“”If you want to preserve — I'm very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started.
|—John Sidney McCain|
|How the sausage is made|
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 when it suited its geopolitical interests, mainly in Latin America during the Cold War, and several Middle Eastern monarchies today.
As part of our Wiki's mission, dictators are a subject of great importance. They are the most honest embodiment of authoritarianism, and have pretty much a free gateway into brutally curbstomping the rights of just about anyone, and creating an entire nation of misery. Given that the "End of History" was a severe miscalculation, and Democracy CAN slide backwards into rule by a mad dictator, work must be done to understand how the dictatorship is formed, and fortify democracy where necessary with this in mind.
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
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 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. 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. George H.W. Bush was very rudely jolted out of office because of ideologically-driven groupthink that led to 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. 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. 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. 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.
Resisting looming tyranny
Timothy Snyder, a Yale University history professor and expert on Hitler, Stalin, and the Holocaust wrote a small book, On Tyranny, on ways to recognize and resist impending tyranny. He gives twenty lessons from history on ways that tyrants can take over a country:
- "Do not obey in advance": "Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. … A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do."
- "Defend institutions": Institutions help to preserve decency but institutions do not protect themselves.
- "Beware of the one-party state": Support multi-party systems, vote in local and state elections while you can, run for office. Each election in an authoritarian government could be the last real one in your lifetime (Germany 1932, Czechoslovakia 1946, Russia 1990)
- "Take responsibility for the face of the world": Remove signs of hate where you see them in the real world.
- Remember professional ethics: When you maintain professional ethics, you support the rule of law (particularly if you work in law or the government).
- "Be wary of paramilitaries": Paramilitaries have been used as an important tool by dictators to solidify power (e.g. the SA and SS in Nazi Germany). Militias, private security (e.g., Blackwater), and private prisons are similarly organizations to be wary of.
- "Be reflective if you must be armed": In both the Holocaust and the Stalin's Great Terror (Great Purge), police played key roles in perpetuating atrocities.
- "Stand out": Do not concede to tyranny in advance. Stand out, as Churchill against the might of Nazi Germany, as Rosa Parks did against Jim Crow laws, and as other lesser-known people have done.
- "Be kind to our language": autocrats often attempt to pervert the meaning of words for their own ends (e.g., Hitler's 'the people' used to exclude most people, Trump's use of 'libel' to mean anything negative that is said about himself). Falling into the autocrat's linguistic trap should be resisted. Two useful books detail this behavior: Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, and Snyder lists several other books that are worth reading for understanding the rise of authoritarianism.
- "Believe in truth": "To abandon truth is to abandon freedom." Snyder cites Victor Klemperer on the four modes in which truth dies:
- Open hostility to verifiable reality (e.g., 78% of Trump's factual claims were false during his 2016 campaign)
- 'Shamanistic repetition' (a.k.a., the big lie)
- 'Magical thinking', meaning the open embracing of contradiction, not the usual meaning (magical thinking)
- Misplaced faith: believing in the leader above all else, and self-deification of the leader (e.g., the Religious Right's embrace of Trump, or Trump's "I alone can solve it.")
- "Investigate": "Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on the internet is there to harm you." This is not the same as 'Do your own research.'
- "Make eye contact and small talk": "This is not just polite. It is part of being a citizen and a responsible member of society. … If we enter a culture of denunciations, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life."
- "Practice corporal politics": "Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them."
- "Establish a private life": "Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware on a regular basis. Remember that email is skywriting."
- "Contribute to good causes": Be active in organizations, political or not, that express your own view of life. Pick a charity or two and set up autopay." This supports civil society and others to do good.
- "Learn from peers in other countries": "Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends in other countries. The present difficulties in the United States are an element of a larger trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports."
- "Listen for dangerous words": "Be alert to the use of the words 'extremism' and 'terrorism'. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary."
- "Be calm when the unthinkable arrives": "Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power."
