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Dictator is originally the title of a magistrate in ancient Rome appointed by the Senate to rule the state in times of emergency. In modern usage, it refers to an absolutist or autocratic ruler who assumes sole power over the state (though the term is normally not applied to an absolute monarch). Like the term tyrant, and to a lesser degree autocrat, it was a respectable title in the ancient world, but has some come to be used almost exclusively as a non-titular term for oppressive, even abusive, despot who rules with no regard for any existing constitutional democratic structures, organs or other entities. Almost always the dictator is marked by a resilient resistance to reality and rational thought. This enables the dictator to act in a manner otherwise impossible to a person of integrity. As such, grave human rights violations, torture, disappearances, pervasive police state surveillance and the repeal of existing human rights laws and ignoring constitutional protections, become the norm in societies ruled by dictators (even when "democratically" elected by the "majority"). Summary execution[1] by Executive Order[2] is the punishment of choice for a wide variety of offenses, both criminal and political, under the rule of a dictator.

Dictators come to power in a variety of ways. They can be elected fairly and then refuse to give up power; they may seize control of the country in a coup d'état; or they may be placed in power as the puppet of a stronger country that desires influence in the region. Alternatively, some countries such as the former Soviet Union are ruled by a single party which appoints a succession of dictators without regard for its people; this is known as a systemic dictatorship.

Since the nature of dictatorship is fundamentally at odds with the principals of democracy, dictators are usually condemned by the international community. Consequently, many adopt tactics to try and give their regime an air of legitimacy, such as holding sham or coerced elections, or declaring a "state of emergency" in the country with the implication that democracy will be restored once the "emergency" ceases to exist (almost always this never happens barring a coup; even then the new leader will implement the same practices).

Notable dictators in world history have included:

Some rulers take on the traits of a dictator but have failed to secure totalitarian rule. Examples include Fidel Castro of Cuba.

A recent example of an accusation of attempted dictatorship is the example of the House of Representatives charges brought against Republican President Donald J. Trump led by partisan majority representatives of the Democratic Party that he was seeking to become king or dictator by denying the authority of Congress to impeach him on two counts of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, which was dismissed and resisted as unfounded by the Senate majority of members of the Republican Party. The issue "split the country". The House had impeached him. The Senate acquitted him. Chief Justice John Roberts, presiding, read the declaration of the Senate that President Trump "be, and is hereby, acquitted of the charges." Political observers predicted a strong reaction by voters at the polls in the upcoming election.


Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. [1]
  • "When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits — despotic in his ordinary demeanour — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind." -- Alexander Hamilton to George Washington[3]

See also


  1. https://www.wnd.com/2013/02/when-a-republican-murders-u-s-citizens by Ted Nugent Accessed March 28, 2014
  2. "Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact. Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power." https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/us-targeted-killings-eric-holder_n_1320515.html Accessed March 28, 2014
  3. From Washington Post article "The ‘prophetic’ Alexander Hamilton quote Democrats say predicted the need to impeach Trump" - The Washington Post (washingtonpost.com). —Accessed 5 February 2020