AskDefine | Define dictatorial

Dictionary Definition

dictatorial adj
1 of or characteristic of a dictator; "dictatorial powers"
2 likened to a dictator in severity [syn: authoritarian]
3 expecting unquestioning obedience; "he was imperious and dictatorial"; "the timid child of authoritarian parents"; "insufferably overbearing behavior toward the waiter" [syn: authoritarian, overbearing]
4 characteristic of an absolute ruler or absolute rule; having absolute sovereignty; "an authoritarian regime"; "autocratic government"; "despotic rulers"; "a dictatorial rule that lasted for the duration of the war"; "a tyrannical government" [syn: authoritarian, autocratic, despotic, tyrannical]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. of or pertaining to a dictator
  2. in the manner of a dictator, usually with callous disregard for others


of or pertaining to a dictator
in the manner of a dictator

Extensive Definition

A dictator is an authoritarian ruler (e.g. absolutist or autocratic) who assumes sole power over his or her state, though the term is normally not applied to those who acquire such position by regular constitutional means, such as a hereditary absolute monarch, except to denote personal abuse of power. A government that calls its head of state a dictator is called a dictatorship. The word originated as the title of a magistrate in ancient Rome appointed by the Senate to rule the republic in times of emergency (see Roman dictator and justitium). Like the term tyrant, originally a respectable Ancient Greek title, and to a lesser degree autocrat, it came to be used almost exclusively as a non-titular term for oppressive, even abusive rule, yet had rare modern titular uses.
In modern usage, the term "dictator" is generally used to describe a leader who holds and/or abuses an extraordinary amount of personal power, especially the power to make laws without effective restraint by a legislative assembly. Dictatorships are often characterized by some of the following traits: suspension of elections and of civil liberties; proclamation of a state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents without abiding by rule of law procedures; single-party state, cult of personality, etc.
The term "dictator" is comparable to (but not synonymous with) the ancient concept of a tyrant, although initially "tyrant", like "dictator", did not carry negative connotations. A wide variety of leaders coming to power in a number of different kinds of regimes, such as military juntas, single-party states and civilian governments under personal rule, have been described as dictators.

Classical era

Roman dictators te|Senate]] in times of crisis, as sole chief instead of the regular two Consuls. Uniquely for the Roman Republic (in contrast, for example, to the two consuls), their office was not collegial, although they did have a deputy, the Master of the Horse. They were invested with sweeping authority over the citizens, but their term was usually limited to six months, or the duration of the crisis, and they lacked power over public finances. Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Julius Caesar, however, exceeded these limitations and governed without these constraints. The Romans abandoned the political office after Caesar's murder, although his political heir Augustus developed the Principate, constitutionally a lesser status of 'first citizen', into a de facto dictatorship using different constitutional powers, evolving into the Dominate with the trappings of a monarchy in all but name. The term "dictator" did not originally possess the odious connotations that it later acquired (compare the change of meaning of the ancient Greek concept of the tyrant, or that of the Roman military title of Imperator). Furthermore, a nominal dictator was at certain times appointed to perform certain religious formalities, requiring the highest representation of the state, illustrating the high, positively appreciated prestige of the office.

Modern era

Modern dictators have usually come to power in times of emergency. Frequently dictators have seized power by coup d'état as Benito Mussolini did in Italy at the culmination of his March on Rome. But some dictators, most notably Adolf Hitler in Germany, achieved office as head of government by legal means. However, once he was elected in office, Hitler gained additional extraordinary powers.
Mainly Latin American, Asian, and African nations, especially developing nations, have known many dictatorships, usually by military leaders at the head of a junta, either claiming to constitute a revolution or to reestablish order and stability.
In popular usage in western nations, "dictatorship" is often associated with brutality and oppression. As a result, it is often also used as a term of abuse for political opponents, for example, Henry Clay's dominance in Congress—first as Speaker of the House and later as a member of the Senate—led to his nickname, "the Dictator." The term has also come to be associated with megalomania. Many dictators create a cult of personality and have come to favor increasingly grandiloquent titles and honours for themselves. E.g., Idi Amin Dada, who had been a British army lieutenant prior to Uganda's independence from Britain in October 1962, subsequently styled himself as "His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular". In "The Great Dictator" (1940), Charlie Chaplin satirized not only Hitler but the institution of dictatorship itself. Leaders and their regimes very rarely call themselves "dictator(ship)", and usually do not consider themselves to be oppressive, or simply do not admit it.
The association between the dictator and the military is a common one; many dictators take great pains to emphasize their connections with the military and often wear military uniforms. In some cases, this is perfectly legitimate; Francisco Franco was a lieutenant general in the Spanish Army before he became Chief of State of Spain; Manuel Noriega was officially commander of the Panamanian Defense Forces. In other cases, the association is mere pretense.
In Marxist ideology the dictatorship of the proletariat refers to an intermediate stage between capitalism and pure communism, where the proletariat and/or its representatives must exercise dictatorial power. The term, at least in theory, does not refer to power vested in a single individual.

