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Dictator

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Dictators, also known as autocrats, despots, or tyrants, are authoritarian rulers with very few (if any) checks on their power. They tend to be brutally corrupt and repressive.

Despite being generally opposed as a method of government, dictatorships have support from across the world, although only when it suits either the people (or the interests of the establishment). The former Soviet Union, itself a highly authoritarian government for most of its history, supported dictators in its satellite, puppet, and client states. The United States also supported dictatorships during the Cold War, mainly in Latin America.[1][2][3][4]

Hereditary dictator[edit]

A hereditary dictatorship is similar to hereditary absolute monarchy, but not exactly. The difference is that an absolute monarchy is de jure a monarchy, often under theocratic rule, (e.g. Saudi Arabia), while a hereditary dictatorship is under de jure republican or military government, often under military rule (e.g. North Korea). However, both are quite repressive and pretty much one and the same.

Problems with dictatorship[edit]

While many people in democracies begrudgingly (or enthusiastically) seem to tolerate dictatorship because it seems to "work" better in times of emergency, dictatorships have numerous, numerous problems associated with them. For the purposes of this list, 'dictatorship' refers to any anti-majoritarian government such as monarchies, theocracies, oligarchies, etc.

  • Dictatorships have regularly had violent competitions for power either on behalf of the dictator or the would-be usurper. To the victor goes the spoils and when the prize is absolute power, there's very little people wouldn't do to protect or obtain it. Examples abound, from Stalin's Great Purges to the many wars of succession for the British crown in the pre-industrial era. Even if the dictator lays out clear rules about who is supposed to succeed him or her, oftentimes rivals or pretenders just flat-out ignore them and you have conflict anyway. Democracies, by contrast, have much more peaceful transitions of power. (Think France in the 1790s. Or any Latin American republic which holds presidential elections.)
  • A corollary is that dictatorships rarely select for competence or vigour in the leadership below the dictator — quite the opposite. An underling who is too competent, too popular, too effective, or too vigorous will usually be eliminated, leaving incompetent nonentities. This creates security for the dictator — no rivals for power — but it plays merry hell with succession and the period after. An exception might involve when a dictator expects to die in the next year or two; he might attempt to groom a successor molded in his image, as Francisco Franco did with Prince Juan Carlos in Spain (although that didn't work out as he planned).
  • Also, the skills required to successfully seize power and to actually govern successfully are rarely guaranteed to reside in the same person. Mao Zedong, for example, was a downright brilliant guerilla and military leader. This guy was able to outfox both Chiang Kai-shek and the genocidal Japanese Imperial Army (contrasting craven milksops such as Stalin) so was obviously a shoo-in for dictator once establishing the People's Republic of China. But in a very cynical and horrifying application of the Peter Principle he did not translate into prosperity for China, as he was totally fucking incompetent at actually running a country. But since he was dictator, thus holding absolute power, what were the Chinese gonna do? And despite all this the guy, criminally incompetent douchebag or no, undoubtedly earned his position. Many hereditary or yes-man dictators can't even give us the assurance of at least being good at kicking some butt.
  • Even if you could find a dictator who was qualified and benevolent enough to do the job in a way that was beneficial, unless that dictator happens to be immortal that still leaves the problem that their successor may not be so great, often with disastrous consequences.
  • Going with the above problem, dictatorships waste enormous resources on establishing security. In order to prevent challenges to their rule, dictators must obtain control of the media, army and police force, spy on the populace, etc. Classic example: North Korea. That state police and million-strong standing army ain't paying for itself, ya know. The money needed to keep a democracy functioning (polling places, franking privilege, etc.) is much lower in contrast.
  • Because dictators have absolute power, they often find themselves completely unable to forgo using their own power to enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of their subjects. See: the disgustingly sybaritic buildings of the Catholic Church at a time when folks didn't even have closed sewers (even the Indus Valley civilization that came thousands of years before had that!) or the special Communist Party shops or the opulent palaces of the Tsarist government that they used as a hypocritical justification for overthrowing. What makes this especially ironic is that even though dictatorships benefit in the short term by looting their subjects and hoarding the wealth, in the long term they'd be even richer by letting a portion of that capital escape to their subjects. Monarchs in Medieval Europe and governors in pre-modern China held ridiculous amounts of power and wealth relative to their kingdoms, but an upper middle-class Westerner from this era would laugh right in their faces at how small and weak their wealth really is. Regardless, the ruling class in dictatorships just can't break the cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul once it's established, so even after an initial period of increasing the welfare of the populace above and beyond the base trickle the march of technology allows, the average prosperity hits a brick wall. Democracies put a hard limit on how much wealth the elite is allowed to accumulate, voting in policies such as progressive taxation to funnel some of the money back down to the masses.
