The Dictator reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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The term dictator, in the modern sense, is a vaguely-defined, connotatively negative word used to describe a totalitarian or authoritarian, or merely autocratic ruler of a country, and the leader of a dictatorship.

The term 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 Current rulers described as dictators
6 Historical dictators: a brief selection
7 See also
8 External links

The Roman dictator

In the system of Roman Republic, a dictator was a person temporarily granted significant power over the state during times of war. The office was held for only 6 months. The ideal model was Cincinnatus, who according to legend, was plowing when called to dictatorship, saved Rome from invasion, and who afterwards returned to his labour, renouncing every honor and power. See Roman dictator and compare with imperator.

The same meaning in Poland, was used in modern times, especially during frequent rebellions. One person was usually bestowed with significant responsibility and authority. In some cases, the person was titled dictator:

The dictator in modern times

Dictators come from different social classes, including highly decorated career soldiers like Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada of UgandaEnlarge

Dictators come from different social classes, including highly decorated career soldiers like 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 concept of a tyrant, although initially "tyrant," like "dictator," was not a negative term. A wide variety of people have been described as dictators, from lawfully installed government ministers like António de Oliveira 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 were 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 United States 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 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 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; Francisco Franco was a lieutenant general in the Spanish Army before he became Chief of State of Spain, 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 a 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 infamous dictators of all, Hitler, was lawfully appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg, who had defeated Hitler in presidential elections. As chancellor, Hitler took advantage of public disturbances and Hindenburg's mental incapacity to obtain an enabling act giving him the power to rule by decree. Even when democratically installed, dictators rarely hold subsequent elections, or they hold rigged elections that they or people loyal to them are guaranteed to win.

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 were 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, the ideal ultimate result is a dictatorship with a collective leadership rather than a single dictator, called dictatorship of the proletariat. In truth, this concept is actually closer to the idea of pure (non-representative) democracy. However, in reality no such state has even been created. On occasion Communist dictatorships maintained a formal multi-party system, as in Communist Poland and East Germany.

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. The difference between this form of dictatorship and a monarchy is sometimes just a matter of semantics. Examples of this include Oliver Cromwell and Richard Cromwell in England, Chiang Kai-Shek and Chiang Ching-kuo in Taiwan, and Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in North Korea. Napoleon Bonaparte even assumed the title of emperor with the intention of forming a Bonaparte dynasty.

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 suppressed 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 Bonaparte, initially First Consul, then Emperor of France. However, the term "dictator" is perhaps inappropriate. On the one hand, Napoléon's regime was authoritarian per today's standards. On the other hand, Bonaparte was less autocratic and authoritarian than many of the then European monarchs of the same era, or the Bourbon absolute kings that ruled France before the French Revolution. One difference is that Bonaparte seized power, while the other monarchs simply inherited it.

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, "The Duce is always right". In some cases, this sort of narcissism writ large can seem grotesque and even ludicrous to foreign observers, e.g., the former abundance of statues and images of Saddam Hussein in pre-US invasion Iraq, and the current glut of statues 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. In all these cases it depends largely on one's point of view as to just how "benevolent" they were or are.

Most dictators' regimes unfailingly portray themselves as benevolent, and often tend to regard democratic regimes as messy, inefficient, and corrupt.

In Spanish language, 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").

In the context of open-source projects, a "benelovent dictator" is the person that effectively holds dictator-like powers over that project, yet is trusted by other users/developers not to abuse this power. The term is used humorously, because the "subjects" of the project leader contribute voluntarily, and the end-product may be used by everyone. A dictator in this context has power only over the process, and that only for as long as he or she is trusted.

Current rulers described as dictators

Historical dictators: a brief selection

See also

External links