The 20th century certainly had its share of political problems. Some have come, some have gone, and some are still with us in a new century. Dictatorships have been a big problem for a number of reasons, including their effects on a people, a society, a country, and the international sphere. The 20th century saw a substantial number of dictators, such as General Noriega of Panama, Castro of Cuba, Ceausescu of Romania, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier of Haiti, Marcos of the Philippines, Pol Pot of Cambodia, and Quathafi of Libya. However, three of the most evident in history have been Benito Mussolini in Italy, Adolf Hitler in Germany, and Joseph Stalin of Russia. Mussolini and Hitler represented a fascist type of dictatorship, and Stalin represented a communist type of dictatorship. Both types represent a threat to the United States, Western democracies, and other societies that are trying to practice activities that conform to expected equitable norms.
It is interesting that not all individuals may refer to these persons as dictators. Perhaps that shows the reality of the fact that dictators have been viewed differently by citizens. For example, although the Americans have usually referred to Stalin as a dictator, he had a large number of supporters in his country until his death. Perhaps the same may have been said of Mussolini and Hitler if they had not had untimely deaths and political misfortunes such as lost wars.
A dictatorship need not just refer to one person. It may also refer to a country directed by a small group of persons. However, whether it is a dictatorship of one person or a dictatorship of a number of individuals, it seems to have a number of characteristics associated with it. For example, Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in their work, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, have identified six. They are (1) an official ideology, (2) a single mass party, (3) a system of terroristic police control, (4) a technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of control, (5) a near-complete monopoly of control of all means of effective armed combat, and (6) a central control and direction of the entire economy. What a dictatorship appears to come down to is major control of society by a leader or leaders, little freedom for opposition to the ruling individual or people in political power, and a strong impetus from the government to conform to its norms or face serious punishment.
Obviously, a dictatorship is not always a continuing phenomenon in a country. It may come and go, as we have seen in some countries. However, there are a number of factors that may be cited to inhibit the development of a dictatorship in a society. For example, the allowance of political opposition or the presence of political parties each advocating a different political policy would be methods of keeping the probability of a dictatorship from developing quite low. Along with this political situation is the allowance of free expression among the populace so that different views regarding government policy may be expressed and come to the attention of the mass of citizens. It would also be a good idea to have civilian control of the military, as is found in the United States, to prevent a coup and takeover of the government, as we have seen in many Latin American countries in the last century. Of course, a satisfied public has its advantages of preventing a dictatorship from coming about. This is especially true in situations where the general public realizes that all of us have the opportunity to improve ourselves in life without fear of prejudice based on race, religion, or political affiliation. Other factors that might inhibit the development of a dictatorship include a healthy economic situation in a country and the absence of international conflict that could result in a lost war. When people are hungry and frustrated, as they are in severe economic depressions, and see that their country has been defeated in war, as the Germans experienced after World War I, it is easy to understand that they might be more likely to accept a person like Hitler as their political leader. Perhaps it would have been much more difficult for a person like Hitler to obtain power in Germany if the economic and political situation had been different in that country following World War I.
The 21st century may be one in which we see a continuation of dictatorships around the world, as is evidenced by North Korea and China. If history has shown us anything about international politics, it is that dictatorships pose a potential and real problem for nondictatorships. Hence, countries have to be continually on guard so that they may not be unduly influenced by them. Yet, it is also important to keep the lines of communication open between those countries that are led by a dictatorships and those that are not. This is important because regular communication may lessen the negative impact of dictatorships. They are not immune from being influenced, and influence can come about in many ways. For example, it may be that international public opinion could be important to them. Hence, when their behavior is projected in a negative way on a worldwide basis, this may have the effect of weakening their role in an international sphere of activity. In addition, constant monitoring of their activity and military capabilities has value in that it may prevent such dictatorships from extending their political influence outside of their immediate environment.
As we progress in the 21st century, we can expect to encounter the presence of dictatorships. It would be ideal if they were to cease in existence and be replaced by democratic elements. However, the reality of the situation is that some old ones will continue to exist, some new ones will develop, and some will change their form of a government to a more acceptable type.
- Brooker, P. (2000). Nondemocratic regimes: Theory, government, and politics. Houndmills, UK: Macmillan.
- Fulbrook, M. (1995). Anatomy of a dictatorship: Inside the GDR. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Olson, M. (2000). Power and prosperity: Outgrowing communist and capitalist dictatorships. New York: Basic Books.