  • It's almost impossible for dictators to get a handle on the entire government. It's no accident that as history marches on dictatorships steadily grow more incompetent; that's because government (and business) has become increasingly more complex both in form and the number of people they need to serve. To "solve" this problem dictators have to end up delegating some of their power to underlings. It's already bad enough in democracies where people are encouraged to scream at bureaucratic fuck-ups — John F. Kennedy was famously completely floored at Nikita Khrushchev's demand to remove missiles in Turkey, since he had ordered them removed months before and they hadn't gotten around to it.[5] If it's that bad in democratic governments, how much worse do you think it will be in a government where delegates are immune to criticism from the masses, have the ability to reward themselves at the expense of the group, and have an incentive not to piss off Dear Leader by doing something contrary to the wishes of their leader for the good of their people?
  • Elaborating on that last clause some, making the delegation problem significantly worse is that underlings are tempted to sugarcoat bad news and avoid criticizing the dictator's plans or interventions and thus shield them from the truth. Which (notice how dictatorships are like a multi-layer marble cake of bat, dog, horse, whore, chicken, and bullshit; the deeper you go into it the shittier it gets) leads to the next problem:
  • Dictatorships invariably come to believe in their own propaganda and become increasingly separated from reality. You'd think that they would have the sense to keep their prolefeed separate from the reality of their situation, but — George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four aside — few dictators actually want to hear news that their policies are making people desperately unhappy for no good reason. Furthermore, this effect combined with the effect of dictators almost automatically trying to inflict their personal delusions and viewpoints onto the populace (rather than collecting it from the masses/bureaucracy) leads to cognitive dissonance and ignorance both self-inflicted and not. Again picking on Stalin and Mao (because they really really deserve it) this descent into a fantasy world leads to catastrophic events like the the great Soviet famine or the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Democracies are much better about knocking some sense into the people that rule them, both because the trustees have to listen to them to know what they want and also to knowingly avoid taking actions that will piss off the populace. Margaret Thatcher and George H.W. Bush were very rudely jolted out of office in their succeeding elections because of ideologically-driven groupthink that led them to make unpopular decisions. This doesn't happen in dictatorships short of extraordinary crises such as the February Revolution — long after years or even decades of misery and which have a high chance of tearing the country apart.
  • Let's have a quick aside for a second. While the "tyranny of the majority" is often cited as a problem with democracy, the oppression of minorities is exponentially greater in dictatorships. In democracies everyone belongs to a minority group of some form (white male middle-class heterosexual Protestant, while a majority in individual categories, is a minority demographic taken as a whole) and have to form alliances to protect their rights; this is why, for example, Italians and Irish in the United States are viewed as 'white' even though they weren't in the late 19th century. It's no accident that, for example, the American civil rights movement of the 1960s saw an explosion in rights for the underclass and minority as a whole because they formed alliances.[6] In a more contemporary example, even though in the 1990s American racial minorities had a more negative opinion of gay marriage than their white counterparts, recent polls in the 2010s show them as having more support for it than whites.[7] It's not hard to see that, for example, if a surge of dominionism were to infect a portion of the populace it'd be crushed at the polls not only by non-Christians but by women and minorities who saw their rights threatened next. Sexism and racism are greatly reduced because political actors, if not exactly wanting the votes of the minority groups they're opposed to, don't want them to align with other factions and crush them and in the process ruin unrelated interests like tax cuts.
  • By contrast, minorities always get persecuted worse in dictatorships. Dictatorships just plain do not need the support of anyone other than a small proportion of the population; rulers find it absolutely irresistible to persecute and crush rivals and minority groups perceived as a threat in some way or another and if they can't oppose them politically then how are they going to fight back? To make this problem significantly worse, after one minority group is disposed of dictatorships tend to look for the next minority group they can separate and crush, which allows them to steadily shape the populace in the form that they want. This process is almost inevitable in dictatorships, either by design (such as with the Nazi Party) or by trying to look for new enemies to keep the politics of fear gravy train going. Martin Niemöller puts the process succinctly and poetically:
They came first for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

