time. If they are in the habit of talking too long, they will have trouble getting supporters and they'll never win that first election. Political parties will tend not to pick such people for that reason. They will concentrate on picking people who already practice reasonably good communication skills.

Dictators tend to come to power based on interpersonal relationships. They convinced important individuals to support them. Those individuals then convinced others. In that context, talking too long may work. It's possible to wear out the other person, as the dictator is physically there. The other person can't simply leave anonymously or turn off the television. Agreement is the only way to end the conversation. But that doesn't scale to democratic elections, where there may be millions of voters.

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Do we have a reliable statistic that provides an empirical observation of the kind "dictators tend to hold longer speeches than democratically elected politicians; median seems to be 2.341 hours for dictators but only 1.582 hours for elected politicians"?

After all, finding an explanation for a thing 'that's not the case' is usually moot.

And here: The premise might be a bit flawed:

enter image description here Source: The American Presidency Project / Graphic: Jiachuan Wu / NBC News FEB 5 2019, 10:38 PM ET

Are there correlations tied to one of the speakers being perceived as more 'autocratic'/'authoritarian' (perceived tendencies!)?

Or is 'date of speech' a better explanation for these?

And the longest speech in such a context:

1) India’s former finance minister V.K. Krishna Menon’s speech in 1957 explaining India’s position on Kashmir for over seven hours is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest speech delivered at the United Nations (UN).
(2) The second longest speech at an international forum is again at the UN and was delivered by Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1960. It lasted four hours and 29 minutes. Castro bettered his own record in 1986 when he spoke for seven hours in Cuba.

That gives two outliers for speech length, the nominally democratic one being longer than the one by a dictatorial speaker?

Foreign Policy investigated this question and presented a summary of theories:

In 2009, after Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi’s 96-minute speech before the United Nations, the BBC investigated this very question. The article notes that marathon speeches by democratic leaders — such as one Indian politician’s eight-hour Kashmir lecture in 1957 — are rare, and that applause (out of either genuine passion or fear for one’s life) often accounts for a substantial portion of history’s longest speeches. The BBC even highlights an amusing example from Russia’s own Stalin, who received a standing ovation that took up a whole side of a vinyl recording of one of his speeches. But another historian argues that long speeches haven’t always been the sole preserve of dictatorships:

"Now [a long speech] is seen as a sign of political weakness, for example Neil Kinnock or Gordon Brown when he uses too many words and too much jargon.

"But earlier generations, ending with Harold Macmillan, had a taste for very long speeches which demonstrated their learning. We have now less patience with people who show their authority by speaking at great length."

One could certainly devote an academic paper to the nuanced relationship between democracy and speech length, but perhaps a simpler explanation exists. As Robert Service, a professor of Russian Studies at Oxford University told the BBC, "You are only ever going to get long speeches when the speaker doesn’t have to worry about the audience running away."

Any other theories?

Update: A number of readers have weighed in on the question of why authoritarian leaders tend to talk for so long. Below are a few of the more interesting suggestions:

"only their opinion matters?" – Facebook user Charles Ursenbach
"Dictatorships also have fewer things competing for viewers’ attention, as the ‘running away’ joke denotes. While the State of the Union is going on, I can switch to a lot of other things, or even watch something in the DVR." – Commenter Pdubble
"It’s probably the most democratic thing Putin does. People call in, ask him questions, some easy to answer, others not so much." – Facebook user Pavel Shmelov
"Because brevity is the soul of wit – and they are, by and large, witless." – Facebook user Julian De Wette.
"Filibusters come to mind, and the[n] immediately the relationship between democracy and speech length mentioned above." – Commenter Zhangir K S

To the "any other theories", I'd add that it seems to be dependent on individual constitution.

Kim Jong-Un seems to be a moderate on that scale: Kim Jong Un's 2019 New Year Address. Only 5515 words in English translation, clocking in at an estimated 43 minutes.

William Henry Harrison had his inaugural address measured at 8445 words, giving an estimated 65 minutes. (All inaugural addresses here, summary: it varies a lot).

Now, thinking dictator, a moustache pops up in everyone's mind.

Speech at 15. Oktober 1933: Bei der Grundsteinlegung zum Haus der Deutschen Kunst in München. 815 words, estimated at 7 minutes.

His explanation for attacking the Soviet Union: 3430 words, estimated at 27 minutes.

A speech on art in front of the party at Nuremberg rally, where he really had all the time and only fans in front of him: 6373 words, estimated 49 minutes.

This man alone could cut it short or ramble on. What is the pattern? Is there one for this single orator alone?

Before anybody jumps in with "yeah, but only communists are evil, what about communist speech length?" –– Look at Lenin and find me a really long speech.

