Dictatorships – Part 1
A dictatorship is primarily defined as a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in the hands of a leader, a “small clique” or a “government organization” that aims to abolish political pluralism and civilian mobilization.
A newer form of government, originating around the early 20th century and commonly linked to the concept of dictatorship, is totalitarianism. It is characterized by the presence of a single political party and more specifically, by an influential and powerful leader (a real role model) who imposes his personal and political prominence. The two fundamental aspects contributing to the maintenance of power are a steadfast collaboration between the government and the police force and a highly developed ideology. The government usually has total control of mass communications and social and economic organizations.
Types of Dictatorships
Military dictatorships are regimes in which a group of officers holds power, determines who will lead the country and exercises influence over policy. As an institution, military dictatorships are characterized by the rule of the junta – high-level elites. These are typically senior-level military officers, like generals or brigadiers. This type of dictatorship was imposed during the 20th century in countries such as Chile by Augusto Pinochet and Argentina by Jorge Rafael Videla.
Single-party dictatorships are regimes in which one party dominates politics. In single-party dictatorships, a single party has access to political posts and control over policy. Party elites are typically members of the ruling party sometimes called the central committee, politburo or secretariat. Those groups of individuals control party officials’ selection and organize the distribution of benefits to supporters and mobilize citizens to vote and show support for party leaders.
Current one-party states include China, Cuba, Eritrea, Loas and Vietnam.
Personalist dictatorships are regimes in which all power lies in the hands of a single individual. Personalist dictatorships differ from other forms of dictatorships in their access to key political positions, other fruits of office and depend much more on the discretion of the personalist dictator. Personalist dictators may be members of the military or leaders of a political party. In personalist dictatorships, the elite corps are usually made up of close friends or family members of the dictator. Those individuals are typically handpicked to serve their posts by the dictator.
According to a 2019 study, personalist dictatorships are more repressive than any other form of dictatorship.
The shift in the power relation between the dictator and their inner circle has severe consequences for the behavior of such regimes as a whole. Many scholars have identified ways in which personalist regimes diverge from other regimes when it comes to their longevity, methods of breakdown, levels of corruption and proneness to conflicts. The first characteristic that can be identified is their relative longevity. For instance, Mobutu Sese Seko ruled Zaire for 32 years, Rafael Trujillo the Dominican Republic for 31 years and the Somoza family stayed in power in Nicaragua for 42 years.
Monarchic dictatorships are in regimes in which a person of royal descent has inherited the position of head of state in accordance with accepted practice or constitution. Regimes are not considered dictatorships if the monarch’s role is mainly ceremonial but absolute monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, can be regarded as hereditary dictatorships. Real political power must be exercised by the monarch for regimes to be classified as such. Elites in monarchies are typically members of the royal family.
Hybrid dictatorships are regimes that blend qualities of personalist, single-party and military dictatorships. When regimes share characteristics of all forms of dictatorships, they are referred to as triple threats. The most common forms of hybrid dictatorships are personalist/single-party hybrids and personalist/military hybrids.
You now know the different types of dictatorships that exist. Stay tuned for the second part for more information about the history of dictatorships.