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The term dictator, in the modern sense, has come to have be a vaguely-defined, connotatively negative word which usually carries overtones of totalitarianism or authoritarianism (which define a dictatorship). It is frequently associated with brutality and oppression. Sometimes it is called misrule.

Table of contents
1 The Roman Dictator
2 The Dictator in Modern Times
3 Types of Dictatorships
4 The Benevolent Dictator?
5 See also
6 Current dictators
7 Historical dictators: a brief selection

The Roman Dictator

In the system of Roman Republic the Roman dictator described a person that assumed temporally responsibility for the state, esp. during the war. It used to be 6 months.

The same meaning in Poland, was used in modern times, especially during frequent rebellions. One person was usually taking full responsibility for the authorities. In some cases, the person was titled dictator:

The Dictator in Modern Times

Many dictators wear elaborate
military uniforms with many decorations. Pictured here is 'Field Marshal' Idi Amin Dada of Uganda

In modern times, the term "dictator" is generally used to describe a leader who holds an extraordinary amount of personal power. It is comparable to (but not synonymous with) the ancient definition of a tyrant (autocrat). As a result, diverse classes of people are described as dictators, from lawfully installed government ministers like Antonio Salazar and Engelbert Dollfuss, to unofficial military strongmen like Manuel Noriega to stratocrats like Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet.

In the modern definition, "dictatorship" is associated with brutality and oppression, most notoriously in the cases of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong, who are known to be responsible for the deaths of millions. As a result, it is often used as a term of abuse for political oppponents; Henry Clay's dominance of the U.S. Congress as Speaker of the House and as a member of the U.S. Senate led to his nickname "the Dictator".

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 honors for themselves. For example, Idi Amin Dada, who had been an 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 Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular". Cf. the self-appointment as "Dictator-for-Life and Ruler Supreme of G.R.O.S.S." of one of the title characters in Bill Watterson's comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. In The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin satirized not only Hitler but the institution of dictatorship itself.

The association between the dictator and the military is a very 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 natural; Franco was a lieutenant general in the Spanish Army before he became Chief of State of the Spanish State, and Noriega was officially commander of the Panamanian Defense Forces. In other cases, this is mere pretense; Stalin appointed himself "Generalissimo of the Soviet Union" despite having no real military background.

Types of Dictatorships

Most dictators are installed by coup d'état or by revolution. In many cases, this is the result of a weak government in poor or otherwise unstable countries; in such circumstances it is quite easy for an organized military cadre to seize control. This almost stereotypical scenario is popularly known as a military dictatorship. Not all dictators are installed through such illegal means, however; Salazar and Dollfuss were economics professors who were lawfully appointed Portuguese prime minister and Austrian chancellor, respectively. One of the most famous dictators of all, Hitler, was lawfully appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg, by whom Hitler had been democratically defeated in the presidential elections.

One of the greatest weaknesses of dictatorships like those of Salazar, Dollfuss, and Franco is that they rely considerably on the personal leadership of the dictator rather than on ideology or a clear set of constitutional rules. In addition, the dictator may be unwilling to name a clear successor, or when a successor is named, the dictator may be unwilling to allow the successor to develop his own power base. The result is that the dictator's death often creates a bitter scramble for power.

The prominent "one party state" dictatorship attempts to correct this weakness by concentrating power in the hands of a more or less ideologically homogeneous political party, usually to the extent that other parties are simply outlawed. The most famous monopolistic parties of this type are the National-Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party in Germany), the Union of Combat (Fascist Party in Italy), and the Communist Party in a large number of countries. In communist theory, there may be a dictatorship with a collective leadership rather than a single dictator, but it must be made clear that this has never occured. (see dictatorship of the proletariat)

Other dictators create a family dictatorship, in which one of their family members (usually a son) assumes leadership of the nation upon the reigning dictator's death. Examples of this include Oliver Cromwell and Robert Cromwell in England, Chiang Kai-Shek and Chiang Ching-kuo in Taiwan, and Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in North Korea.

These types of dictatorships rarely last longer than two generations. Often the dictator's heir is inexperienced in governance, and is quickly deposed by rival factions that had been supresssed under the previous regime.

In some cases, such as that of King Juan Carlos of Spain and Chiang Ching-kuo in Taiwan, the successor of the dictator may make a move away from dictatorship by instituting democratic reforms.

The most difficult dictatorship to classify is the so-called "royal dictatorship". In such cases, the king or queen (or emperor, &c.) acts directly on his or her own behalf in a fashion more or less comparable to the modern conception of a dictator, but it is difficult to see how this differs from the doctrine of monarchical absolutism. One of the most prominent examples of an absolutist monarchy in the modern world is Saudi Arabia, whose king possesses exclusive executive, judicial, and legislative power, and acts as his own prime minister. An older example of a "royal dictator" is Napoléon I, the Emperor of France.

Many dictators are surprisingly conscious of their public images, and take great pains to portray themselves as capable, heroic, and benevolent. In many cases, this is manifested by enthusiastic use of propaganda and very often by the establishment of a quasi-idolatrous personality cult or "cult of the leader" centered around the greatness and wisdom of the dictator. Fascist Italy provided the quintessential example of this with the famous phrase recited by schoolchildren, "Mussolini is always right". In some cases, this sort of narcissism writ large can seem grotesque and even ludicrous to foreign observers, e.g., the abundance of statues and images of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and of Kim Il-sung in North Korea.

The Benevolent Dictator?

The "benevolent dictator" is a more modern version of the classical "enlightened despot", being an undemocratic 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 Franco, Pinochet, Kemal Atatürk, Anwar Sadat and Fidel Castro have been characterized by their supporters as benevolent dictators, but in all these cases it depends largely on one's point of view as to just how "benevolent" they were or are. Needless to say, most dictators' regimes unfailingly portray themselves as benevolent, and often tend to regard democratic regimes as messy, inefficient, and corrupt.

See also

Current dictators

Historical dictators: a brief selection