Dictatorship: A Quick and Easy Guide

In this simple to understand guide, three types of dictatorship are distinguished. There is also a quick summary of words that are often confused with dictatorship. 

1. Three Types of Dictatorship

The three types to be distinguished are that of constitutional dictatorship, used by countries like France or the US, left-wing dictatorship, e.g. USSR, and right-wing dictatorship, such as Fascist Italy.

2. Form and Content

Dictatorships have both form and content. Form is like a bottle and content is like a liquid. Something may be similar in form but be different in content, or be similar in both form and content.

3. Common Characteristic

  • All dictatorships are militaristic in nature (even when dealing with financial crises) and in this regard are similar in both form and content.
  • In a dictatorship, a leader, delegated person, or select group (e.g. committee) governs in a manner similar to that of a military general.
  • A military general may have a set goal, for instance of taking a strategic position of the enemy, and will use any means to achieve this goal. This goal will form part of a broader aim, for instance to defeat an enemy. With dictatorship there is the same ethos.
  • Goals and aims are identified and there are no legal impediments to the achievement of goals or aims.
  • Those under the dictatorship are militarized, or socialized. Everyone not wielding power is made equal and their lives and property are at the disposal of the dictatorship.
  • Transience is an important quality of all dictatorships. Although the dictatorship may last for decades it is only supposed to be a short-term fix.

4a. Formal Structure of all Dictatorships

All dictatorships have a four-dimensional formal structure

  1. The subject of the dictatorship, i.e. who is empowered.
  2. Who delegates powers in a dictatorship (this may be a fictitious delegation).
  3. The aim of the dictatorship.
  4. The impediment to the aim, in other words the threat that is to be eliminated.

In the following sections the three types of dictatorship will be described using this formal structure.

4b. Constitutional Dictatorship

SubjectEither a presidential figure or a committee such as a war cabinet.

Who delegates: Powers are delegated by parliament.

Aim: To restore the pre-crisis constitutional order.

Threat: Generally, there are three threats. There are domestic enemies, foreign enemies or the threat of financial instability.

4c. Left-wing Dictatorship

SubjectA committee.

Who delegates: Powers are delegated by workers’ representative bodies.

Aim: To institute a classless order.

Threat: Any groups such as the bourgeoisie, the church, or aristocracies who are class enemies.

4d. Right-wing Dictatorship

SubjectA leader-figure.

Who delegates: ‘Transcendent’ ruler, e.g. king or highly regarded political figure. This figure may be absent.

Aim: To reform the existing political order.

Threat: Domestic enemies who attack the pre-existing social fabric of the country.

5. Synonyms of Dictatorship

In the dictionary there are many synonyms of dictatorship. A quick description of these synonyms is now given.

Tyranny:  Tyranny is a lawless form of government. Only the personal aggrandizement of the tyrant is of any consequence. One of the marks of a tyrant is that he must be protected by bodyguards hired from foreign countries.

Despotism: A despot is a legitimate ruler who rules without reference to a written body of laws such as those in a constitution. He rules personally but with the co-operation of a large part of the population he rules over.

Autocracy: Generally, this refers to a traditional type of ruler who belongs to a dynastic house. He rules with a view to propagating the family line.

Authoritarianism: This is a catch-all word that could apply to many forms of government, including democracy. The emphasis in an authoritarian regime is that of controlling the instruments of power. Authoritarians will often not interfere in the private sphere and can grant considerable freedom to citizens.

Totalitarianism: In a totalitarian regime there is total control of all aspects of citizens lives usually with the intention of socially engineering citizens directly.   

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