A dictator is a political leader who possesses absolute power. A state
of which is ruled by a dictator is called a dictatorship. The word
originated as the title of a magistrate in the Roman Republic
appointed by the Senate to rule the republic in times of emergency
Roman dictator and justitium).
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 it had rare modern titular use.
In modern usage, the term "dictator" is generally used to describe a
leader who holds and/or abuses an extraordinary amount of personal
power. Dictatorships are often characterised by some of the following
traits: suspension of elections and civil liberties; proclamation of a
state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents
without abiding by the rule of law procedures; these include one-party
state, and cult of personality.
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, one-party states and civilian governments
under a personal rule, have been described as dictators. They may hold
left or right-wing views, or they may be apolitical.
2 Modern era
3 Modern usage in formal titles
4 Human rights abuses
5 In game theory
6 See also
8 External links
Main article: Roman dictator
Julius Caesar, dictator of Rome.
Originally an emergency legal appointment in the Roman Republic, the
term "Dictator" did not have the negative meaning it has now. A
Dictator was a magistrate given sole power for a limited duration. At
the end of the term, the Dictator's power was returned to normal
Consular rule whereupon a dictator provided accountability, though not
all dictators accepted a return to power sharing.
The term started to get its modern negative meaning with Cornelius
Sulla's ascension to the dictatorship following Sulla's second civil
war, making himself the first
Dictator in more than a century (during
which the office was ostensibly abolished) as well as de facto
eliminating the time limit and need of senatorial acclamation. He
avoided a major constitutional crisis by resigning the office after
about one year, dying a few years later.
Julius Caesar followed
Sulla's example in 49 BC and in February 44 BC was proclaimed Dictator
Dictator in perpetuity", officially doing away with any
limitations on his power, which he kept until his assassination the
Following Julius' assassination, his heir
Augustus was offered the
title of dictator, but he declined it. Later successors also declined
the title of dictator, and usage of the title soon diminished among
Country ratings from Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2017 survey,
concerning the state of world freedom in 2016.
Free (86) Partly Free (59) Not
Democracy Index by the UK based magazine The Economist, 2017.
Countries marked in different shades of red of are considered
undemocratic, with many being dictatorships.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea is Africa's longest
King Salman of Saudi Arabia
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the ICC for war crimes
and crimes against humanity.
As late as the second half of the 19th century, the term dictator had
occasional positive implications. For example, when creating a
provisional executive in
Sicily during the Expedition of the Thousand
Giuseppe Garibaldi officially assumed the title of "Dictator"
Dictatorship of Garibaldi). Shortly afterwards, during the 1863
January Uprising in Poland, "Dictator" was also the official title of
four leaders, the first being Ludwik Mierosławski.
Past that time, however, the term dictator assumed an invariably
negative connotation. In popular usage, a dictatorship is often
associated with brutality and oppression. As a result, it is often
also used as a term of abuse against political opponents. The term has
also come to be associated with megalomania. Many dictators create a
cult of personality around themselves and they have also come to grant
themselves increasingly grandiloquent titles and honours. For
Idi Amin Dada, who had been a British army lieutenant prior
to Uganda's independence from Britain in October 1962, subsequently
styled himself "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al
Idi Amin Dada, VC,[B] DSO, MC, Conqueror of the
British Empire in Africa in General and
Uganda in Particular". In
The Great Dictator
The Great Dictator (1940),
Charlie Chaplin satirized not
Adolf Hitler but the institution of dictatorship itself.
The association between a dictator and the military is a common one;
many dictators take great pains to emphasize their connections with
the military and they 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.
Some dictators have been masters at Crowd manipulation, such as
Mussolini and Hitler. Others were more prosaic speakers, such as
Stalin and Franco. Typically the dictator's people seize control of
all media, censor or destroy the opposition, and give strong doses of
propaganda daily, often built around a Cult of personality.
Modern usage in formal titles
Because of its negative associations, modern leaders very rarely (if
ever) use the term dictator in their formal titles. In the 19th
century, however, its official usage was more common:
Artúr Görgei was styled
Dictator from 11 August – 13 August
1849, during the last days of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.
In the former city-state of 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.
The Dictatorial Government of
Sicily (27 May – 4 November
1860) was a provisional executive government appointed by Giuseppe
Garibaldi to rule Sicily. The government ended when Sicily's
annexation into the Kingdom of
Italy was ratified by plebiscite.
