A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual, the dictator. It has three possible meanings:

  1. A Roman dictator was the incumbent of a political office 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

In the 20th century and early 21st century hereditary dictatorship remained a relatively common phenomenon.

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

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 life) 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 argue that such concentration of power can be legitimate or not depending on the circumstances, objectives and methods employed.[1]



Disparate authoritarian political leaders in various official positions assumed, formally or not, similar titles suggesting the power to speak for the nation itself.

In the 1930s and 1940s and some of the 1950s

Such titles used by heads of state and/or government during the Second World War include:

  • Führer ("leader" or "guide") Adolf Hitler, from 1933 to 1945 dictator of Germany (formally '"Führer and Reich Chancellor").
  • Duce (from Latin dux meaning "guide") Benito Mussolini, from 1925 to 1943 dictator of Italy (formally "Head of Government".)
  • El Caudillo de España ("the Chieftain of Spain") Generalíssimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, Jefe de Estado (Chief of State) and "Chief of Government" (Prime Minister). He adopted this title for himself and came to power after winning the Spanish civil war. During World War II he maintained the neutrality of Spain. In fact the titles of Franco and Salazar (in Portugal) were used officially and rather than personally (cf: "mein führer" or "mio duce" my fuhrer and my duce). It is alleged that it was often used as a protocolary title; preceded with By the Grace of God it would indicate that the Spanish People had been luckily spared from the Soviet invasion.
  • Vodca ("Leader") monsignor Jozef Tiso, from 1942 self-styled, in Slovakia, President 1939–1945 (acting to 26 October 1939).
  • Naczelnik Państwa (Chief of State) Józef Piłsudski, dictator of Poland from 1926–1935.
  • Vožd' (Russian for "Leader" or "Chief" in reference to Stalin being the Chief or a guide to the working class) – referred to Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union.
  • There was a Serbian Nationalist precedent, the style Vozhd in the uprising against the Ottomans, meaning Chief (from 26 December 1808, Supreme Chief 14 February 1804 – 3 October 1813 George Karađorđe Petrović, 1762–1817).
  • Poglavnik Nezavisne Države Hrvatske ("Chief of the Independent State of Croatia") Ante Pavelić, in power in Croatia 10 April 1941 – 6 May 1945.
  • Vidkun Quisling, Fører ("leader", "guide"), Minister-president of the Nazi puppet government in Norway, and after Reichskommissar Josef Terboven the highest official in occupied Norway, reporting directly to Adolf Hitler.
  • Conducător ("leader"), a title used by Ion Antonescu and Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.
  • Leider ("leader"), a title used by Anton Mussert, the leader of Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (National Socialist Movement) in the Netherlands. Though styled "leader" under the German occupation, he was not a real dictator as he had little actual power. In fact Arthur Seyss-Inquart was in charge of the Netherlands on behalf of the Nazi regime.
  • Nemzetvezető ("leader of the nation"), a title used by Ferenc Szálasi, the chief of the Nyilaskeresztes Párt (Arrow Cross Party) who succeeded Miklós Horthy in Hungary.
  • Arhigos ("chief" or "leader"), a title used by General Ioannis Metaxas of Greece's 4th of August Regime.
  • Adipati ("chief of state" or "generalissimo"), the title used by Ba Maw of the Japanese satellite State of Burma
  • Udhëheqësi [i partisë dhe i popullit], The Guide [of the party and of the people], the most common title used by Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha.
  • Or even simply President as did for example, Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, from 1930 to 1945 as well as the generals during the 1964–1985 regime.

Other 'leaders' of contemporary political groups who never achieved power:

In areas occupied by the Axis powers, some states or ethnic-cultural communities aspiring to national self-determination found they were not handed real power by their victorious German allies as they had hoped. Their nationalist leaders, too weak to gain control independently, were simply used as pawns.

Such Nazi collaborators include De Leider "leader" Staf De Clercq of the VNV (Flemish National League) in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking northern majority of Belgium), who had dreamed of a 'Diets' nation uniting Flanders, the Netherlands and Frans-Vlaanderen (the French part of historic Flanders, united with Belgium into one military occupation zone and Reichskommissariat). Even when the Germans decided in December 1944, after the allied breakthrough, to carve up Belgium, leaving only bicultural capital Brussels under the Reichskommissar, the post of Landsleider van het Vlaamsche Volk ('Land leader of the Flemish people') of the new Reichsgau (integral 'Germanic' part of the Reich, in this case merely on paper) (Flandern, Vlaanderen in Dutch; capital Anwerp) went to another collaborating party, Devlag, in the person of Jef Van de Wiele (1902–1979), 15 December 1944–1945, in exile in Germany as the Allied controlled all Belgium since September 1944; meanwhile in the Francophone south of Belgium, partially reconquered by German troops (December 1944 – January 1945), the equivalent post of Chef du Peuple Wallon ('Leader of the Walloon People'), at the head of the Reichsgau Wallonien, went to Léon Degrelle (in exile in Germany) of the Belgicist Rex Party.

Postwar era and the Cold War

In the postwar era, dictatorship became a frequent feature of military government, especially in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. In the case of many African or Asian former colonies, after achieving their independence in the postwar wave of decolonization, presidential regimes were gradually transformed into personal dictatorships. These regimes often proved unstable, with the personalization of power in the hands of the dictator and his associates, making the political system uncertain.

During the Cold War, the United States and the USSR managed to expand or maintain their influence zones by financing paramilitary and political groups and encouraging coups d'état, especially in Africa, that have led many countries to brutal civil wars and consequent manifestations of authoritarianism. In Latin America the threat of either communism or capitalism was often used as justification for dictatorship.

Individual cases

  • In Belarus, the President Alexander Lukashenko violated human rights during his rule over the country, as well as arrested opposition members. Belarus has been called “the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe” by the former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.[3]

See also

Democracy Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 2010. Countries marked in dark colors are authoritarian, and most often dictatorships. Most of current dictatorships are in Africa and Asia.

Further reading

  • Friedrich, Carl J.; Brzezinski, Zbigniew K. (1965). Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (2nd ed. ed.). Praeger. 
  • Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce; Alastair Smith, Randolph M. Siverson and James D. Morrow (2003). The Logic of Political Survival. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-63315-9. 


  1. ^ [1], Plinio Correa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution,(York, PA: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), pp. 20-23.
  2. ^ Fay,Peter W. The Forgotten Army: India's Armed Struggle for Independence, 1942–1945, University of Michigan Press, 1993, ISBN 0-472-08342-2 / ISBN 81-7167-356-2
  3. ^ Rice: Russia's future linked to democracy, CNN, 20 April 2005

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