Dictatorship. Power exercised by a person or group outside or above the law, without submission to any democratic control or oversight. A form of government that, invoking an alleged public interest, identified in reality with group interests, dispenses, in order to achieve this, with the will of the governed. The dictatorship excludes or obviates, when it does not eliminate it, a division of the powers of the State – legislative, executive and judicial -, implying the restriction or suppression of the freedoms of expression, assembly and association.

It is imposed by means of military coups backed in turn by civilian sectors that profess a specific ideology, with hegemonic aspirations and authoritarian programs, particularly in situations of economic or political crisis.

Dictatorships are recognized as a risk to the freedom and growth of states, being condemned by the international community.

In Marxist-Leninist theory, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is spoken of to refer to the form of government that the working class would implement once the capitalist system was overthrown as a phase prior to the advent of a new society, to consolidate and develop the socialist revolutionary process.


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  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 History
  • 3 Features
  • 4 Establishment and maintenance
  • 5 References
  • 6 Source


Dictatorship (from Latin dictatūra), a system of government whose first definition was given by the Greek philosopher Aristotle , who described it as one of the pure forms of government, along with monarchy and aristocracy, in opposition to impure demagoguery .

For the concept of dictatorship it would be more illuminating to return to its Roman etymological origins where:

“The dictatorship is a temporary interruption of the validity of the legal institutions, assuming, in the meantime, the power of an individual or group of individuals clothed with a legislative power that exceeds the normal sphere of competence of the legislator within the framework of a State of right endowed with a constitutional system. ”

According to the classical philosophers Aristotle and Plato :

“The mark of tyranny is illegality, that is, the violation of laws and rules pre-stipulated by the breakdown of the legitimacy of power. Once in command, the tyrant revokes the legislation in force, superimposing it on the rules established in accordance with the conveniences for the perpetuation of this power. ”

According to Plato and Aristotle:

“Tyrants are dictators who gain despotic social and political control by force and fraud. Intimidation, terror and the repression of civil liberties are among the methods used to obtain and maintain power. Succession in this state of lawlessness is always difficult ”

A dictatorial government, in general, is characterized by being autocratic, a term that comes from the Greek and whose meaning says that the government is organized and manipulated in an authoritarian way by a single person. The dictatorial regime is usually an illegitimate system, since it is obtained by making violent irruptions in the public and / or political space in a country.

The figure who embodies such a dictatorship is the dictator and he always represents the highest hierarchy and authority for everything related to the development of a society.


In republican Rome the dictatorship was an extraordinary institution of limited time duration, which was used in emergency situations following procedures and within constitutionally defined limits, thus giving the order to appoint a consul to the consuls. dictator to take power until the situation returned to normal. This title originally included a period not exceeding 6 months, which would subsequently be extended to 12 months.

The powers granted to the dictator were total, but the dictator was also legitimately responsible for his acts before the law, which requires justifications after the expiration of the period of dictatorships.

The dictatorship was born, apparently at the proposal of Tito Larcio, who was also the first to hold office.

The dictator was appointed for a precise role and his powers were vast, but not unlimited. With Sulla and Caesar (1st century BC) the dictatorship, which had been in decline for a long time, changed its nature, as its duration and powers were extended and used for personal purposes. That Caesarist connotation, which is closer to a tyrannical model (tyrant) than to the republican Roman dictatorship, had the dictatorial figures of the Middle Ages and La Moderna, associated with republican forms of government.

Beginning in the 2nd century BC, the Roman dictatorship lost the character of legality with the acquisition of characteristics similar to what is understood by the dictatorship today with an indefinite period.

It is considered that the first modern dictatorship was the French Jacobin ( 1793 – 1794 ), which was different from the previous ones because it had the instruments of control typical of a centralized State and with the support of the masses mobilized by the ideology of national sovereignty. , as well as the great concentration of powers in the executive to the detriment of the legislative power.

The dictatorial model of power was the cause of various abuses that, far from stopping, intensified due to the personalized exercise of government acts. This way of governing in Medieval Europe decreased as a consequence of the feudal distribution of power structures, the birth of modern states in the XV and XVI centuries gave rise to a new approach to monarchies .

Some of these nations evolved with government structures assimilated to dictatorships, until the models that emerged from the French Revolution and the independence of the American nations allowed a spread of republican modalities throughout the world.

