By definition, a dictatorship is an absolute authority in any sphere. It often refers to a form of government that has the authority of absolute rule within one person or a structured polity. In some instances, a group of nations or communities could be governed under a dictatorship instead of a single nation.
The primary benefit of this government structure is that it permits swift changes to occur within a society. Once the dictator decrees what should happen, those changes are made. There are no legislative delays or ongoing debates about which course of action should be better. The dictator has sole control, which eliminates any arguments or fighting that could stop the process of change before it starts.
The issue that is often seen with a dictatorship is volatility. Absolute power often corrupts absolutely, which means the society is left to the whims of the person or polity in charge of the society. Rare is the dictator that can use the absolute power they wield to the benefit of others instead of their own personal benefit.
Here are additional pros and cons of a dictatorship to discuss.
List of the Pros of a Dictatorship
1. It can have a deterrent effect on crime.
Under the self-described Duterte dictatorship administration in the Philippines, between FY 2016 and FY 2017, the number of violent crimes decreased dramatically. The total number of focused crimes dropped from over 158,000 to just under 80,000. This resulted in a reduction of theft, robbery, and carnapping incidents. Even if 7,000 killings from the government’s drug war are added into the figures, the crime levels are still much lower than in previous administrations.
#2. Political corruption is taken out of the shadows.
Within the auspices of a dictatorship, the ruler or ruling party has no need to cover up any form of political corruption. That is because they answer to no one but themselves. Because of this, corruption within government systems is often reduced under this form of government because there is no need for it. A dictator can be forthright because little can be done to stop them. Workers within the party or government avoid breaking the rules because of the fear of repercussions.
3. It can provide effective responses during emergency situations.
Within a dictatorship, there is very little red tape. If the dictator decrees that an action should be taken, then it is done. That format can be very useful should a natural disaster or some other form of emergency occur in that society. Resources can be allocated with one simple command instead of multiple layers of approval, allowing help to be received faster. That is, of course, based on the assumption that the dictator decides to provide emergency relief in the first place.
4. Dictatorships can take the lead on innovation.
A dictatorship doesn’t need to worry about pleasing the population. It needs to worry about making sure it can stay in power. Because of that, many dictatorships have numerous resources dedicated to research and development. Not only are there fewer obstacles in the way, but people can be ordered to perform the research as part of the regular duties. That can lead to fast advancements in a number of fields if the resources are properly allocated.
5. It can provide ruling stability.
Governments that are based on a dictatorship often see a single ruler or ruling group in charge for several decades. Even violent dictators that have no concern for the lives of their people can remain in charge for a lengthy period. As of November 2017, there were 12 world dictators that had been in charge for 25 years or more. There are another 16 world leaders that have held their position for 15 years or more.
6. International diplomacy can flourish.
A dictator of sound mind and body, along with a benevolent and patriotic streak, can form beneficial alliances with other world governments with relative ease. Foreign policy runs straight through the ruler or ruling party, which makes it easier to advance a negotiating position for both sides. Checks and balances will always be part of international diplomacy and a dictator that recognizes this can create incredible opportunities for their people.
7. Many dictators come to power through experience.
It takes experience to run a country of any size. For that reason, the structure of a monarchy keeps the training for governing within the family. In a dictatorship, the experience comes from first-hand incidents that generate expertise. Think of it like this. You have one person who trained for 4 years in school to be a welder. You have another person who has worked the last 4 years, 8 hours every day, as a welder. Which person would you hire for your next welding job?
That is why the power of a dictatorship can seem so inviting, especially to a nation that has been struggling economically. The real-life experiences of the ruler feel relatable to the general public, which allows them to accept the idea that sacrificing their rights for the better good of everyone is an idea worth pursuing.
List of the Cons of a Dictatorship
1. It is never a long-term solution to governing.
In any given period of history, dictatorships tend to happen on the African continent more often than anywhere else. In 2015, about 50% of the governments run by dictatorship existed on the continent. Idriss Deby Itno, for example, has managed to rule Chad since 1990, but has had to survive several attempts to overthrow his rule. Even when his role was switch to “President” and elections were held, he has still retained power. The problem with a dictator is that once that person dies, a different dictator or another form of government takes over.