Modern use in formal titles

Dictator (plain)

Paul Biya, the current President of the Republic of Cameroon was listed by historian David Wallechinsky, in his book Tyrants, the World's 20 Worst Living Dictators, along with three others in sub-Saharan Africa: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and King Mswati of Swaziland. In 2007, Parade magazine ranked Biya the 19th worst dictator in the world. Yuan Shikai
Duan Qirui Enver Hoxha Nicolae Ceauşescu In the former doge-state Venice, while a republic *resisting annexation by either the kingdom of [[Piedmont-Sardinia or the Austrian empire, a former Chief Executive (president, 23 March - 5 July 1848), Daniele Manin (b. 1804 - d. 1857), was styled Dictator 11-13 August 1848 before joining the 13 August 1848 - 7 March 1849 Triumvirate. General Simón Bolívar, the 17 February 1824 - 28 January 1827 Head of state, was acting Dictator until 10 February 1825 when his title changed to Libertador ('Liberator'), and on 9 December 1826 again to President-for-Life. Augusto Pinochet Emilio Aguinaldo, the last President of the Supreme Government Council 23 March 1897 - 16 December 1897 and chairman of the Revolutionary Government from 23 June to 1 November 1897, was dictator from 12 June 1898 - 23 January.
Lee Kuan Yew Manuel Noriega

Compound and derived titles

  • In Paraguay, in a procession of generally short-lived juntas, the last of the Consuls of the Republic in power, two Consuls alternating in power every 4 months, 12 June 1814 - 3 October 1814 José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco (2nd time), succeeded himself as the only ever Supreme Dictator 3 October 1814 - 20 September 1840 - from 6 June 1816 he was styled Perpetual Supreme Dictator

"The benevolent dictator"

The benevolent dictator is a more modern version of the classical “enlightened despot”, being an absolute ruler who exercises his or her political power for the benefit of the people rather than exclusively for his or her own benefit. Like many political classifications, this term suffers from its inherent subjectivity. Such leaders as Napoleon Bonaparte, Anwar Sadat, Kenneth Kaunda, Józef Piłsudski, Miklós Horthy, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and Omar Torrijos have been characterized by their supporters as benevolent dictators.
In Spanish, the word dictablanda is sometimes used for a dictatorship conserving some of the liberties and mechanisms of democracy. (The pun is that, in Spanish, dictadura is “dictatorship”, dura is “hard” and blanda is “soft”). Some examples includes Yugoslavia under Tito or Spain under Francisco Franco. This contrasts with democradura (literally “hard democracy”), characterized by full formal democracy alongside limitations on constitutional freedoms and human rights abuses, frequently within the context of a civil conflict or the existence of an insurgency. Governments in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela have at various times been considered régimes by different critics and opposition groups, not necessarily with an academic or political consensus about the application of the term emerging.

Dictators in game theory

In social choice theory, the notion of a dictator is formally defined as a person that can achieve any feasible social outcome he/she wishes. The formal definition yields an interesting distinction between two different types of dictators.
  • The strong dictator has, for any social goal he/she has in mind (e.g. raise taxes, having someone killed, etc.), a definite way of achieving that goal. This can be seen as having explicit absolute power, like Pinochet in Chile.
  • The weak dictator has, for any social goal he/she has in mind, and for any political scenario, a course of action that would bring about the desired goal. For the weak dictator, it is usually not enough to "give their orders", rather he/she has to manipulate the political scene appropriately. This means that the weak dictator might actually be lurking in the shadows, working within a political setup that seems to be non-dictatorial. An example of such a figure is Lorenzo the Magnificent, who controlled Renaissance Florence.
Note that these definitions disregard some alleged dictators, e.g. Benito Mussolini, who are not interested in the actual achieving of social goals, as much as in propaganda and controlling public opinion. Monarchs and military dictators are also excluded from these definitions, because their rule relies on the consent of other political powers (the barons or the army).

External link

dictatorial in Breton: Diktatour
dictatorial in Bulgarian: Диктатор
dictatorial in Czech: Diktátor
dictatorial in Danish: Diktator
dictatorial in Estonian: Diktaator
dictatorial in Modern Greek (1453-): Δικτάτορας
dictatorial in Persian: دیکتاتور
dictatorial in Croatian: Diktator
dictatorial in Indonesian: Diktator
dictatorial in Italian: Dittatore
dictatorial in Hebrew: דיקטטור
dictatorial in Georgian: დიქტატორი
dictatorial in Latvian: Diktators
dictatorial in Hungarian: Diktátor
dictatorial in Japanese: 独裁者
dictatorial in Polish: Dyktator
dictatorial in Portuguese: Ditador
dictatorial in Russian: Диктатор
dictatorial in Simple English: Dictator
dictatorial in Slovak: Diktátor
dictatorial in Slovenian: Diktator
dictatorial in Finnish: Diktaattori
dictatorial in Swedish: Diktator
dictatorial in Ukrainian: Диктатор
dictatorial in Venetian: Ditador
dictatorial in Chinese: 獨裁者

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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