A dictatorship is an authoritarian structure of government. Most of them are characterized by a single leader with either no party or one that is weak. It is also possible for a group of leaders to form this system if they all take a like-minded approach. Those in power achieve success because there is limited political pluralism, no mass mobilization or dissent, and a willingness of the people to want to take their country in a new direction.
Beside the growth found in constitutional democracies, dictatorships were one of the most popular forms of government created in the 20th century. Most systems do not actually call their leader a dictator. It is a title that is usually offered in a benign form of leadership. Adolf Hitler famously used Führer as his title, which translates to “guide” or leader.” Stalin preferred Vozhd (also leader), while Jozef Pilsudski in Poland liked to be referred to as the Chief of State.
Up until the early 2th century, there were four types of dictatorships recognized.
With the development of third-world dictatorships, religious-based governments, and even dynastic structures, there is a broad range of different styles of governing available in this format today.
In the typical dictatorship form of government, the common aspect you will find is a reliance on the personality strength of the person in charge to retain power. This action is accomplished through the suppression of freedom of speech, thought, and action to the general public. It is a process which allows social supremacy and stability because there is complete political control over the nation.
You will also find that authoritarian structures like a dictatorship often employ propaganda to influence proponents, discredit opponents, and maintain the overall governing system.
List of the Pros of Dictatorships
1. Crime levels decrease quickly when a dictatorship arises in society.
Although crime levels typically rise in a dictatorship because there are different laws passed, sometimes at a whim by the leader, which criminalize specific behaviors, what we traditionally think of as criminal activity decreases under this authoritarian structure. The swift, often harsh punishments that are handed out when a criminal act occurs is a massive deterrent against activities which are harmful to society.
In the Philippines, the total number of focused crimes dropped by 50% after the rise of an authoritarian regime. There are now fewer carjacking incidents, robberies, and miscellaneous theft incidents that law enforcement must respond to because of the presence of a self-declared dictator.
2. Dictators can direct government resources immediately.
Because a dictatorship places all of the power into a single person or group, it is much easier for the government to respond in situations where resource allocation must occur quickly. Whether it is a natural disaster, an incident of terrorism, or some other type of emergency, the dictator can issue one command to begin the process of offering relief. Even if there are other governmental branches that are active in this system, the final authority is, and always will be, in the hands of the person or group in charge.
The opposite can also occur with this advantage. Dictators might decide that the people who require resources do not deserve them. They could also make the decision that only a certain group of people with a specific social status will receive assistance.
3. You can remove corruption from the government.
If we were to look at the government run by Adolf Hitler during the Nazi era, one would say in hindsight that many of the decisions made were because of political corruption, personal greed, and an immoral attitude toward a specific population group. When you have a dictatorship form of government in society, the ruling party no longer cares about the idea of corruption because the leader(s) have complete control over the nation. There are no special interests beyond the edicts that come from the government. There is nothing that the general population can do to stop these orders either, which means bribes and influence become legal.
4. It can be a way to promote innovation.
Germany’s military sophistication during the World War II years dramatically increased under the direction of a dictatorship. Even though they were unable to field many of the weapons that were developed domestically, the first mass-produced assault rifle in the world (the Sturmgewehr 44) came about because of this government structure. The Nazis produced the first jet-powered plane to enter combat. The Horten Ho 229 was also the first operational flying wing aircraft, although the project never gained much momentum.
There was also the cruise missile technologies developed during this era that the Allied Powers, including the United States, used to develop their own programs for missile defense and armament.
5. Dictators can use their personality to improve international diplomacy.
A dictatorship often depends on the morality of the person or group in charge of the government to determine whether it will be successful or a failure. When the leaders can use their influence to form alliances with other governments around the world, then their ability to sign treaties, negotiate trade policies, and create other favorable positions can benefit their entire population. Dictators who recognize that compromise and patriotism without exploitation lead to stronger economic systems could arguably see more GDP success with their efforts than any other form of government.
6. Dictatorships appoint specific people to lead the government.
You will not end up with a random nominee when your government is a dictatorship. The people who become dictators or form a ruling group have the knowledge, wisdom, and experience to become political leaders for their country. The system is similar to that of a monarchy when it can last for multiple generations because each leader works to groom their chosen heir to fulfill the position.
