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Dictatorship - Definition

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were two of the 20th century's most notorious dictators. A dictatorship is a government headed by a dictator or more generally any authoritarian or totalitarian government. It is considered to be the polar opposite of a democracy. A dictatorship is often seen as equivalent to a police state, but the term dictatorship refers to the way the leaders gain and hold power, not the watch kept on the citizens. Some dictators have been popular enough not to have to employ many very oppressive measures. The term generally has a pejorative meaning in reference to a government that does not allow a nation to determine its own political direction by popular election. Originally a legitimate military office in the Roman Republic, a "dictator" was an official given emergency powers by the Senate. The dictator had absolute power, but for a limited time. This was initially intended to deal with some state of emergency. In modern times, claims of such states of emergency are often used to justify seizures of power and suspensions of civil rights.

A dictatorship is only better than a democracy when the leader acts selflessly, and can either go against their morals if it's what their people want, or if they can make their country better. One famous example was Napoleon Bonaparte, at least in his early rule. He obviously got a bit arrogant after a while though. Queen Elizabeth was another good one. In eastern history, there was also Tokugawa, and a few early Qing rulers.

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Dictatorship provides great power and the possibility to make the ideas of the leader reality in a straight way. It heavily depends on the quality of the leading person, if this is for good or for bad, a way more than in an oligarchy or democracy. If the leader is a good one, it's the best form of government, if he is

bad, it's the most horrible system, you can imagine. There is no free judification or other political interest groups, that can break the actions. Government works fast, direct and without compromise. A little other negative point is, that dictatorships got a very bad international press, as basic rights and democratic decissions have become world wide consens. Therefor a dictatoric regime might be somehow isolated JAGADEESH>

Aside from SCDB, which was a little Male-Answer-Syndrome, no one here has done even a passable job of answering the question. The real way to get at it is to look at arguments made for and against dictators throughout history. Luckily, there are a bunch in books you should already have read. We'll start with Plato's Republic. In it, Plato argues tha the best form of government is under a Philosopher King, and the worst form is a Tyranny. The Philosopher King is imbued with the wisdom to fully understand and execute justice. The regime is best because he is the perfect embodiment of that knowledge and his role is defined by doing the best for the state. The governments that follow (as Philosopher Regencies inherently devolve into other forms of government) are Aristocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, Tyranny. The tyrant is the worst government and worst soul because he doesn't act according to the nature of his position. We'll skip Aristotle's Politics since it's been a while since I read it, and I read it with an eye toward promoting democracy, not dictatorship. But SCDB is right in saying that the dictators of Rome should be examined, though it's easy to argue that Augustus was the last great man to come out of the Republican era, rather than the first great man of the Imperial era (with the emphasis shifting to favor the oligarchy of the Senate). The next two people you should read are Machiavelli and Hobbes. Machiavelli presents the practical concerns of a regent, and that can be the explication of the effects of monarchy. Still, Machiavelli prefers a republic, so his view might be taken with a grain of salt (it was also written to be deeply flatering, so keep that in mind too). The single most important man in the history of arguments for dictators is Thomas Hobbes, and his book is Leviathan. In it, Hobbes starts with first principles, defining a state of nature where all men are essentially equal in their ability to kill one another. Proceeding from this, and granting that reason shows us that violent

deaths are the worst thing that can happen, we should look to create a system that will prevent us from dying violently. Hobbes argues that the only way to be sure of this is a strong sovereign who is the living embodiment of the state. This Leviathan can muster every cell of the body politic for self-preservation, and by being guided by Christian (though Hobbes' Christianity is odd) principles, can be the most effective bullwark against the threat of death. Essentially, dictators are necessary when there is a legitimate exterior threat that promises iolent death for significant portions of the populace (though Hobbes argues that they arise naturally through man's actions, and thus are always necessary). Republics and democracies are inefficient and more likely to be suborned by competing interests and human passions. But really, the best answer is to READ HOBBES. It's tough, but I believe it's free out on the net somewhere. And it's totally worth it.

