A dictatorship is a form of government where absolute power is held by a single person or a small group of people. In a dictatorship, the person or people in power are not held to account by any form of constitution or other constraints on what they can and can’t do.
Dictators typically come to power by using force, intimidation, and bribery. They similarly hold onto this power, intimidating their citizens and suppressing their freedoms to ensure no one can challenge them. They might also use propaganda and mass brainwashing to maintain public support. This wiki will help you to answer some of the questions you might be asked when teaching about dictatorships to kids.
How is a dictatorship different from a democracy?
In a dictatorship, the dictator or dictators have complete control over their government. It means that whatever they say goes, regardless of what their citizens think. So, a dictatorship is a government controlled by the person or people in charge. It is almost the exact opposite of a democracy.
A democracy is a form of government where the people make the rules. The word democracy comes from the Greek demokratia, which combines demos (‘people’) and kratos (‘rule’). In a democracy, a country’s laws, policies, and leaders are all decided by its citizens, typically through voting. Because of this, countries with democratic governments tend to have a better quality of life, and their people have more freedom.
Where does the term dictatorship come from?
The term ‘dictatorship’ comes from the Latin word dictator, meaning ‘the one who gives orders.’ In Ancient Rome, a dictator was a temporary ruler given new and extraordinary powers to deal with a large and ongoing crisis or military emergency. This position was intended to be quick but was last and most famously held by Julius Caesar, who made himself dictator of Rome in 46 BCE. However, Caesar wasn’t so keen about the ‘temporary’ aspect of the role and held onto his power until he was assassinated two years later.
Caesar’s refusal to give up his power is an example of a common trait in dictators throughout history. Modern dictators have more in common with Ancient Greek tyrants than the original Roman dictators. Tyrants tend to come to power through illegal or unconstitutional means and are cruel and oppressive to their people.
What are some examples of modern dictatorships?
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the rules of kings and queens were starting to be replaced by different forms of government. Generally, these governments were either a democracy or a dictatorship.
In the case of Latin America, many dictatorships formed in the 19th century after the nations there were freed from Spanish rule. Spain had colonized (taken over) most of Latin America hundreds of years before. After they relinquished control, many self-proclaimed leaders took over certain territories with the help of private armies. Similar events occurred across much of Africa after Great Britain, France and Belgium lost their colonial control of these regions.
Many dictators in the 20th century came to power by leading a democratically elected party into government, then using their power to stop any other party from getting elected. They would generally get themselves elected in the first place with cheating and bribery. A good example is Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany through the 1930s, which resulted in World War II.
Many of these dictatorships have collapsed or been overthrown, but there are still dictators in power worldwide, primarily in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Some famous dictators include:
- Adolf Hitler – Germany
- Joseph Stalin – Russia
- Benito Mussolini – Italy
- Francisco Franco – Spain
- Idi Amin – Uganda
- Kim Jong-Il – North Korea
- Augusto Pinochet – Chile
- Muammar Al-Gadaffi – Libya
How do dictators come to power?
There are lots of different ways for dictatorships to start. Sometimes an individual or group takes advantage of a weakened state to place themselves in power and gain control. It has often been the case in Latin America and Africa, where the removal of colonial powers like Spain and Britain left a ‘power vacuum,’ allowing someone with military or political power to step in their place.
Cheating is another key method of taking control as a dictator. Many dictatorships have been started by people who have either bribed or otherwise got the support of powerful and wealthy groups, such as bankers and landowners. Forging or lying about the results of an election has also been used to seize power.
Sometimes, dictators come to power by force, either through violent revolution, as in Soviet Russia, or through a military coup. A military coup is when a certain figure or set of figures gains enough control of a country’s military to take over the government.
There are some cases – notably Hitler in Nazi Germany, among others – where governments have given special emergency powers to leaders in times of crisis. But, like Caesar, those leaders refused to give them up after the problem had passed. It isn’t always the case, though – during World War II, both Great Britain and the USA allowed special powers to their respective leaders, which ended after the war’s end.
How do dictators stay in power?
There have been various methods used to maintain control in dictatorships. Most often, dictatorships are maintained through terror and force. Dictators will often use the threat of violence, imprisonment, or death to intimidate others into following their rules.
Propaganda is also a common tool of dictators. Propaganda is material or other means of spreading information biased towards a particular cause. In dictatorships, dictators will often use government announcements, broadcasts, and printed material such as newspapers, advertisements, and leaflets to spread misleading messages to attack their political opponents and promote their aims.
Some common traits of more recent dictatorships were the presence of a single political party, a charismatic leader, and an official set of rules or ideologies. Some hold fake elections to look like they are a democracy to the rest of the world. These are ways to make the dictatorship seem more official and legitimate and convince the people under the control of its absolute power.