For the ancient Roman title, see Roman dictator.

A dictator is a ruler (e.g. absolutist or autocratic) who assumes sole and absolute power (sometimes, but not always, with military control or bribes) but without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch.[1] When other states call the head of state of a particular state a dictator, that state is called a dictatorship. The word originated as the title of a magistrate in ancient Rome appointed by the Senate to rule the republic in times of emergency (see Roman dictator and justitium).[2]

Like the term "tyrant" (which was originally a respectable Ancient Greek title), and to a lesser degree "autocrat", "dictator" came to be used almost exclusively as a non-titular term for oppressive, even abusive rule, yet had rare modern titular uses.[citation needed]

In modern usage, the term "dictator" is generally used to describe a leader who holds and/or abuses an extraordinary amount of personal power, especially the power to make laws without effective restraint by a legislative assembly[citation needed]. Dictatorships are often characterized by some of the following traits: suspension of elections and of civil liberties; proclamation of a state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents without abiding by rule of law procedures; these include single-party state, and cult of personality.[citation needed]

The term "dictator" is comparable to, but not synonymous with, the ancient concept of a tyrant; initially "tyrant", like "dictator", did not carry negative connotations. A wide variety of leaders coming to power in a number of different kinds of regimes, such as military juntas, single-party states and civilian governments under personal rule, have been described as dictators. They may hold left or right-wing views, or can even be apolitical. Some examples of leaders widely viewed as dictators include Ali Khamenei, Alexander Lukashenko, Hosni Mubarak, Idi Amin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Nicolae Ceaușescu, Francisco Franco, Muammar Gaddafi, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong-il, Ferdinand Marcos, Robert Mugabe, Manuel Noriega, Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, António de Oliveira Salazar, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Omar Al-Bashir, Meles Zenawi, Suharto, Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.


Roman origin

In the Roman Republic the term "Dictator" did not have the negative meaning it has later assumed. Rather, a Dictator was a person given sole power (unlike the normal Roman republican practice, where rule was divided between two equal Consuls) for a specific limited period, in order to deal with an emergency. At the end of his term, the Dictator was supposed to hand power over to the normal Consular rule and give account of his actions - and Roman Dictators usually did.

The term started to get its modern negative meaning with Julius Caesar making himself a Dictator without a set limit to his term, and keeping the title until his assassination.

Garibaldi as a positive dictator

Still, even in the 19th Century, the term "Dictator" did not always have negative connotations. For example, the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi, during his famous Expedition of the Thousand in 1860, proclaimed himself "Dictator of Sicily", which did not prevent him from being extremely popular in Italian and international public opinion. His usage of the term was clearly derived from the original Roman sense - i.e., a person taking power for a limited time in order to deal with an emergency (in this case, the need to unite Italy) and with the task done Garibaldi handed over power to the government of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.

Garibaldi's case was, however, an exception. In general, the term "dictator" came to be a negative term, not a title used by rulers to call themselves but a term used by the foes of an oppressive ruler. Such was the case with Maximillien Robespierre, whose supporters knew him as "The Incorruptible", while his opponents called him "dictateur sanguinaire", French for "bloodthirsty dictator".

Modern era

In popular usage in western nations, "dictatorship" is often associated with brutality and oppression. As a result, it is often also used as a term of abuse for political opponents, for example, Henry Clay's dominance in United States Congress—first as Speaker of the House and later as a member of the Senate—led to his nickname, "the Dictator."[citation needed] The term has also come to be associated with megalomania. Many dictators create a cult of personality and have come to favor increasingly grandiloquent titles and honours for themselves. For instance, Idi Amin Dada, who had been a British army lieutenant prior to Uganda's independence from Britain in October 1962, subsequently styled himself as "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor[A] Idi Amin Dada, VC,[B] DSO, MC, Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular".[3] In the movie "The Great Dictator" (1940), Charlie Chaplin satirized not only Adolf Hitler but the institution of dictatorship itself.

The association between the dictator and the military is a common one; many dictators take great pains to emphasize their connections with the military and often wear military uniforms. In some cases, this is perfectly legitimate; Francisco Franco was a lieutenant general in the Spanish Army before he became Chief of State of Spain; Manuel Noriega was officially commander of the Panamanian Defense Forces. In other cases, the association is mere pretense.

Modern use in formal titles

Because of the negative associations, modern leaders very rarely (if ever) use the term in their formal titles. In the 19th century, however, official use was more common.

Dictator (plain)

  • Italy
    • In the former doge-state Venice, and while it was a republic resisting annexation by either the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia or the Austrian empire, a former Chief Executive (president, 23 March 1848 – 5 July 1848), Daniele Manin (b. 1804 - d. 1857), was styled Dictator 11–13 August 1848 before joining the 13 August 1848 - 7 March 1849 Triumvirate.[citation needed]
  • Philippines
    • Emilio Aguinaldo, the last President of the Supreme Government Council 23 March 1897 - 16 December 1897 and chairman of the Revolutionary Government from 23 June to 1 November 1897, was dictator from 12 June 1898 - 23 January.[4]
  • Poland
    • Józef Chlopicki was styled Dictator from 5 December 1830 - December 1830 and again in December 1830 - 25 January 1831
    • Jan Tyssowski was Dictator from 24 February 1846 - 2 March 1846.
    • Ludwik Mierosławski was Dictator from 22 January 1863 - 10 March 1863
    • Marian Langiewicz was Dictator from 10 March 1863 - 19 March 1863
    • An Executive Dictatorial Commission of three members existed from 19 March 1863 - 20 March 1863
    • Romuald Traugutt was Dictator from 17 October 1863 - 10 April 1864
  • Russia during the Civil War

