Provenance: This is from the collection of John Rateliff, better known as Sacnoth. It is a honest-to-gosh rare book, and John's copy is actually a hand-bound copy, photocopied, reassembled, and bound with a sturdy plastic clip. The original may be found in the University of Wisconsin library, and had been checked out all of four times, in 1975, 1976, 1986, and 1990. I'll put money on the idea that the 1990 check-out was by Sacnoth.
Review: In 1933 E. V. Lucas, publisher approached a number of intellectuals in England with the question - what would you do if you were dictator of England? There has been something similar in a series of articles in America run by The Nation, but it's unknown if Lucas knew about it. The results came out in a series of short books in 34 and 35. Most of those who wrote things up were serious scholars in a variety of fields, and took their assignments fairly seriously. Dunsany? Not so much. Maybe.
Mind you, in 1934, Dictator did not have quite the negative connotations that it picked up during the war. (I found that Studebaker had a car called the Dictator at the time, with no push-back). The term Dictator in those days was closer to its initial Roman definition - an individual invested with absolute power to solve a particular immediate problem that would defy group consensus (like war). In cases of emergency, the Senate would take its hands off the wheel and let someone on the scene make the decisions. When the emergency passed, the Dictator would step aside. Not only the Romans did this - the Japanese Shogunate did as well, and the Native American tribes had "war chiefs" whose main province was battle. In the Roman Republic's case, they had 80-some dictators. Sulla, one of the last ones, grabbed power militarily, but even he stepped down after he re-orged the government. Julius, who was his student, decided to hang onto it full-time as dictator in perpetua and Rome moved fully onto its Empire phase.
At the time this volume was written, the best-known dictator was Mussolini. Hitler and his Nazis were recognized as running Germany, but would graduate to full-fledge authoritarian Dictator-hood with the death of Hindenberg late in late1934. Dunsany probably had Mussolini in mind as his model for ultimate authoritarian, since he dubbed himself "The Great Macaroni" in detailing his plans for England.
And his plans? for the most part, pretty pedestrian, and in some cases advanced, all presented with tongue deeply inserted in cheek. Cars involved in fatal accidents should be confiscated and use for more peaceful purposes, Advertisers should be punished for false claims, people adultering products should be horse-whipped. The League of Nations? Briefly touched on as a good thing. But he's got a few things that makes one think he is pulling your leg - Fox-hunting should be permitted, since fox-hunting in inefficient, and without people would find more effective ways of killing foxes. The solution to the English in India is a modest proposal to remove all the English from India, all the Indians from England, and all the Europeans from America, just to keep things fair.
And here's an intriguing one" the solution to unemployment would be to remove all farm-machinery. Removing labor-saving devices would increase the need for labor, and send everyone in cities into the hinterlands to live richer, more fulfilling lives. I think this is meant in jest, but then, Dunsany is the 18th Lord Dunsany, complete with manor house and family lands in Ireland.
Finally, the Great Macaroni has declared that editors should not change the words or meaning of the original author. The Death Penalty, in this case, is reserved for those changing the words of the Great Macaroni. In this, of course, he is being absolutely serious and should be implemented at once.
In general, it feels like Dunsany is treating the brief as a bit of a lark, suitable for a late night comedy show. Indeed, it feels similar to his jibes on religion found in his early works on the Gods of Pegana. But I have to ask how much of are things that Dunsany truly believes, dressed up in amusing terms terms.
Ultimately, Dunsany's If I Were Dictator is an interesting view into the pre-war years, where everyone is sure something bad is about to happen, but are still normalizing authoritarian views as being worth civil discussion. It makes me wonder how our era in turn will be so viewed.