Citizens living in democracies often associate dictatorships with repression, human rights abuses, poverty and turmoil. Indeed, dictatorships have cost untold lives, including up to 49 million Russian deaths under Joseph Stalin, and up to 3 million Cambodian deaths under Pol Pot.
Given these statistics, ending dictatorship once and for all would seem a worthwhile goal. But is that likely? What allows a dictator to thrive, and how might things change in the future for these leaders?
The terms ‘dictator’ and ‘dictatorship’ can, of course, be subjective – even pejorative. In the academic world, though, the words have more measurable and objective definitions. According to Natasha Ezrow, a senior lecturer in the department of government at the University of Essex, most experts who study dictatorships start with a simple definition: “When there’s no turnover in power of the executive, then it’s a dictatorship,” she says. This means dictatorships could be built around an individual who has established a personality cult, a single governmental party or a military-run oligarchy.