Dig through the archives for Castro's speeches. Then explain why for example his speech at Mass Rally Held Santiago De Cuba 1959–12–01 should be counted as 'dictatorially typically long', as it's only 473 words long?

Let's stop here and remind us of the effect of figure–ground (perception) as applied to news bits and anecdotal statistics from the top of a head.
Let's instead ask "where's the beef"?

Are dictators really long winded speakers on average or on median speech length? Compared to other orators? Systematically enough to even establish a significant correlation?

Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, liked to speak on "The State of the City. Well, as mayor he had to? But did he really have to do that for 8 hours? Just because he is such a dictator?

This answer maintains that it's needed to establish "it is like that" before starting to explain "why"!

After looking around quite a bit, I didn't find any one such statistic. But quite a lot of counterexamples.


This is intended to be a frame-challenge, or in different words an answer that attempts to put the question from head to its feet.

Coming straight from the question as asked: It seems to be just the other way around: the premise needs a more solid base to convince anyone on a factual angle, not just from impressions based on watching news and remembering some isolated records, like Castro, and then jumping to generalisation from there.

Above I just list examples that show "no fit". If that reduces your conviction on "valid premise", the first step is taken.

Someone needs to provide a convincing statistic that establishes baseline. A baseline on dictators speaking longer on average compared to western democratic leaders?

Otherwise the real question to be answered would be "why do we have the impression of 'dictators being talkative in speeches'"? –– Or: "What are pros and cons for anyone giving a long speech?"

In light of the conflicting information provided above, that would dispute the base claim, the answer here seems to be that Trump or Newsom are reported with the attributes "president" or "mayor", if not just by names only. While foreign leaders with such a bad standing to current leadership in ones own country are labelled "dictator", consequently, and as such this framing and connection of two concepts "dictator" and "long speech" re-inforce a cognitive bias that now begs for explanation, even if reality would not warrant such an investigation.

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    This answer does not really convince me that the premise is flawed. It uses a very specific sample set as a baseline (state-of-the-union speeches by US presidents) and then compares it to several outliers of specific speeches which set records, some of which could be considered by dictators and some of people who are usually not. – Philipp Jun 4 at 14:37
  • @Philipp It's intended to be the other way around: the premise needs a more solid base to convince anyone on a factual angle, not just impressions based on watching news and remembering some isolated records, like Castro, and jumping to generalisation from there. I just list examples that show "no fit". If that reduces your conviction on "valid premise", the first step is taken. – LаngLаngС Jun 5 at 11:20
  • Then how many steps are we still away from turning this answer into an actual answer to the question that was asked? – Philipp Jun 5 at 11:21
  • @Philipp As this is a frame-challenge, I guess at least two. OP, or someone, needs to provide a convincing statistic that establishes baseline. Then I'll delete or update. Otherwise the real question to be answered would be 'why do we have the impression of dictators being talkative in speeches'? – LаngLаngС Jun 5 at 11:24
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In the countries of the modern developed world, speeches tend to be far shorter than was once the case. For example Gladstone's budget speech of 1853 went on for over four hours. This was perfectly normal at the time. This length of speech was not uncommon in the nineteenth century. Lincoln's Gettysburg address was a notable exception.

As countries have modernised, much has changed. We now live in urban societies, where almost everything is informed by a need for succinctness and efficiency. Long speeches belong to an older society where time pressures were far less than they are today.

My guess is that the long speeches of dictators to which you refer, perhaps have more to do with those countries being pre-urban and more old-fashioned in their approach to public speaking, than to the system of government which prevails.

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Your premise is flawed: Not dictators but democratic representatives give the longest speeches.

The longest filibuster in the USA Senate is a speech of over 24 hours.

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    filibusters are not in the same vein as populist speeches given before an audience. Filibusters can be about any subject and what is important is not the content but their length. Not sure that is relevant. However, there is a false assumption in the question that dictator = long speeches. Politicians of all stripes give the speeches with the length that they think the audience expect. Good example was the heckling the Gettysburgh address got immediately after. The audience was disappointed by how short it was according to the newspapers – Frank Cedeno Jan 23 at 12:57
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    This doesn't answer the question. OP is asking for something more general than "who gave the longest speech". – indigochild Jan 23 at 18:12
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    Agree with @indigochild. Suppose someone asks, "Why do Portuguese words tend to be longer than their English counterparts?" The question is not invalidated by the fact that "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is an English word longer than any Portuguese word. Because (1) that example is synthetic, (2) that's a rare and special case, not a general trend, and (3) that example was constructed for the express purpose of being long. – SlowMagic Jan 25 at 14:56
  • @SlowMagic You did exactly the same in your question. Q.E.D. – Sjoerd Jan 25 at 23:43

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