- "Be a patriot": "Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it." This chapter is in part a scathing attack on a nameless coward: "What is patriotism? Let us begin with what patriotism is not. It is not patriotic to dodge the draft and to mock war heroes and their families. …"
- "Be as courageous as you can": "If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny." This chapter offers two brief critiques:
Examples of dictators
These are all from the "modern" era; that is, the last hundred years or so. Not a great record.
- Ante Pavelić — Croatia
PutainPétain — Vichy France
- Adolf Hitler — Germany
- Ferenc Szálasi and Miklós Horthy — Hungary
- Benito Mussolini — Italy (initially opposed to Hitler, until he was sanctioned over the invasion of Ethiopia and decided to become Hitler's lackey)
- General Hideki Tojo — Japan (well, kinda, 'cause even he couldn't deal with the inter-service rivalry within the Japanese military)
- Vidkun Quisling — Norway
- Ion Antonescu — Romania
- Francisco Franco — Spain (unaligned during WWII, but dependent on German and Italian support for his victory in the Spanish Civil War)
Soviet powers, satellites, and leftovers
Not all of these remained aligned with the USSR; in particular Albania and Yugoslavia went their own way.
- Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev — Soviet Union
- Vladimir Putin — Russia (currently in power)
- Alexander Lukashenko — Belarus (though his first election was democratic, there have been no free and fair elections since then, and all power has been consolidated into bat'ka [father].) (currently in power)
- Todor Zhivkov — Bulgaria
- János Kádár — Hungary
- Islam Karimov, Shavkat Mirziyoyev — Uzbekistan (currently in power)
- Wojciech Jaruzelski — Poland
- Erich Honecker — East Germany
- Nicolae Ceauşescu — Romania
- Enver Hoxha — Albania
- Josip Broz Tito — Yugoslavia
- Slobodan Milošević — Serbia
- Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov (deceased), Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow — Turkmenistan (currently in power)
- Heydar Aliyev (deceased), Ilham Aliyev — Azerbaijan (currently in power)
- Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev — Kazakhstan (currently in power)
- Emomali Rahmon — Tajikistan (currently in power)
- Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin — Afghanistan
- Khorloogiin Choibalsan and Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal — Mongolia
- Engelbert Dollfuß, Kurt Schuschnigg — Austria (A fascist who was aligned with Mussolini and opposed Hitler. He was assassinated by Austrian Nazis as a result).
- Konstantin Päts — Estonia
- Napoleon Bonaparte — France (Used the French Revolution to take power and declare himself "Emperor")
- Napoléon 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.)
- Ioannis Metaxas, Georgios Papadopoulos, Theodoros Pangalos — Greece
- Viktor Orban — Hungary (Has successfully begun turning Hungary into a Dictatorship as of 2020, by removing term limits and implementing the harshest gerrymandering program in history. It can only get worse from here.) (currently in power)
- Kārlis Ulmanis — Latvia
- Antanas Smetona — Lithuania
- Józef Piłsudski — Poland
- Óscar Carmona, António de Oliveira Salazar — Portugal
- Carol II — Romania
- Miguel Primo de Rivera — Spain
For Western Asia, see Middle East
- Mao Zedong — China. His personality cult was so strong, he launched a Cultural Revolution, a ground-up purging of everyone even remotely considered a threat once he had slightly less power than when he became paramount leader.
- Deng Xiaoping — China. He was a transitional figure between the autocratic Maoist regime and the more collegiate, pre-Xi authoritarianism. Hua Guofeng was Mao's immediate successor, trying to replicate his mentor's personality cult, but he failed, and Hua was undermined ousted by Deng shortly after taking power. Deng 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. This was helped by Deng being Chairman of the Central Advisory Commission and as the commander-in-chief of the Chinese armed forces. It was under Deng that the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre (egged on by his successor Jiang Zemin) occurred.
