(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6313.htm)

Dictators justify their seizure of power by declaring a need for change; examples include:

  • Military coups, such as those in Iraq[1] and Pakistan[2] in the 20th century, often claim a need to impose law and order; they can be associated with economic dissatisfaction among the population.
  • Some coups d’état are justified purely by claims that the current incumbent is performing badly.
  • Nationalist struggles, like those which expelled the colonial powers in Africa, are waged in the name of freedom.

Max Weber, in his lecture Politics as a Vocation, referred to the “charismatic authority” exerted by a dictator, whose legitimacy is granted by virtue of people’s respect for the leader and enthusiasm for the cause – though a new government then has to install institutions to become a relatively stable one-party State as described previously (  Continued legitimacy depends upon being seen to govern in the interests of the people.

It is difficult for a dictatorship to achieve a smooth handover of power at the end of the leader’s term of office.  A coup d’état has been the solution in many cases, but that can lead to violence.  The best hope is for a peaceful transition to an elected presidency.



[1] A paper entitled Iraq, past, present and future: a thoroughly-modern mandate? by Beverly Milton-Edwards was available in December 2018 at http://www.historyandpolicy.org/papers/policy-paper-13.html.  It included a list of military coups and the rise of Saddam Hussein, in section 4.

[2] The LSE paper 09-92, entitled Guarding the State or Protecting the Economy? and subtitled The Economic Factors of Pakistan’s Military Coups, was available in December 2018 at http://www.lse.ac.uk/internationalDevelopment/pdf/WP/WP92.pdf.  It concluded that there was a correlation between low economic growth rates and the incidence of military coups in Pakistan in 1958, 1965, 1977 and 1999.