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
president of the "Dictatorial Council" from 12 June 1898 – 23
Józef Chłopicki 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
Ludwik Mierosławski was
Dictator from 22 January 1863 – 10
Marian Langiewicz was
Dictator from 10 March 1863 – 19 March
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
Russia during the Civil War
Dictator of the
Don Republic (which before, since its
founding on 2 December 1917 at Novocherkassk, had been governed by a
Triumvirate including the last pre-Soviet Ataman, Aleksei Maksimovich
Kaledin) from 11 February 1918 till 25 February 1918 when Bolshevik
troops ended their existence
Prince N. Tarkovsky was
Dictator of the Mountainous Republic of the
Human rights abuses
Mao Zedong (left), dictator of China from 1949 to 1976, and Joseph
Stalin, dictator of the
Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953
Under the Soviet leaders
Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, government
policy was enforced by extrajudicial killings, secret police
(originally known as the Cheka) and the notorious
Gulag system of
concentration camps. Most
Gulag inmates were not political prisoners,
although significant numbers of political prisoners could be found in
the camps at any one time. Data collected from Soviet archives gives
the death toll from Gulags at 1,053,829. Other human rights abuses
by the Soviet state included human experimentation, the use of
psychiatry as a political weapon and the denial of freedoms of
religion, assembly, speech and association.
Pol Pot became dictator of
Cambodia in 1975. In all, an estimated 1.7
million people (out of a population of 7 million) died due to the
policies of his four-year dictatorship. As a result,
Pol Pot is
sometimes described as "the Hitler of Cambodia" and "a genocidal
International Criminal Court
International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's
Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes in
In game theory
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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
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 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 nobility or the
List of coups d'état and coup attempts
List of coups d'état and coup attempts
List of coups d'état and coup attempts by country
List of political leaders who held active military ranks in office
List of political leaders who suspended the constitution
List of longest-ruling non-royal national leaders since 1900
Lists of state leaders by year
Maximum Leader (other)
Military rule (other)
Supreme Leader (other)
Benevolent dictator for life
^ Mussolini and his followers consolidated their power through a
series of laws that transformed the nation into a one-party
dictatorship. Within five years, Mussolini had established dictatorial
authority by both legal and extraordinary means and aspired to create
a totalitarian state. Mussolini remained in power until he was deposed
by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1943, but a few months later he became
the leader of the Italian Social Republic, a German client regime in
Italy – Mussolini held this post until his death in
A ^ He conferred a doctorate of law on himself from Makerere
B ^ The Victorious Cross (VC) was a medal made to emulate the
British Victoria Cross.
^ Luisa Quartermaine (2000). Mussolini's Last Republic:
Politics in the
Italian Social Republic
Italian Social Republic (R.S.I.) 1943–45. Intellect
Books. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-902454-08-5.
^ "dictator – Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online
Dictionary". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
^ Papaioannou, Kostadis; vanZanden, Jan Luiten (2015). "The Dictator
Effect: How long years in office affect economic development". Journal
of Institutional Economics. 11 (1).
^ Olson, Mancur (1993). "Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development".
American Political Science Review. 87 (3).
^ Freedom in The World 2017 - Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat
to Global Democracy by Freedom House, January 31, 2017
Democracy Index 2017 - Economist Intelligence Unit" (PDF). EIU.com.
Retrieved 17 February 2018.
^ "The Five Worst Leaders In Africa". Forbes. February 9, 2012.
^ "Call them ‘Dictators’, not ‘Kings’". Dawn. 28 January 2015.
^ "The world's enduring dictators". CBS News. May 16, 2011.
^ Keatley, Patrick (18 August 2003). "Obituary: Idi Amin". The
Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-03-18.
^ Fritz Morstein Marx, et al.
UP, 1936). excerpt
Daniele Manin Facts". Biography. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
^ Philippine Legislature:100 Years, Cesar Pobre
^ Dune, Eduard Martynovich; Koenker, Diane; Smith, S. A. (April 1993).
Notes of a Red Guard. Urbana Illinois, U.S.A.: University of Illinois
Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0252062773.
Gulag Prisoner Population Statistics from 1934 to 1953."
Wasatch.edu. Wasatch, n.d. Web. 16 July 2016: "According to a 1993
study of Soviet archival data, a total of 1,053,829 people died in the
Gulag from 1934 to 1953. However, taking into account that it was
common practice to release prisoners who were either suffering from
incurable diseases or on the point of death, the actual
toll was somewhat higher, amounting to 1,258,537 in 1934-53, or 1.6
million deaths during the whole period from 1929 to 1953.."
^ ""Top 15 Toppled Dictators". Time. 20 October 2011. Retrieved 4
^ William Branigin, Architect of Genocide Was Unrepentant to the End
The Washington Post, April 17, 1998
^ "Sudanese dictator
Omar al-Bashir faces war crimes charges". The
Daily Telegraph. July 14, 2008.
^ "Idi Amin: a byword for brutality". News24. 2003-07-21. Archived
from the original on 2008-06-05. Retrieved 2007-12-02.
^ Lloyd, Lorna (2007) p.239
Bunce & Wolchik, Valerie, Sharon L. (2012). Socialism Vanquished,
Socialism Challenged: Eastern Europe and China, 1989-2009. Oxford
University Press. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
Issac, Jeffrey C. (2000). Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of
1989 and Their Aftermath. Central European University Press. Retrieved
5 March 2013.
Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (2002). Serbia: The History of an Idea. New
York, NY: New York University Press. p. 128.
The dictionary definition of dictator at Wiktionary
Current Dictators of the World