Benevolent dictators

The benevolent dictator is a more modern version of the classical “enlightened despot”, being an absolute ruler who exercises his or her political power for the benefit of the people rather than exclusively for his or her own benefit. Like many political classifications, this term suffers from its inherent subjectivity. Such leaders as Napoleon Bonaparte, Anwar Sadat, Alfredo Stroessner, Kenneth Kaunda, Józef Piłsudski, Miklós Horthy, Deng Xiaoping, Omar Torrijos, Park Chung-hee, Sukarno, and Gamal Abdel Nasser have been characterized by their supporters as benevolent dictators. In Spanish, the word dictablanda is sometimes used for a dictatorship conserving some of the liberties and mechanisms of democracy. (The pun is that, in Spanish, dictadura is “dictatorship”, dura is “hard” and blanda is “soft”). Some examples include Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito or Spain under Francisco Franco. This contrasts with democradura (literally “hard democracy”), characterized by full formal democracy alongside limitations on constitutional freedoms and human rights abuses, frequently within the context of a civil conflict or the existence of an insurgency. Governments in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela have at various times been considered such régimes by different critics and opposition groups, not necessarily with an academic or political consensus about the application of the term emerging.

Dictators in game theory

In social choice theory, the notion of a dictator is formally defined as a person who can achieve any feasible social outcome he/she wishes. The formal definition yields an interesting distinction between two different types of dictators.

  • The strong dictator has, for any social goal he/she has in mind (e.g. raise taxes, having someone killed, etc.), a definite way of achieving that goal. This can be seen as having explicit absolute power, like Sulla.
  • The weak dictator has, for any social goal he/she has in mind, and for any political scenario, a course of action that would bring about the desired goal. For the weak dictator, it is usually not enough to "give their orders", rather he/she has to manipulate the political scene appropriately. This means that the weak dictator might actually be lurking in the shadows, working within a political setup that seems to be non-dictatorial. An example of such a figure is Lorenzo the Magnificent, who controlled Renaissance Florence.

Note that these definitions disregard some alleged dictators, e.g. Benito Mussolini, who are not interested in the actual achieving of social goals, as much as in propaganda and controlling public opinion. Monarchs and military dictators are also excluded from these definitions, because their rule relies on the consent of other political powers (the barons or the army).

See also



  1. ^ "dictator - Definitions from Dictionary.com". reference.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dictator. Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  2. ^ "dictator - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". www.merriam-webster.com. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dictator. Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  3. ^ Keatley, Patrick (18 August 2003). "Obituary: Idi Amin". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2003/aug/18/guardianobituaries. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  4. ^ Philippine Legislature:100 Years, Cesar Pobre
  5. ^ "Idi Amin: a byword for brutality". News24. 2003-07-21. http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/News/0,,2-11-1447_1390595,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-02. 
  6. ^ Lloyd, Lorna (2007) p.239

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • DICTATOR — summus Magistratus, apud rom. A Consulibus, periclitante Rep. nominatus. Primus F. Lartius Flavus Consul, A. C. 256. qui seditionem sedaverat: Adiunxit sibi Spurium Cassium, Equitum Magistrum, qui iussa exsequeretur. Dignitas semestris tantum,… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • dictator — DICTATÓR, dictatori, s.m. 1. (În Roma antică) Conducător al armatei cu puteri politice nelimitate, ales de senat, în vreme de război, de răscoale etc., pe o perioadă de şase luni. 2. Conducător de stat care dispune de puteri politice nelimitate.… …   Dicționar Român

  • dictator — late 14c., from L. dictator, agent noun from dictare (see DICTATE (Cf. dictate) (v.)). Transf. sense of one who has absolute power or authority in any sphere is from c.1600. In Latin use, a dictator was a judge in the Roman republic temporarily… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Dictator — Dic*ta tor, n. [L.] 1. One who dictates; one who prescribes rules and maxims authoritatively for the direction of others. Locke. [1913 Webster] 2. One invested with absolute authority; especially, a magistrate created in times of exigence and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Dictator — bezeichnet: das Amt des römischen Diktators einen Mörser des Amerikanischen Bürgerkrieges, siehe Dictator (Geschütz) Diese Seite ist eine Begriffsklärung zur Unterscheidung mehrerer mit demselben Wort bezeichneter Begriff …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Dictātor — (röm. Ant.), 1) D. latīnus, der Vorstand des Latinischen Bundes nach der Zerstörung von Alba Longa, dessen König vorher die Bundesangelegenheiten geleitet hatte; ungewiß ist, ob der D. von Alba Longa immer das Bundeshaupt war, od. ob er mit den D …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • dictator — [dik′tāt΄ər, dik tāt′ər] n. [ME dictatour < L dictator: see DICTATE] 1. in ancient Rome, a magistrate with supreme authority, appointed in times of emergency 2. a ruler with absolute power and authority, esp. one who exercises it tyrannically… …   English World dictionary

  • Dictator — Dictator, in der alten röm. Republik ein von dem Senate, später von den Consuln nach erfolgter Bevollmächtigung durch die Volksversammlung ernanntes Oberhaupt des Staates mit unbeschränkter monarchischer Gewalt, Unverantwortlichkeit, aber mit… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • dictator — noun absolute leader, absolute ruler, autarch, autocrat, autocratic master, despot, despotic commander, despotic master, dictatorial mogul, disciplinarian, imperious commandant, inquisitor, martinet, oppressive taskmaster, oppressor, repressive… …   Law dictionary

  • Dictator — Dictator,   römisches Amt, Diktator …   Universal-Lexikon

  • dictator — [n] absolute ruler absolutist, adviser, authoritarian, autocrat, boss, chief, commander, despot, disciplinarian, fascist, Hitler*, leader, magnate, mogul, oligarch, oppressor, ringleader, slavedriver, totalitarian, tycoon, tyrant, usurper;… …   New thesaurus

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