- Xi Jinping — China. Picked as a compromise candidate between the elitist and pragmatist cliques within the party, Xi became embroiled in a factional war with his surviving predecessors, allowing him to launch a massive anti-corruption campaign to crack down on whoever has even slight ties to Jiang Zemin, his top rival. Xi is now said to be the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, having removed term limits and directly putting himself in charge of the military. (Currently in power)
- Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo — China/Taiwan
- Yuan Shikai — China. When the Qing Dynasty collapsed, finally ending both the Chinese monarchy and the Dynastic era, Yuan at first tried to save the monarchy by reforming the military, but by the last few years of Qing rule, Yuan saw the writing on the wall and forced the Xuantong Emperor to abdicate. He became the first President of the Republic of China. But when the elected Parliament tried to develop a permanent constitution, and hold a legitimate, open presidential election, Yuan felt personally threatened by basic democracy. Claiming China needed a strong leader to counter Imperial Japan, Yuan suspended first parliament then all provincial assemblies in 1914, which forced his cabinet to resign. Yuan's removal of government institutions led to him curtailing many basic freedoms, which directly led to the Warlord era as many military leaders saw an attempt to maintain and centralize their powers within their own factions and regions. His de facto dictatorship, though short-lived, directly led to the rise of not only the warlords, but also Chiang and later Mao who fought a civil war for control of China. There was no hope for democracy after Yuan, who single-handedly destroyed any republican hopes for the revolutionaries.
- The Kim dynasty: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong-un — North Korea (currently in power)
- Lon Nol and Pol Pot — Cambodia
- Ferdinand Marcos — Philippines
- Sukarno and Suharto — Indonesia
- Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Thanom Kittikachorn, Sarit Thanarat, Kriangsak Chamanan, Prem Tinsulanonda, Suchinda Kraprayoon, Surayud Chulanont and Prayut Chan-o-cha (currently in power) — Thailand
- Ngô Dình Diệm and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu — South Vietnam
- Ho Chi Minh (1945-1969) — North Vietnam/Vietnam
- Syngman Rhee, Park Chung-hee, and Chun Doo-hwan — South Korea
- Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, Khorloogiin Choibalsan — Mongolia
- Daud Khan, Mohammed Omar — Afghanistan
- Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, and Pervez Musharraf — Pakistan
- Hossain Mohammad Ershad — Bangladesh
- Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — Maldives
- Ne Win (1962-1988), Than Shwe (1992-2011) and Min Aung Hlaing (2021-present) — Myanmar/Burma
- Hassanal Bolkiah — Brunei
- Lee Kuan Yew (c. 1963 with Operation Coldstore-1990), Goh Chok Tong (1990-2004), Lee Hsien Loong (2004-present) — Singapore
South and Central America
- Carlos Ibáñez del Campo and Augusto Pinochet — Chile
- The Somoza family: Anastasio Somoza García, and Luis and Anastasio Somoza Debayle — Nicaragua
- François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier — Haiti
- Maximiliano Hernández Martínez — El Salvador
- Manuel Estrada Cabrera and Efraín Ríos Montt — Guatemala
- Tiburcio Carias Andino, Oswaldo López Arellano — Honduras
- Fulgencio Batista — Cuba
- Fidel and Raúl Castro — Cuba
- Manuel Noriega — Panama
- José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, Francisco Solano Lopez, Alfredo Stroessner — Paraguay
- Juan Velasco, Alberto Fujimori — Peru
- René Barrientos and Hugo Banzer Suárez — Bolivia
- Juan Vicente Gómez and Marcos Pérez Jiménez — Venezuela
- Porfirio Díaz — Mexico
- Ulises Heureaux and Rafael Trujillo — Dominican Republic
- Deodoro da Fonseca, Floriano Peixoto, Getúlio Vargas, Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, Artur da Costa e Silva, Emílio Garrastazu Médici, Ernesto Geisel and João Baptista Figueiredo — Brazil
- Gustavo Rojas Pinilla — Colombia
- Jorge Rafael Videla — Argentina
- Juan María Bordaberry and Gregorio "Goyo" Álvarez — Uruguay
- Idi Amin — Uganda
- Robert Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa — Zimbabwe
- Muammar al-Gaddafi, Khalifa Haftar — Libya
- Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi — Egypt
- Isaias Afwerki — Eritrea (currently in power)
- Jean-Bédel Bokassa (aka. "Emperor Bokassa I of Central Africa") — Central African Republic/Empire
- Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Yakubu Gowon — Nigeria
- Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent-Désiré Kabila — Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaïre)
- Gnassingbé Eyadéma — Togo
- 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)
- Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir — Sudan
- King Mswati III — Swaziland
- José Eduardo dos Santos — Angola
- Blaise Compaoré — Burkina Faso
- Idriss Déby Itno, Hissene Habre — Chad
- Omar Bongo Ondimba — Gabon
- Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz — Mauritania
- 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(well, only two-their last six kings have just been sons of the first one) of guys named "Saud" — Saudi Arabia (currently in power)
- Several generations of guys named "Al Sabah" — Kuwait (currently in power)
- Several generations of guys named "Al Khalifa" — Bahrain (currently in power)
- Several generations of guys named "Al Said" — Oman (currently in power)
- 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) — 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)
- 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-today), a cult of personality that remained until today rather than a strongman. Still considered as the eternal leader of Turkey.
