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Elevating the Unworthy? – Part I: Communist Leaders by Lili Zemplényi

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Elevating the Unworthy? – Part I: Communist Leaders

The Ceaușescu Palace (also known as the Spring Palace), which was the main residency of the Ceaușescu family and a symbol of their oppressive as well as exploitative rule, was equipped with a swimming pool, a solarium, a sauna, a cinema, and a garden with peacocks on a built area of 3,000 sqm. The walls of the palace are covered with golden and silk wallpaper and mirrors made of Murano glass.[1] In 1989, The New York Times reported that Ceaușescu is likely to have $470 million on various Swiss bank accounts – at the same time the Romanian Government’s deposits in Swiss accounts totalled only $70 million.[2] The family had a habit of filling up important government positions with their relatives, while the power-hungry Elena Ceaușescu, was also known for her love of furs and jewels. 

From his late teenage years, Ceaușescu was in and out of prison for spreading communist propaganda, which was illegal at the time

All this personal wealth was accumulated while the country was broken and impoverished by the attempt to repay its sovereign debt. Food was rationed, access to electricity and heating was limited, the country was at the brink of starvation.[3] While the country was suffering, the Ceaușescu family enjoyed incredible personal comfort, which was not justified by their personal attainments and skills nor with their levels of education. Ceaușescu himself came from a very poor family, and he received only a few of years of formal education. He studied only until the age of 11 at his local village when he ran away from home from his alcoholic father. Subsequently, he lived with his sister and worked as a shoemaker. From his late teenage years, he was in and out of prison for spreading communist propaganda, which was illegal at the time. It is widely believed that his wife, Elena could barely read and write, and she was even thrown out of a class (for adults) for cheating on her exams.[4]

While the Ceaușescu family suffered from a general lack of education, the Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong, dismissed personal hygiene. Decades after the dictator’s death, his former personal physician described Mao’s personal conditions. According to the doctor’s testimony, Mao never brushed his teeth – once when he was asked why he responded with the question, ‘Does a tiger brush his teeth?’. When he was interviewed by a female reporter, he reached into his pants to pick a louse off his body. He despised taking a bath, his personal philosophy was, as he said, ‘I wash myself in the bodies of my women’ (he is believed to have deflowered around 1,000 women).[5] He was a man of not only disgusting habits, but also murderous intent. Nevertheless, even during the Great Famine (1958–61), when approximately 30 million people starved to death in China, Mao continued to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. His favourite fish was flown to him from Wuhan to the capital; these fishes were kept alive in water tanks with oxygen being administered to them on a journey of 600 miles to ensure that his dish is fresh.[6]While his “subjects” were often crowded into small apartments, generations living together, he himself had exclusive access to 50 different luxury mansions – never without lady servants serving for his personal entertainment. Such a personal wealth and access to all sources of pleasures – for a person who declared that ‘the more books you read, the more stupid you become’.

As the state gets omnipresent and invasive, it is inevitable that the ‘worst will get on top’

Poorly educated people with disgusting habits, yet still the wealthiest in the societies that suffered under and because of their rule – how can the most unworthy be elevated to such positions of power under state socialism or communism? According to the Austrian economist F.A. Hayek, it is inevitable that regimes such as state-socialism elevates the unworthy into positions of power. He believed that as the state gets omnipresent and invasive, it is inevitable that the ‘worst will get on top.’ (He adresses this question in chapter 10, ‘Why the Worst Get on Top’, of his famous book, The Road to Serfdom.)[7] As the state becomes all powerful on the expense of the individual citizens’ freedom and liberty, the ones on top are morally corrupted by power. As the lust for power creates a downward moral spiral, only those can be elevated to high positions who use power ever more ruthlessly to get to the top.[8]Therefore, having the “worst” in positions of power is not by chance – it is a systematic and inevitable failure of state-socialism.

The idea of elevating the oppressed (that is, in traditional Marxist thought, members of the working class like Mao and Ceaușescu who both came from economically deprived families working in the agriculture) may sound compassionate; however, when choosing leaders, it is more important to have them selected based on merit, skill and competence rather than based on their position in the oppression hierarchy. 


Lili Zemplényi is a graduate of University College London (UCL). Currently, she is completing her MA at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Previously, she worked as an intern at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Political Science.


[1] Irina Marica, ’How much is late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s private palace worth?’, Romania Insider, (2016), https://www.romania-insider.com/romanian-dictator-nicolae-ceusescu-palace-worth, accessed 06.07.2022.

[2] Clyde Haberman, ’Upheaval in the East: Hidden Wealth; Disclosures of the Ceausescus’ Riches Appall Many Threadbare Rumanians’, New York Times, (1989), https://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/27/world/upheaval-east-hidden-wealth-disclosures-ceausescus-riches-appall-many-threadbare.html, accessed 06.07.2022.

[3] Dan Peleschuk, ’Romania’s lying, thieving, widely hated first lady’, Ozy, (2019), https://www.ozy.com/true-and-stories/romanias-lying-thieving-widely-hated-first-lady/240666/, accessed 06.07.2022.

[4] Unknown, ’Elena Ceausescu’, Academic Kidshttps://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Elena_Ceausescu, accessed 06.07.2022.

[5]  A. C. Grimes, ’The disgusting truth about Mao Zedong’s personal hygiene’, Grunge, (2020), https://www.grunge.com/60925/infamous-dictators-history-fooled-people/, accessed 06.07.2022.

[6] Jung Chang, ‘Was Mao a Maoist? His lifestyle wasn’t exactly revolutionary.’, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/opinions/outlook/whats-in-a-name/mao.html, accessed 06.07.2022. 

[7] F.A. Hayek, ’Why the Worst Get on Top’, Foundation for Economic Education, (published online in 2015), https://fee.org/resources/the-road-to-serfdom-chapter-10-why-the-worst-get-on-top/, accessed 06.07.2022.

[8] Unknown, ‘Why the Worst Get On Top’, Mises Daily Articles, (1999), https://mises.org/library/worst-top, accessed 06.07.2022.

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