All in all, want to know why even Benyamin Netanyahu pays lip service to treating Arab Israelis fairly, while many rulers in other Middle Eastern states could not give two flying fucks about Arab Christians? Because Israel has democratic elections and the votes of the 20% Arab citizens are not to be discarded.

Examples of dictators[edit]

These are all from the "modern" era; that is, the last hundred years or so. Not a great record.

Axis powers in WWII[edit]

Fascist strongmen Mussolini and Hitler, two of the most infamous examples in modern history

Soviet powers, satellites, and leftovers[edit]

Not all of these remained aligned with the USSR, in particular Albania and Yugoslavia went their own way.

Europe[edit]

  • Ioannis Metaxas, Georgios Papadopoulos, Theodoros Pangalos — Greece
  • Slobodan Milošević — Serbia
  • António de Oliveira SalazarPortugal
  • Miklós Horthy — Hungary
  • Engelbert Dollfuß — Austria
  • Konstantin Päts — Estonia
  • Miguel Primo de Rivera — Spain
  • Kārlis Ulmanis — Latvia
  • Antanas Smetona — Lithuania
  • Napoleon III — France (Although he was democratically elected, he abused loopholes to stay way longer in power than he should have. By 1852, he was an emperor.)

Asia[edit]

For Western Asia, see Middle East

  • Mao ZedongChina. His two immediate successors, Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping, were transitional figures between the autocratic Maoist regime and today's more collegiate Chinese authoritarianism. (Hua was ousted by Deng, who spearheaded the transformation of China into its modern capitalist iteration; he never held formal leadership and shared power with seven other elder statesmen, but was so influential that he was effectively the de facto leader of the People's Republic)
  • Chiang Kai-shek — China/Taiwan
  • The Kim dynasty: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong-unNorth Korea (currently in power)
  • Pol PotCambodia
  • Ferdinand Marcos — Philippines
  • SuhartoIndonesia
  • Luang Pibul Songgram and Thanom Kittikachorn — Thailand
  • Ngô Dình Diệm and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu — South Vietnam
  • Ho Chi Minh (1945-1969) — Vietnam (North)
  • Syngman Rhee, Park Chung-hee, and Chun Doo-hwan — South Korea
  • Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, Khorloogiin Choibalsan — Outer Mongolia
  • Taliban (1996-2001) — Afghanistan
  • Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Pervez Musharraf and Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq — Pakistan
  • Hossain Mohammad Ershad — Bangladesh
  • Ne Win (1962-1988), Than Shwe (1992-2011) — Myanmar/Burma
  • Hassanal Bolkiah — Brunei
  • Lee Kuan Yew (c. 1963 with Operation ColdstoreWikipedia's W.svg-1990), Goh Chok Tong (1990-2004), Lee Hsien Loong (2004-present) — Singapore

South and Central America[edit]

Getting steamed up over Augusto Pinochet

Dictatorships in the Americas are a rather sticky subject for the apologists of imperialism, as many of them were supported at some point or another by United States authority.[1][2][3][4]

Africa[edit]

Haile Selassie

Dictatorship has been the curse of Africa, post-colonialism. Many of these dictatorships have not lasted long.