- İsmet İnönü (1938-1950), strongman of Turkey who gathered social democracy to the nation.
- Adnan Menderes (1954-1960), Turkish Prime Minister who established a dictatorship against the opposition in his second term.
- Cemal Gürsel (1960-1966), leader of 60s coup in Turkey that literally caused a much more democratic pluralist constitution with strong parliament and senate.
- Kenan Evren (1980-1989), Pinochet of Turkey. He was so anti-communist that he banned the word "red".
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — Turkey. 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.
- Kais Saied, Tunisia. Currently in power, having dismissed the prime minister and suspending parliament in July 2021, in response to protests against police brutality, economic hardship, and lackluster COVID-19 policies. He announced on September 2021 that he shall rule by decree and ignore parts of the constitution at will, because fuck it.
- Sitiveni Rabuka, Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama — Fiji
Not quite dictators
- The President of the United States as an institution fits the bill. It does not qualify as a dictator because it has, on paper and in practice, elections to fight, checks and balances from the courts (and ideally Congress too), competing factions within their own administration, election coalitions to maintain, constituencies to pander to, rich donors to give kickbacks to, a military to monitor, limited time in office, and a massive population of over 330 million people who can break into protests at any time (as seen throughout the 21st Century alone and the year 2020 especially). But the Office of the Presidency is an incredibly powerful position, where multiple office holders have delved straight into outright authoritarianism. As commander in chief of one of the most powerful armed forces in the world, the President has ignited wars mostly without Congressional approval, deposed democratic governments and replaced them with puppet leaders beholden to American capital, trained men who would later depose foreign countries and oppress their own peoples, used the pretext of war for cracking down on dissent, used the security and intelligence apparatuses to de-fang and destroy leftism throughout the Red Scare, and may unilaterally deploy any kind of counter-terrorism action even in American soil if so decreed by the President. The President, as the one to appoint of judges and Supreme Court Justices, can stack the judicial branch with their own partisan allies so they may get their policies enacted into law.
- Specific examples may be Woodrow Wilson's blatant censorship of anti-war sentiment under the Espionage Act, repression of "hyphenated Americans," and the targeting of leftists during the First Red Scare a la the Palmer Raids. Another example would be Andrew Jackson ignoring the Supreme Court ruling against him and enacting the Trail of Tears anyway. Franklin Delano Roosevelt interned Japanese, German, and Italian Americans during World War II, a blatant violation of their basic rights as citizens. Harry S. Truman finalizing the security state during the Cold War, thereby ushering in the Second Red Scare, empowered such men as Joseph McCarthy to ruin so many people's careers for even the suspicion of them being communists, which was facilitated by the House Committee of Un-American Activities a decade before McCarthy's rise. Herbert Hoover, who endorsed Douglas MacArthur and George Patton's crackdown of the Bonus Army marches, also deported hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans for their Latino heritage despite them being citizens. Several presidents, such as Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, empowered the FBI under Director J. Edgar Hoover to systematically infiltrate, intimidate, and suppress anti-war protesters, civil rights demonstrators, feminist activists, left wingers, and anyone else thought of as subversive in any way, from communists to unionists and from Malcolm X to Doctor King. George W. Bush used the Patriot Act and other such post-9/11 laws to empower the "unilateral presidency" to fight terrorism, which allowed such a man as Barack Obama to controversially assassinate individuals under the pretext of national security and allowed Donald Trump to blatantly ignore the law and kidnap protesters who demonstrate against the police. It is not one singular President who is autocratic and imperialist, but the Presidency itself that is autocratic and imperialist. Peaceful transitions of power may change hands, but these hands always hold the Excalibur of power embodied within the office.