In the 20th century , when dictatorships multiplied, dictatorship was defined more as a form of state than as a form of government. Thus it was theorized by C. Schmitt, who presented it as the conceptual alternative of democracy. The variety of dictatorships, that is, regimes that do not conform to the model of representative democracy and the rule of law, has led to establishing typologies according to different criteria, not mutually exclusive.

The main one is the nature of power:

  • Degree of coercive capacity and penetration into the social fabric. According to this criterion, a distinction is made between authoritarian dictatorships, which use traditional means of coercion, such as the police, the army, the bureaucracy and justice, and which have few means of penetration into society (cases of Franco’s Spainor Portugal with Salazar ) and totalitarian dictatorships, which, in addition to the traditional media, use the single mass party and penetrate the public and private spheres of society (cases of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany ).

Other criteria used are:

  • The aim pursued (revolutionized, conservative, reactionary, modernizing dictatorships) and the characteristics of the dominant elite, according to the type of recruitment (military, political, bureaucratic dictatorships) or the form of distribution of power (personal, oligarchic dictatorships).

There are several dictatorial governments throughout history, from the dictatorships prior to the Roman Empire, in Nazi Germany, Italian fascism, and in the Latin American and African countries of the second half of the 20th century.

Constitutional systems provide for the establishment of dictatorships, even if they do not call them that, but emergency or exceptional situations, with the suspension of constitutional guarantees and with full powers to the government to legislate in certain matters. Such situations are extremely dangerous for the preservation of constitutional normality and many times are abused by the ruler to establish his tyranny, where he violates the constitution, establishing a non-constitutional power.


Generally, dictatorships are characterized by being implanted by force and violence, repressing all those who are contrary to the interests of the dictator, where mechanisms of popular and social participation are rejected, such as elections and others.

Several academic texts and political science dictionaries address the concept of dictatorship. In the Dictionary of Politics, written by Norberto Bobbio, Niccola Matteucci and Gianfranco Pasquino, to name just one of the best known, the characteristics of the dictatorship are verified, whose central axes are [1] :

  1. Concentration and absolute character of political power.
  2. Suppression of democratic procedures and their legitimacy not initially authorized by constitutional rules.
  3. De factoestablishment that establishes martial law and the state of siege as foundations of social order.
  4. Disorder of the pre-existing political order mobilizing one part of society and violently subjugating the other.
  5. Establishment of a power that does not suffer from legal limits and lacks clear rules for its own succession.
  6. Legitimization of the de factoorder through a new constitution, which makes it a constitutional dictatorship.
  7. Its duration is not fixed in advance, despite the fact that it is presented as temporary, but depends on the historical vicissitudes in which it operates, becoming a “normal” and permanent form of government.

Finding justifications in situations of political disorder, social chaos or economic crisis, is that dictatorial governments seize power, concentrating it on one person.

Establishment and maintenance

In modern times, dictatorship is almost always the result of deep social unrest, usually caused by wars or revolutions. There were dictatorial regimes that arose from the political disputes that stemmed from the Cold War .

However, dictatorships do not always occur through a military coup. A dictatorship can also arise from a civil coup d’état , as occurred in the dictatorship ruled by Adolfo Hitler during the time of Nazi Germany . The coup was unleashed from the government’s own structures, with the establishment of a state of emergency and later, the suppression of other parties and democratic normality. To achieve legitimacy in dictatorships, many of them have been supported by theories that try to affirm many times an ineffable fate of the leader who is faced as a savior whose mission is to free the people from their problems or to be considered a being close to the poor and oppressed.

Other dictatorships are based on more elaborate theories, using imposed legislation, often recognizing democracy with political parties, even with elections, and admitting a certain, albeit controlled, opposition.

The methods to maintain power has always been to use brute force in a systematic and consistent way to maintain it. Another resource is institutional publicity, political propaganda and constant saturation in order to worship the personality of the leader or leaders, or even the country, to maintain public support.

Censorship also plays a very important role in dictatorships as they can control relevant information to the public that is being manipulated before being made available to society.

For several decades it has been considered that one of the best ways to impose a particular population system is subliminal advertising, where the mental defenses are not on guard against information that is going to be introduced into the collective unconscious. This is done by saturation in all media.


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