  • Idi AminUganda
  • Robert MugabeZimbabwe (currently in power)
  • Muammar al-GaddafiLibya
  • Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — Egypt (currently in power)
  • Jean-Bédel Bokassa (aka. "Emperor Bokassa I of Central Africa") — Central African Republic/Empire
  • Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Yakubu Gowon — Nigeria
  • Laurent-Désiré Kabila — Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Mobutu Sese Seko — Zaire
  • Haile Selassie; Mengistu Haile Miriam — Ethiopia
  • Hastings Kamuzu Banda — Malawi
  • Samuel K. Doe, Charles Taylor — Liberia
  • Yahya Jammeh — The Gambia
  • Francisco Macías Nguema, Teodoro Obiang — Equatorial Guinea (currently in power)
  • Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — Maldives
  • Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir — Sudan (currently in power)
  • King Mswati III — Swaziland
  • José Eduardo dos Santos — Angola
  • Blaise Compaoré — Burkina Faso
  • Idriss Déby Itno, Hissene Habre — Chad
  • Omar Bongo Ondimba — Gabon

Middle East[edit]

Bronze sculptures of Saddam Hussein after removal from palace towers

See also Asia, Africa

  • The Pahlavi shahs (Rezā Pahlavi and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, 1925-1979); the ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini (1979-1989) and Ali Khamenei (1989-present) — Iran (currently in power, but with a peculiar quasi-democratic streak in an otherwise theocratic system)
  • Several generations of guys named "Saud" — Saudi Arabia (currently in power)[8]
  • Several generations of guys named "Al Sabah" — Kuwait (currently in power)[9]
  • Several generations of guys named "Al Khalifa" — Bahrain (currently in power)[10]
  • The Hashemite dynasty (Iraqi branch: King Faisal I, Ghazi I, and Hussein II, 1921-1958); Abd al-Karim Qasim (1958-1963); Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (1963, the first Ba'ath Party dictator); Abdul Salam Arif (1963-1966) and Abdul Rahman Arif (the brother of his predecessor, 1966-1968); Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (again, 1968-1979) and Saddam Hussein (1979-2003, but the de facto power behind al-Bakr during his last years in office) — Iraq
  • The Hashemite dynasty (Jordanian branch: King Abdullah I, Talal, Hussein (no relation), Abdullah II, 1921/1946-present[citation needed]) — Jordan (currently in power)
  • King Faisal (1920, Hashemite who received Iraq as a consolation prize); Adib Shishakli (1949/1951-1954); Salah Jadid (1966-1970); Hafez al-Assad (1970-2000) and Bashar al-Assad (2000-pending the outcome of the current civil war) — Syria (currently in power, sort of…)
  • The "Al Nahyan" dynasty — United Arab Emirates (currently in power)[11]
  • Ali Abdullah Saleh — Yemen
  • Qaboos bin Said al Said — Oman (currently in power)
  • Tamim bin Hamad — Qatar (currently in power)
  • Sultan Selim I (1512-1520, he rebelled against his father and dethroned him); Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909, his dictatorial period was from 1878 to 1908) and the "Three Pashas" (1913-1918) — Ottoman Empire
  • Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1923-1938), Recep Tayyip ErdoğanTurkey. Currently in power, his crackdowns on protests, restrictions on the media, banning of public websites, purging of prosecutors looking to investigate him, and general curbing of civil liberties follow the path of a typical autocrat. He changed the constitution to enhance his autocratic powers and enshrine authoritarianism into law.[12]

Pacific Islands[edit]

  • Sitiveni Rabuka, Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama — Fiji

Fictional[edit]

Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator. Today Tomainia, tomorrow the world!
  • Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Napoleon from Animal Farm
  • Adam Susan from V for Vendetta (Adam Sutler in the movie).
  • Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars
  • President Snow from The Hunger Games
  • General Haffez Aladeen from The Dictator
  • Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip in Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here
  • Adenoid Hynkel in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator
  • Moe Hailstone in The Three Stooges shorts You Nazty Spy and I'll Never Heil Again
  • Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator

Not quite dictators[edit]