North Korea takes advantage of this benefit through their line of success with the Kim Dynasty. Called the Mount Paektu Bloodline, it is a three-generation lineage that descends from the country’s first leader Kim Il-sung in 1948.
7. Dictators can help to provide stability in the government.
When a government has a single person or group that leads each decision, then there is more stability available to the society because a transfer of power is no longer necessary. Over a dozen world leaders have been in charge for more than 25 years in their government, with a similar number holding down the fort for at least 15 years. When there is no longer a need to install new people into these roles, then long-term changes in society become possible because there is no longer a legislative emphasis on centrism.
Although dictators who fall on the extreme end of the political spectrum can cause immense harm, there is also the potential for a lot of good things to happen.
8. Dictatorships feel relatable to the average person.
Because a dictator or group comes to power through the charm of their personality, the leader(s) feels like a relatable person to the general public. That would be the type of individual which you could invite home for dinner one night because they feel like a friend. They make it seem like their knowledge of your circumstances makes it possible to create a better life if given a chance. You might call it the “chicken in a pot” promise.
We get that phrase from a political advertisement that supported Herbert Hoover in 1928 which was printed in The New York Times. “Under higher tariff and lower taxation, America has stabilized output, employment, and dividend rates,” the advertisement says. This type of promise is one that you will often see dictators make as well.
List of the Cons of Dictatorships
1. Dictators have the first priority of staying in power for as long as possible.
The goal of a dictatorship is the same as any other authoritarian government. It has the first priority of keeping the leader(s) in charge while they attempt to create policies that reflect what they want to see in society. Although there is the potential for good in such an action, most dictators take the opposite approach.
Adolf Hitler’s orders and policies directly and indirectly results in the deaths of about 50 million people across the European continent. Similar outcomes are found in almost every other government structure like this in the 20th century on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Dictatorships can change the laws at any time.
The speed at which laws and policies can change in a dictatorship can be an advantage, but it is far too often done to cause harm to a specific group of people instead. The only process that a dictator or group must follow to change the governing legislation is to issue an order. Once that occurs, it becomes the law of the land immediately. It is even possible for the leaders in this government structure to make the legislation retroactive to punish political opponents, ethnic groups, or other societal demographics. The will of just one person can be imposed on millions because of this structure.
Although households with wealth often benefit financially from the policies of a dictatorship, it is a success that is fleeting. If that government structure should ever fall, their support for the dictator will typically cause the new system to strip them of their net worth.
3. Dictators rarely allow for opposition to exist in their country.
There is rarely an opposition party allowed in the structure of a dictatorship. Even the leaders who do hold power may not belong to any specific group. When there is a political party in place, there is only one that the government authorizes. The National Fascist Party, or the PNF, was created by Benito Mussolini as a political expression of dictatorship, ruling Italy from 1922 after their March on Rome to 1943 when Mussolini was deposed from his role as a dictator by the Grand Council of Fascism.
It is not unusual for any display of opposition to be criminally outlawed in this form of government. Force is fast and violent, sometimes with death warrants issued when the dictator perceives the individual or group to be an imminent threat to their power. Over 40,000 death sentences were handed down during Hitler’s reign over Germany, with most being carried out by using the guillotine.
4. The targets of dictators are usually innocent people.
It is surprisingly common for dictators to authorize the mass killings of innocent people as a way for them to stay in charge. This process is one of the easiest and fastest ways to consolidate power in this government structure. Even if there is only a perceived threat of a takeover, the authority given to this leader or group allows for strict laws to become nationally implemented at a moment’s notice. Some even issue orders as a direct response to opposition activities. That is why the majority of a population flees a country in this structure because millions can die if they decide to stay at home.
5. Dictatorships can struggle to maintain control with the removal of a leader.
On the odd chance that a dictator decides to relinquish their power voluntarily, the power vacuum this situation would create could be enough to destroy the government entirely. This outcome is possible even if the leader passes away without a succession plan in place. Even the perception of a problem can be enough to create unrest throughout society until someone can step into the vacant role. Because of this disadvantage, it is not unusual for dictators or groups to designate a line of succession that is based on their own self-interest.
