dictatorship

dictatorship

[dik-tey-ter-ship, dik-tey-]

Form of government in which one person or an oligarchy possesses absolute power without effective constitutional checks. With constitutional democracy, it is one of the two chief forms of government in use today. Modern dictators usually use force or fraud to gain power and then keep it through intimidation, terror, suppression of civil liberties, and control of the mass media. In 20th-century Latin America, nationalist leaders often achieved power through the military and attempted either to maintain the privileged elite or to institute far-reaching social reform, depending on their class sympathies. In Europe's communist and fascist dictatorships, a charismatic leader of a mass party used an official ideology to maintain his regime, and terror and propaganda to suppress opposition. In postcolonial Africa and Asia, dictators have often retained power by establishing one-party rule after a military takeover.

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A dictatorship is usually defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by a dictator. It has two possible meanings:

  • Roman dictator was 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 BCE, and later dictators such as Sulla and the Roman Emperors exercised power much more personally and arbitrarily.
  • 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, dictatorship is a form of government that has the power to govern without consent of those being governed, 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) corresponds to liberalism (government emphasizes individual right and liberty). Though the definitions of the terms differ, they are related in reality as most of the dictatorship states tend to show totalitarian characteristics. When governments' power does not come from the people, their power is not limited and tend to expand their scope of power to control every aspect of people's life.

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/her associates, making the political system uncertain.

It's often alleged that the rise of these dictatorships were substantially influenced by the Cold War dynamic. Both 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.

List of dictators in modern times

This is an incomplete list of dictators in modern times.

Dictatorships in fiction

In fiction, dictatorship has sometimes been portrayed as the political system of choice for controlling dystopian societies, such as in:

See also

Further reading

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