- Ramzan Kadyrov — Chechnya (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 skillfully 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).
- Kwame Nkrumah — Ghana.
- Indira Gandhi — India (even before she declared martial law and assumed "emergency powers," she held near-absolute power with her majority government in Parliament).
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — Iran (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-Maliki — Iraq (Maintained a strong coalition government under his umbrella while his rivals struggled to maintain their own alliances, so was given free rein to impose draconian measures against opposition politicians, detainees, demonstrators and journalists, effectively squeezing the space for independent civil society and political freedoms. Further exacerbating the issue is how he got his cabinet to endorse a "National Safety" bill, which gives near-absolute powers to the Prime Minister to determine what constitutes a state of emergency).
- 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 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 Pope — Vatican (while he is technically an absolute monarch, in practice he has to factor in the opinions of the ruling oligarchy of old men who elected him).
- Hugo Chávez — Venezuela (sought absolute power, but it was rejected by the Venezuelan people).
- Nicolás Maduro — Venezuela (rules through emergency powers and has banned opposition parties from contesting his re-election)
- The Dictators, they're a punk rock group.
- Silvio Berlusconi — Italy (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.)
- Sebastián Piñera — Chile (Despite murdering dozens of civilians and Mapuche resistance leaders, he's not a socialist and his country isn't oil-rich, so he's not a tyrant according to
neoconsthe international community.)
- Viktor Yanukovych — Ukraine (Tried to seize power short before being overthrown by Euromaidan, also his party (Party of Regions) didn't have an absolute majority in Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament)). Putin failed to make a puppet out of Yanukovych, after which Yanukovych fled to Russia.:134-138 Leonid Kuchma, second president of Ukraine, also had an authoritarian style of rule, suppressing the "Ukraine without Kuchma" protests and murdering the journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
“”Every dictator is an enemy of freedom, an opponent of law.
“”If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself.
“”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.
“”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.
- Video of Despotism, made in 1946 by Encyclopaedia Britannica Films
- How to Become a Dictator, WikiHow (Wayback Machine)
- Marc Trachtenberg. The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis. International Security 10.1 (1985): 137-163.
- Which unfortunately broke down going into the 70s, but that's another story.
- African Americans and Latinos spur gay marriage revolution, Washington Post
- On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder (2017) Tim Duggan Books. ISBN 0804190119.
- Donald Trump has always expressed love for authoritarian leaders, but we failed to listen: How did the US end up with a president who hates the press and envies dictators like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin? by Kirsten Powers (June 20, 2018) USA Today.
- 18 Little Known Facts About Joseph Stalin by Craig Bowman (Feb 28, 2016) War History Online.
- Fairbank, Reischauer, Craig, John, Edwin, Albert (1978). East Asia: Tradition and Transformation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p.754
- Fairbank, Reischauer, Craig, John, Edwin, Albert (1978). East Asia: Tradition and Transformation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p.758.
- Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of the House of Saud.
- Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of the House of Sabah
- Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of the House of Al Khalifa.
- Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of the Oman.
- Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of one of six ruling families.
- Turkey's Vote Makes Erdoğan Effectively a Dictator by Dexter Filkins (April 17, 2017) The New Yorker.
- "Tunisia’s president to ignore parts of the constitution and rule by decree," The Guardian
- The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder (2018) Tim Duggan Books. ISBN 0525574468.