When Kim Jon-un had his half-brother murdered in Malaysia, this action was representative of this potential disadvantage. The goal was to ensure there wouldn’t be a future political fight for power.
6. It is a system of government that typically reduces productivity.
Although a dictatorship does create an opportunity for increased productivity levels through the implementation of fear, the focus of the general population is to stay in compliance with the ever-changing laws that filter through. It is not unusual for the average person to become indifferent to their government because their focus remains on getting through the day. Over time, the gaps in manufacturing and agriculture can become severe enough that there aren’t enough resources in the country to provide for everyone.
We can see this disadvantage playing out in North Korea right now. If you have wealth in the country, then you can get your hands on almost anything you want. When you are just an average person in the general population, then finding food or having heat for your home are not guaranteed. That means your worries are more about your daily needs than any political choices there might be.
7. Personal rights are severely restricted in dictatorships.
There are several common restrictions that you will find present in this form of government. Most of them involve a right to speak your mind, practice the religion that you want, or access information that does not include propaganda. The goal of these restrictions is to keep the general population suppressed to ensure that the dictator can remain in power for however long they wish to stay there. It may provide short-term results because of the fear of reprisal, but it can also become the first step toward the nation failing since people will eventually resist if the screws against them get turned deep enough.
8. Dictators rule through fear more than they do through successful political processes.
The theory of dictatorship does allow for societal benefits if the best interests of the general population are at the heart of each action taken by the leader or group. Reality suggests that most dictators think more about their political ambitions and global power more than they do about a family having enough to eat at night. During the 20th century, only three dictators (Zedong, Hitler, Stalin) were responsible for the deaths of over 100 million people. Their actions to cause these outcomes were a method of staying in power because it told the average person that if they stepped out of line, then they could suffer a similar fate.
9. This form of government isolates the leadership and nation from the rest of the world.
Dictatorships are not well-accepted by the rest of the world. You will find that the allies of most dictators tend to be other countries who have a similar form of government. Communist governments also tend to support this structure whenever they can. Although this doesn’t completely isolate the country from the rest of the world, it can become problematic from an economic standpoint.
The economic crisis in Venezuela is a prime example of this issue. It was a country that was once rich, but it is now suffering from rampant inflation. Oil revenues have crashed at the same time, which means the 1.3 million percent inflation is destroying any lingering wealth that people have. It costs more today to purchase a banana there than it did to buy a house just a decade ago. By the end of 2018, prices were doubling every 19 days.
10. The people have no control over the leadership of their country.
The National People’s Congress eliminated the term limits that were in place in China for their leader in 2018, which means Xi Jinping essentially can rule for life because of the structure of his government. Elections are sometimes held with this form of government, such as in Russia or Venezuela, but the authenticity of the vote almost always comes into question. When a dictator is in charge of the government, the people have no say in how their future governing experience will be. Even if these actions are benevolent, there is much less control for society to have a say in what happens.
11. Many dictatorships are run through the military.
It is not unusual for the military of a nation to decide that they want to take over the government. Once this coup occurs, then the leading general is typically appointed as the ruling leader. This person remains in charge until they decide to retire, leave, or die, which then places the responsibility on the next person in the chain-of command. This issue is problematic for society because the military can enforce laws to the extreme, which we often see on the African continent today. You either join, submit, or pay the price.
Conclusion of the Pros and Cons of Dictatorships
When we evaluate the pros and cons of dictatorships as a government structure, it is essential to remember that many of the advantages are hypothetical situations. When individuals come into great power, the most common response is to maintain that superiority by hurting other people. Some estimates place the death toll from this governing option at more than 200 million people in the 20th century alone.
We must remember the lessons that history teaches if we are going to avoid the adverse conditions that this governing structure provides. As of April 2019, there are currently 50 countries being ruled by a dictator, with most of them in Africa and Asia. We cannot assume that a leader or a group will have the best interests for everyone in mind when issuing orders or passing laws. Unlimited power creates a temptation to be selfish. Most people fall in that scenario.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.