The problem of a dictatorship (or, to be historically accurate with terminology, an authoritarian regime; a dictatorship was considered part of republican government before the 20th century) is that state power is not inherently neutral. (Caveat lector: this is a sketch of the Marxist position.) It is the state of a section of society, and rules in the interests of that section. In agricultural societies, the government represents the landowning classes. In capitalistic societies, it represents the capitalist class. In the bureaucratic "socialist" states of the 20th century, it represented the ruling bureaucracy, which was functionally a capitalist class. You can't separate out "dictatorship" from "dictatorship for some interest." For the most part, authoritarian governments have stood over societies of peasants and/or a mix of peasants and industrial workers. Their role has been to keep "law and order," that is, to keep property relations as they are. If you are in a group that is in power, or does not challenge the power structure, such as small artisans or shop owners, then a dictatorship of this sort can be beneficial -- prosperous and orderly. If you're a worker or a peasant, it means that you had better keep your head down or it might get chopped off. In general, dictators tend to attract certain followings from the middle classes and the "lumpen" (dispossessed) classes, who stand to benefit from the dictatorship, as a supplement to their social basis among the ruling classes. This requires a good dose of ideology (in the Marxist sense, where ideology means the "common sense" created by the ruling class), which often takes viciously nationalistic or ethnic or religious forms, and that means that dictatorships often inflict atrocities on ethnic, national or religious minorities. Fundamentally, these dictatorships come to power because they are necessary to maintain the power structure in society, and they extract a high human cost in return. In the modern sense, a "benevolent" dictatorship is a myth that is soaked with oceans of blood.


More of the Worlds Greatest Dictators

Dictators are people toojust trying to make lives for themselves in this crazy, mixed-up world. Sometimes, they too inwardly hum the Ally McBeal theme as they gas villages full of Kurds, Serbs, Hutus, and whathaveyous. Theyve been searching their souls, and what they found was an inky-black core of twitching, pulsing evil. That makes them sad. Especially if their talents are also being roundly ignored. Right now, as we explored last week, Africa is holding its own in producing world-class crazed buffoons to run its countries. But what about the former Eastern Bloc? All those ex-Soviet satellites that went kaputnik in the big family breakup of the early 90s have retreated to obscurity, and now no one outside the Foreign Office can get within 1,000 miles of pinpointing Tajikistan on a map. But that doesnt mean that these nations have given up the comfort-blanket of sham elections, does it? No, autocracy remains alive and well, and their dictators deserve their moment in the sun as much as the next mustachioed man in a quasi-military uniform with 100 medals pinned to it.

Aleksandr Lukashenko Belarus In his 16 years at the helm of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko has earned himself the enviable tag of Europes Last Dictator. This is despite his best efforts to prove otherwise. In 2004, he later confessed, he had deliberately instructed state radio to announce a lower share of the vote for himself86%, rather than the 93.5% hed actually won. Why? Because the generous autocrat had hoped to please his external trade partners by making the result look more like a conventional democratic vote-share. But it turns out you just cant win with some folks. And neither can you lose. Likewise, his commitment to civil liberties is absolute. I want to come from the premise that the elections in Belarus are held for ourselves, he announced just before the 2004 poll. I am sure that it is the Belarus people who are the masters in our state. Of course, at the same time, he also announced that anyone joining an opposition protest would be automatically treated as a terrorist and would have their necks wrung as one might a duck. A collective-farm manager in olden times, Lukashenko was a genuine populist leader who won the elections in 1994 by scything past the upper crust of decrepit former Soviet politburo. His campaign was run and won on an Ordinary-Joe ticket. He was the common man. He was change. And hope. Since then, hes made mincemeat of anyone who hopes for change. Two of his cabinet colleagues have simply disappeared, never to be seen again. Often, he fritters away what little goodwill hes built up on daft acts of personal vanity. In 1998 he decided he wanted to take control of an upmarket gated community in the capital, where he had a house. The compound, however, was already shared with 25 ambassadors, including the British and American envoys. So, he simply instructed the power company to turn off the gas and electricity to smoke them out. After that failed to shift them, he changed the locks on the gates. Despite Britain and America withdrawing their ambassadors in protest, he stuck to his guns.

