AskDefine | Define dictatorship

Dictionary Definition

dictatorship n : a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.) [syn: absolutism, authoritarianism, Caesarism, despotism, monocracy, one-man rule, shogunate, Stalinism, totalitarianism, tyranny]

User Contributed Dictionary



dictator + -ship


  1. A type of government where absolute sovereignty is allotted to an individual or a small clique.
  2. A government which exercises autocratic rule.


a government led by a dictator
  • Breton: diktatouriezh -ioù p
  • Dutch: dictatuur
  • Estonian: diktatuur
  • French: dictature
  • German: Diktatur
  • Hebrew: דיקטטורה
  • Italian: dittatura
  • Japanese: 独裁政治, 独裁
  • Swedish: diktatur

Extensive Definition

A dictatorship is 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, like Joseph C.W. Chan from the University of Hong Kong, 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 the government regulates). 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 dynamics. 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.

Dictatorships in fiction

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

Further reading

  • Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy
  • The Logic of Political Survival
dictatorship in Arabic: ديكتاتورية
dictatorship in Aragonese: Ditadura
dictatorship in Asturian: Dictadura
dictatorship in Min Nan: To̍k-chhâi
dictatorship in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Дыктатура
dictatorship in Bosnian: Diktatura
dictatorship in Bulgarian: Диктатура
dictatorship in Catalan: Dictadura
dictatorship in Czech: Diktatura
dictatorship in Danish: Diktatur
dictatorship in German: Diktatur
dictatorship in Estonian: Diktatuur
dictatorship in Modern Greek (1453-): Δικτατορία
dictatorship in Spanish: Dictadura
dictatorship in Esperanto: Diktatoreco
dictatorship in Basque: Diktadura
dictatorship in Persian: دیکتاتوری
dictatorship in French: Dictature
dictatorship in Galician: Ditadura
dictatorship in Korean: 독재
dictatorship in Hindi: तानाशाही
dictatorship in Croatian: Diktatura
dictatorship in Indonesian: Diktatur
dictatorship in Icelandic: Einræði
dictatorship in Italian: Dittatura
dictatorship in Hebrew: דיקטטורה
dictatorship in Georgian: დიქტატურა
dictatorship in Swahili (macrolanguage): udikteta
dictatorship in Kurdish: Dîktatorî
dictatorship in Ladino: Diktadura
dictatorship in Latin: Dictatura
dictatorship in Latvian: Diktatūra
dictatorship in Lithuanian: Diktatūra
dictatorship in Hungarian: Diktatúra
dictatorship in Macedonian: Диктатура
dictatorship in Malayalam: ഏകാധിപത്യം
dictatorship in Dutch: Dictatuur
dictatorship in Japanese: 独裁政治
dictatorship in Norwegian: Diktatur
dictatorship in Norwegian Nynorsk: Diktatur
dictatorship in Narom: Dictatuthe
dictatorship in Occitan (post 1500): Dictatura
dictatorship in Polish: Dyktatura
dictatorship in Portuguese: Ditadura
dictatorship in Romanian: Dictatură
dictatorship in Russian: Диктатура
dictatorship in Sicilian: Dittatura
dictatorship in Simple English: Dictatorship
dictatorship in Slovak: Diktatúra
dictatorship in Slovenian: Diktatura
dictatorship in Serbian: Диктатура
dictatorship in Serbo-Croatian: Diktatura
dictatorship in Finnish: Diktatuuri
dictatorship in Swedish: Diktatur
dictatorship in Thai: ระบอบเผด็จการ
dictatorship in Vietnamese: Độc tài
dictatorship in Turkish: Diktatörlük
dictatorship in Ukrainian: Диктатура
dictatorship in Venetian: Ditatura
dictatorship in Samogitian: Dėktatūra
dictatorship in Chinese: 专政

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Caesarism, Stalinism, absolute monarchy, absolutism, aedileship, archbishopric, archiepiscopacy, archiepiscopate, aristocracy, autarchy, authoritarianism, autocracy, autonomy, benevolent despotism, bishopric, captainship, chairmanship, chancellery, chancellorate, chancellorship, chiefery, chiefry, chieftaincy, chieftainry, chieftainship, coalition government, colonialism, commonwealth, constitutional government, constitutional monarchy, consulate, consulship, convenership, custody, czarism, deanery, democracy, despotism, dictature, directorate, directorship, dominion rule, duarchy, duumvirate, dyarchy, emirate, episcopacy, federal government, federation, feudal system, foremanship, garrison state, generalship, gerontocracy, governorship, guardianship, headship, hegemony, heteronomy, hierarchy, hierocracy, home rule, intendancy, kaiserism, leadership, limited monarchy, lordship, magistracy, magistrateship, magistrature, managership, martial law, masterdom, mastership, mastery, mayoralty, mayorship, meritocracy, metropolitanate, metropolitanship, militarism, military government, mob rule, mobocracy, monarchy, neocolonialism, nobility, ochlocracy, oligarchy, one-man rule, one-party rule, overseership, pantisocracy, papacy, pashadom, pashalic, paternalism, patriarchate, patriarchy, police state, pontificality, pontificate, popedom, popehood, popeship, prefectship, prefecture, premiership, presidency, presidentship, prime-ministership, prime-ministry, princedom, princeship, principality, proconsulate, proconsulship, proctorship, protectorate, protectorship, provostry, provostship, pure democracy, rectorate, rectorship, regency, regentship, representative democracy, representative government, republic, ruling class, seigniory, self-determination, self-government, seneschalship, seneschalsy, sheikhdom, sheriffalty, sheriffcy, sheriffdom, shrievalty, social democracy, sovereignty, stewardship, stratocracy, superintendence, superintendency, supervisorship, suzerainship, suzerainty, technocracy, thearchy, theocracy, totalitarian government, totalitarian regime, totalitarianism, triarchy, tribunate, triumvirate, tyranny, vizierate, viziership, welfare state
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