Template:Basic Forms of government

A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic or authoritarian form of government in which a government is ruled by either an individual: a dictator, or an authoritarian party, as in an oligarchy. It has three possible meanings:

  1. 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
  1. A government controlled by one person, or a small group of people. In this form of government the power rests entirely on the person or group of people, and can be obtained by force or by inheritance. The dictator(s) may also take away much of its peoples' freedom.
  2. In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state.

For some scholars, a dictatorship is a form of government that has the power to govern without the consent of those being governed (similar to authoritarianism), while totalitarianism describes a state that regulates nearly every aspect of the public and private behavior of its people. In other words, dictatorship concerns the source of the governing power and totalitarianism concerns the scope of the governing power.

In this sense, dictatorship (government without people's consent) is a contrast to democracy (government whose power comes from people) and totalitarianism (government controls every aspect of people's lives) opposes pluralism (government allows multiple lifestyles and opinions).

Other scholars stress the omnipotence of the State (with its consequent suspension of rights) as the key element of a dictatorship and they argue that such a concentration of power can be legitimate or not depending on the circumstances, objectives and methods employed.[3]


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,[5] 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.).[6] Dictatorship may take the form of authoritarianism or totalitarianism.

Dictatorship is defined by Merriam-Webster[7] as 'a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator or a small clique' or 'a government organisation 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".[8] 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".[9] 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 organised.[10] 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.[11]

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 organised, and have a coherent ideology[12]
  • Single-party state
    • "weak" and "strong" versions may be distinguished; in weak single-party states, "at least one other actor eclipses the role of the party (like a single individual, the military, or the president)."[13] Joseph Stalin era in Soviet Union [14] and Mao Zedong era in China can be given as example.[15]
  • Personalist
  • Hybrid
  • Communism
    • Communism is a political movement whose doctrinal lines, first theorized by Thomas Moore and Tommaso Campanella, and then defined by Karl Marx in his post-Hegelian synthesis, pursue the improvement of the living conditions of the lower classes, propose the abolition of private property, the redistribution of wealth, the creation of a socio-economic system planned in the interests of the people, the provision to every citizen of the resources needed for the satisfaction of his needs, and to this end promote the forced overthrow of the state order, the insurrection, the armed struggle, provided that it is in the name of the egalitarian theory. Unlike socialism, which seeks only the pooling of means of industrial production, the operation of the communist structure needs to be specially delegated to a management class coordinators, acting in the name and on behalf of the sovereign people.

In practice, precisely this mechanism has proved the main obstacle to the realization of the communist design, leading to the creation, wherever tried, of a nomenklatura, ie, a new class of exploiters , who, without having to account for their actions, due to their high moral endowment, led to the creation of authoritarian, militarized and economically inefficient systems, in which citizens have been deprived of political and civil rights, so that the connotation of the coercion is joined in the universal perception of communism. A major, albeit incomplete, historical realization of the communist idea was that the Soviet Union in the period 1917-1989, extended during the Second World War to China and to the countries of Eastern Europe, while in Western Europe it was attempted, without success, the parliamentary way to communism, at the hands of communist parties framed in the national democratic systems, none of which, however, never succeeded in breaking through free elections. These parties, however, have influenced the economic and cultural life of Western Europe, contributing to the creation of full-bodied welfare state apparatus and also giving rise to mass movements such as those of 1968 and onwards, until 1989, when, following the fall of the regime Soviet, they have changed name, taking on new party labels, such as environmentalist, socialist, democratic.

In Italy, the country where the Republican constitution has been largely influenced by the doctrine of the communist movement, together with the Christian Democrats in power after World War II, a mixed form of democratic republic founded on work was established, in which, alongside a liberal state with universal suffrage, there is a parallel state of universalistic inspiration, represented by a class of public employees (so-called institutions) responsible for the protection of citizens, with broad expertise in the field of health, education, welfare, social justice.[16]


The classic and often cited case of a corrupt, exploitative dictator is the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Zaire from 1965 to 1997. Another classic case is the Philippines under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos.[17] He is reputed to have stolen some US$5–10 billion.[18]

More than $400 billion were stolen from the treasury by Nigeria's leaders between 1960 and 1999.[19]

Origins of power

Dictators may attain power in a number of ways.

Impact on culture

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.

See also

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Further reading


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