But in spite of the wringer he puts his dissidents through, most Belarusians have a grudging respect for Lukashenko. Things may be bad, the feeling goes, but at least we get paid promptlya blessing when compared to a other, more democratic nations in their region. Whatever his failings, Lukashenko makes the buses run on time. As the man himself put it: Germany was raised from ruins thanks to firm authority and not everything connected with that well-known figure Hitler was bad. Well. Quite.

Islam Karimov Uzbekistan On 9 January 2000, Islam Karimov was re-elected as president of Uzbekistan with a whopping 91.9% of the vote. Perhaps it would have been closer to 91.89% had not Karimovs only opponent actually voted for him too. That opponent, Abdulhafiz Jalalov, admitted that he was, naturally enough, full-square behind the President, and that his only role had been to make the whole democracy charade seem like it had some purpose. In Uzbekistan, the only opposition has nothing to do with elections: it comes from Islamicallyorientated freedom-fighters who have sporadically taken up arms against the government. Karimov has been understandably keen to conflate these semi-legitimate rebels with Al Qaeda,

in order to win US backing for further pogroms as part of the War On Terror. This he does by torturing them in droves, then supplying jumped-up evidence about Bin Laden connections, extracted at drill point, to his pals at the US State Department. The Americans, in turn, have to hear him out and smile nicely, because Uzbekistan shares a convenient border with Afghanistan it was from there that the 2001 Afghan invasion was originally launched. But torture isnt just a quaint pastime for Karimov; its close to an obsession. Like the Amins and Pol Pots before him, he delights in dreaming-up new ways in which to hurt his victims. Electrocution, chlorine-filled gas masks, drowning, rape, shooting, beatings, these are a few of his favorite thingsbut boiling them alive is the one he really really loves. Im prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people in order to save the republic, he asserted after a brief uprising in 1999. And cook them as well, no doubt.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov Turkmenistan The dictating scene in Turkmenistan has been in recession since the death, in 2006, of Saparmurat Niyazov. The incomparably batshit Turkmenbashis foibles included naming the days of the week after his family, naming nearly everything else after himself, forbidding the growing of beards (allegedly because he couldnt grow one himself), closing all libraries outside the capital because he believed that Turkmens were all illiterate anyway, banning video games and car-radios, banning smoking in public (but only after he was forced to give up the coffinnails following a heart-op), banning lip-syncing at pop concerts, demanding that a palace of ice be built at the outskirts of the capital (despite the year-round 100 degree heat), sacking his interior minister on live TV (declaring, Youve never done much to fight crime anyway), and writing a national anthem that made repeated reference to the sun shining out of his ass. In 2006, he closed all the hospitals outside the capital. He was that kind of guy. So when he died of heart failure, it was natural that a brainwashed nation would turn to a man who already bore an uncanny physical resemblance to their dear departed leader. It was also reasonable that Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedowwhose name doesnt get any easier to spell no matter how often you look at itwould want to capitalize on his likeness. His agents soon spread

a rumor that the ex-health minister was the illegitimate son of their former leader. The dynastic connection established, new President For Life Berdimuhamedow was able to start building up his own pool of wacky requests, including asserting that only he should be referred to by his first name in state press releases (others having been reduced to mere initials). While reserving the right to do bad things to anyone he doesnt like the look of, the former dentist has however made a few concessions: deleting all mentions of Niyazov in the national anthem, un-naming the days of the week, allowing news anchors to wear make-upyou know, the sort of stuff that was in the Lib Dem manifesto. And so, while they still rank third behind North Korea and Burma on the global index of press freedom, when youre working from such a high base, his modest relaxations have already earned Berdimuhamedow pats on the back and a great reformer tag from Western powers. Or at least from those Western powers eager to get their hands on his countrys vast natural gas reserves. Everybody loves vast natural gas reserves. GAVIN HAYNES

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