  • Ramzan KadyrovChechnya (whether as Deputy Prime Minister, Prime Minister, or President; Kadyrov has full control over Chechen security forces, who he used as hatchet men against the militants and warlords of the republic. He skilfully manipulates Chechen traditions against his enemies, steals the billions in subsidies for his personal usage, and even has influence throughout the entire eastern half of the North Caucasus ala assassinating dissidents in Dagestan). The reason for hedging his dictator status has less to do with his actions and more to do with the odd semi-vassal relationship between Kadyrov and Putin. In 2011, Oscar winner Hilary Swank and non-Oscar actor Jaen Claude Van Damme appeared at a party for Kadyrov, attracting the ire of Human Rights Watch. The M.C. asked how Swank knew it was Kadyrov's birthday, to which she [Swank] replied, “I read. I do my research.” Guess not.
  • Hu Jintao — China (he was in charge of an authoritarian government, but was more hands-off and cautious, so he wasn't an autocrat).
  • Xi Jinping — China (See Vladimir Putin, though obviously without any pretence of democracy).
  • Kwame Nkrumah — Ghana.
  • Indira GandhiIndia (even before she declared martial law and assumed "emergency powers," she held near-absolute power with her majority government in Parliament).
  • Mahmoud AhmadinejadIran (did not not have all the power, nor was he the head of state, but he stacked the government with members of the Revolutionary Guard, making him instrumental at instituting a military run by the Guards, with massive influence over even the religious sectors of the nation).
  • Nouri al-MalikiIraq (you darn goofed, you know).
  • Hans-Adam II — Liechtenstein (yeah, the locals voted against curtailing his powers).
  • Princess Grace — Monaco (said to rule with a rod of iron).
  • Viktor OrbanHungary (censored the press, skewed election rules in his favor, and openly wants to build an "illiberal state"}.
  • Vladimir PutinRussia (almost, but just barely democratic enough to avoid the label; lately, hiding behind the "democratic" curtain and pulling the levers).
  • Dick CheneyUnited States (anyone who signs off on extraordinary rendition and waterboarding then runs behind the head of state's back warrants attention).
  • Donald Trump — United States (he has the machismo strongman image, the authoritarian personality, the debilitating narcissism, the disdain for the press, the hatred of criticism, and complete control of an ideologically similar Congress and Supreme Court. However, his inability to actually unite his own party, let alone the very polarized United States as a whole, limits his power significantly. Turns out the federal government is too complicated to simply control through bluster, threats, and bravado.)
  • Nikita Khrushchev — Soviet Union (he ushered in an era of liberalization and De-Stalinization, where the USSR was slightly less oppressive than under Stalin, and he ended up losing popularity once his disastrous agriculture policies hit home, so why is he here? Under any circumstances, a man like Nikita would not have been able to do anything like that if he didn't already have a firm grip on the party and the country, of which he was the un-elected leader)
  • Joaquín Balaguer - Dominican Republic (if all the urban legends, rumors and tales about him are true. The line between fact and fiction regarding his time governing is pretty blurry, which partially comes because he was and still is extremely polarizing. That said, he pulled some outrageously anti-democratic and well documented moves later in his career).
  • The PopeVatican (while he is technically an absolute monarch, in practice he has to factor in the opinions of the ruling oligarchy of old men,Wikipedia's W.svg who elected him).
  • Hugo ChávezVenezuela (sought absolute power, but it was rejected by the Venezuelan people).
  • The Dictators, they're a rock group.
  • Silvio BerlusconiItaly (It tells a lot about the state of Italy when his opposition refuses to touch his media empire (which includes public television) out of fear of losing voters in a future election, despite him being able to consistently reclaim back the title of prime minister every two elections due to that very same media empire.)

Quotes[edit]

Every dictator is an enemy of freedom, an opponent of law.
—Demosthenes
It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.
Herbert Hoover
If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself.
—Mikhail Bakunin
Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator. A mystic craves obedience from men, not their agreement. He wants them to surrender their consciousness to his assertions, his edicts, his wishes, his whims—as his consciousness is surrendered to theirs. He wants to deal with men by means of faith and force—he finds no satisfaction in their consent if he must earn it by means of facts and reason. Reason is the enemy he dreads and, simultaneously, considers precarious; reason, to him, is a means of deception; he feels that men possess some power more potent than reason—and only their causeless belief or their forced obedience can give him a sense of security, a proof that he has gained control of the mystic endowment he lacked. His lust is to command, not to convince: conviction requires an act of independence and rests on the absolute of an objective reality. What he seeks is power over reality and over men’s means of perceiving it, their mind, the power to interpose his will between existence and consciousness, as if, by agreeing to fake the reality he orders them to fake, men would, in fact, create it.
Ayn Rand
Some people only speak of freedom of speech while they're out of power. Once they're in power, they're ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.
Barack Hussein Obama
Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.
George Orwell

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Foototes[edit]