Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Dictatorship Definition:

A form of government with a single person as decision-maker; a single ruler.

Related Terms: Federalism

An individual who, in apparent time of national crisis, assumes all law-making authority; who "dictates" the law; who assumes power not because of any constitutional process but by force, by virtue of his person and not any legal right.

Franz Neumann wrote:

"By dictatorship, we understand the rule of a person or a group of persons who arrogate to themselves and monopolize power in the state, exercising it without restraint."

In ancient Rome, dictatorship was anticipated and planned out as a response to national crisis or menace such as war or famine. In those short-term dictatorship, law-authority, with the law-enforcement machinery of the army behind it, vested in a single person in order that decisions could be made quickly, responsive to the crisis at hand. In this sense, the dictator in Rome was a constitutional dictator as his tenure was provided for in the Roman edicts of government.

Oliver Cromwell became dictator in England circa 1653 and others have been wrongfully labeled such by their political enemies.

Jeffrey Archer once wrote:

"Democracy takes time. Dictatorship is quicker but too many people get shot."


  • Neumann, F., The Democratic and the Authoritarian State (USA: Free Press of Glencoe, 1957).
  • Archer, Jeffrey, A Very British Coup, 1980.

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