Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)


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Dictatorship is a form of government where a country or a group of countries is ruled by one person or political entity, and exercised through various mechanisms to ensure that the entity's power remains strong.


A dictatorship is a type of authoritarianism, in which politicians regulate nearly every aspect of the public and private behavior of citizens. Dictatorship and totalitarianism societies generally employ political propaganda to decrease the influence of proponents of alternative governing systems.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, traditional monarchies gradually declined and disappeared. Dictatorship and constitutional democracy emerged as the world's two major forms of government.


Between the two world wars, four types of dictatorships have been described: constitutional, communist (nominally championing "dictatorship of the proletariat"), counterrevolutionary, and fascist, and many have questioned the distinctions among these prototypes. Since World War II a broader range of dictatorships have been recognized including Third World dictatorships, theocratic or religious dictatorships and dynastic or family-based dictatorships.

Roman Empire

In the Roman Empire, a Roman dictator was the incumbent of a political office of legislate of the Roman Republic. Roman dictators were allocated absolute power during times of emergency. Their power was originally neither arbitrary nor unaccountable, being subject to law and requiring retrospective justification. There were no such dictatorships after the beginning of the 2nd century BC, and later dictators such as Sulla and the Roman Emperors exercised power much more personally and arbitrarily.

19th-century Latin America caudillo

After the collapse of Spanish colonial rule, various dictators came to power in many liberated countries. Often leading a private army, these Caudillo or self-appointed political-military leaders, attacked weak national governments once they control a regional political and economic powers, with examples such as Antonio López de Santa Anna in Mexico and Juan Manuel de Rosas in Argentina. Such dictators have been also referred to as "personalismo".

The wave of military dictatorships in Latin America in the second half of the twentieth century left a particular mark on Latin American culture. In Latin American literature, the dictator novel challenging dictatorship and caudillismo is a significant genre. There are also many films depicting Latin American military dictatorships.

Communism and fascism in the 20th-century dictatorships

In the first half of the 20th century, Stalinist and fascist dictatorship regimes appeared in a variety of scientifically and technologically advanced countries, which are distinct from the dictatorship in Latin America and the post-colonial dictatorships in Africa and Asia. Leading examples of modern totalitarian dictatorship include:

  • Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, Benito Mussolini's Italy, and other fascist dictatorships;
  • Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, and other Stalinist and Soviet-style communist dictatorships that appeared after World War II in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, China and other countries.
  • Dictatorships of Africa and Asia after World War II

    After World War II, dictators established themselves in the several new states of Africa and Asia, often at the expense or failure of the constitutions inherited from the colonial powers. These constitutions often failed to work without a strong middle class or work against the preexisting autocratic rule. Some elected presidents and prime ministers captured power by suppressing the opposition and installing one-party rule, and some established military dictatorships through army. Whatever their form, these dictatorships had an adverse impact on economic growth and the quality of political institutions. Dictators who stayed in office for a long time period found it increasingly difficult to carry out sound economic policies.

    The often-cited exploitative dictator is the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Zaire from 1965 to 1997, embezzling over $5 billion from his country.


    The global dynamics of democratization has been a central question for political scientists. The Third Wave Democracy was said to turn some dictatorships into democracies. (see also the contrast between the two figures of the Democracy-Dictatorship Index in 1988 and 2008).

    Measuring dictatorships

    The conceptual and methodological differences in the political science literature exist with regards to measuring and classifying regimes into dictatorships and/or democracies, with prominent examples such as Freedom House, Polity IV and Democracy-Dictatorship Index, and their validity and reliability being discussed.

    Roughly two research approaches exist: (1) the minimalist approach focuses on whether a country has continued elections that are competitive, and (2) the substantive approach expands the concept of democracy to include human rights, freedom of the press, the rule of law, etc. The DD index is seen as an example of the minimalist approach, whereas the Polity data series, relatively more substantive.


    The most general term is despotism, a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. That entity may be an individual, as in an autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy. Despotism can mean tyranny (dominance through threat of punishment and violence), or absolutism; or dictatorship (a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator, not restricted by a constitution, laws or opposition, etc.). Dictatorship may take the form of authoritarianism or totalitarianism.

    Dictatorship is 'a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator or a small clique' or 'a government organization or group in which absolute power is so concentrated', whereas democracy, with which the concept of dictatorship is often compared, is defined by most people as a form of government where those who govern are selected through contested elections. Authoritarian dictatorships are those where there is little political mobilization and "a small group exercises power within formally ill-defined limits but actually quite predictable ones". Totalitarian dictatorships involve a "single party led by a single powerful individual with a powerful secret police and a highly developed ideology." Here, the government has "total control of mass communications and social and economic organizations". Hannah Arendt labelled totalitarianism a new and extreme form of dictatorship involving "atomized, isolated individuals" in which ideology plays a leading role in defining how the entire society should be organized. Juan Linz argues that the distinction between an authoritarian regime and a totalitarian one is that while an authoritarian one seeks to suffocate politics and political mobilization (depoliticization), a totalitarian one seeks to control politics and political mobilization.


    Dictatorships may be classified in a number of ways, such as:

  • Military dictatorship
  • "arbitrator" and "ruler" types may be distinguished; arbitrator regimes are professional, civilian-oriented, willing to give up power once problems have been resolved, and support the existing social order; "ruler" types view civilians as incompetent and have no intention of returning power to them, are politically organized, and have a coherent ideology
  • Civil-military dictatorship
  • An example is the Civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay (1973–85)
  • One-party state
  • "weak" and "strong" versions may be distinguished; in weak one-party states, "at least one other actor eclipses the role of the party (like a single individual, the military, or the president)." Joseph Stalin era in Soviet Union and Mao Zedong era in China can be given as example.
  • Personalist
  • Hybrid
  • Some combination of the types above.
  • Origins of power

  • Family dictatorship - inheriting power through family ties
  • Military dictatorship - through military force or coup d'etat. In Latin America, military dictatorships were often ruled by committees known as military juntas.
  • Constitutional dictatorship - dictatorial powers provided for by constitutional means (often as a provision in case of emergency)
  • Self-coup - by suspending existing democratic mechanisms after attaining office by constitutional means.
  • Stable dictatorship

    A stable dictatorship is a dictatorship that is able to remain in power for long periods. The stable dictatorship theory concerning the Soviet Union held that after the succession crisis following Joseph Stalin's death, the victorious leader assumed the status of a Stalinist dictator without Stalin's terror apparatus. Chile and Paraguay were considered to be stable dictatorships in the 1970s. It has been argued that stable dictatorships behave differently than unstable dictatorships. For instance, Maria Brouwer opines that "expansionary policies can fail and undermine the authority of the leader. Stable dictators, would therefore, be inclined to refrain from military aggression. This applies to imperial China, Byzantium and Japan, which refrained from expanding their empire at some point in time. Emerging dictators, by contrast, want to win the people’s support by promising them riches from appropriating domestic or foreign wealth. They have not much to lose from failure, whereas success could elevate them to positions of wealth and power."

    Emergence out of anomy

    Mancur Olson suggests that the emergence of dictatorships can be linked to the concept of “roving bandits”, individuals in an atomic system that move from place to place extracting wealth from individuals. These bandits provide a disincentive for investment and production. Olson states that a community of individuals would be better served if that bandit were to establish himself as a stationary bandit in order to monopolize theft in the form of taxes. Thus, a potential dictator will have greater incentive in providing security for a given community from which he is extracting from and conversely, the people from whom he extracts are more likely to produce because they will be unconcerned with potential theft by other bandits.


    Dictatorship Wikipedia