Another example if Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. On November 15, 2017, the government of his country was taken over by the military after 30 years of his sole possession of national leadership.
2. Opposition is rarely permitted.
Under most dictatorships, opposition to the ruler or ruling party is rarely permitted. Any public displays of opposition are often met with force, up to and including death warrants being issued for the individuals involved. Many dictators even crack down on private displays of opposition.
That means the dictator remains isolated, the society suffers, and people die because there are no checks and balances allowed in this form of government – unless the dictator allows it, that is.
3. Laws can be changed at any time.
The speed of implementation that a dictatorship can provide to its society can be beneficial, but it is often used for harm instead. No process is required for laws, procedures, or policies to change under this form of government. The dictator can impose their will on the people at any time and for any reason.
History has shown us, from the Nazis to modern dictators like Saddam Hussein, that dictators create laws which benefit them and their friends or allies more than they benefit the average person. If a person can get themselves into that top socioeconomic tier, then a dictatorship can seem beneficial. For many, however, the rich get richer in a dictatorship and the poor eventually wind up dead.
4. The nation becomes isolated, just like the leadership.
Cuba is an excellent example of the isolationism a culture faces when being ruled by a dictatorship. When Fidel Castro took over the government, it led to a slow decline of international relationships over the decades. Some countries implemented complete economic restrictions in response to Castro’s actions. Some of those economic restrictions have been eased or eliminated, but the toll on the society has left permanent scars.
At the same time, Castro was hardly bothered by the sanctions. He could get what he wanted. It was the general population that suffered because of the actions and decisions of the government.
5. Ruling by fear is a common action within a dictatorship.
Adolf Hitler is believed to have killed a total of 18 million people in a quest to achieve his vision of perfection. Joseph Stalin is credited with killing around 40 million people during his reign of power. Mao Zedong ruled China in the years after World War II and is credited with killing at least 65 million people.
Three dictators responsible for over 100 million deaths. That is the equivalent to the number of people who died in both world wars.
6. Personal rights are often restricted, if not completely eliminated.
Within a dictatorship, the goal is to create population control. One method of accomplishing this is through the creation of a police state. Another is to restrict or eliminate personal rights of individuals within that society. Common restrictions involve free speech, access to certain religions, or even access to the internet. This oppression may work in the short-term for control, but often creates long-term problems that often end in violence.
7. It creates a disinterest within the society.
Because there is such oppression of the general population within a dictatorship, the end result is often a lack of personal initiative. Individuals become focused on providing the complete obedience that is required of them so they can maintain a semblance of a life with their family.
Most become indifferent to the government because they lose their long-term vision in an effort to survive to see another day. Over time, this creates a government that is one-sided and will eventually fall.
8. Power vacuums can be created instantly.
When a dictator decides to step aside, is killed, or dies of natural causes, a power vacuum is immediately created within that government. Even if there is a clear line of succession, such as has been seen in North Korea, the perception of a power vacuum can create an impression of political unrest. To reinforce their ruling position, a dictator may decide to take unilateral actions to eliminate any real or perceived threat to their leadership.
One of the latest examples of this was the murder of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia.
9. Innocent people get caught in power struggles.
Mass killings are common in a dictatorship because of the need to consolidate power. If there is a political rival, any real or perceived followers of that rival will be eliminated with them. The strict laws can be changed at a moment’s notice, even in response to a specific individual’s behavior, to eliminate the idea of innocence through retroactive application of the law. For that reason, people often flee from a dictatorship, even if there is a great risk to their life in doing so, because the risk in fleeing is seen as being less than the risk of staying.
The pros and cons of a dictatorship often focus on the negative for one primary reason: most dictators have unlimited power and they use it for their own benefit. In many ways, this form of government is like a laser. If you point the beam in the correct direction, you can achieve fast and amazing results. If you hold onto the laser for too long, however, the equipment can overheat and you can get burned.
For a society to see the benefits that a dictatorship can bring, the ruler or ruling party must be benevolent, have expertise, be intelligent, and also be selfless. Without these qualities, oppression is the usual result.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.