188.8.131.52 Seizure of Power by Force: Dictatorship
Charismatic leaders offer various justifications for their seizure of power by force, becoming dictators in a totalitarian political system
Dictators usually promise better government as a reason for a change, as in the following examples:
● Military coups often claim a need to restore stability (not always necessary in the circumstances). That was the declared justification for the military governments in Egypt and Myanmar for example. Beverly Milton-Edwards offered another example in her paper Iraq, past, present and future: a thoroughly-modern mandate?:
“endemic popular discontent, chronic political instability and repeated military coups, only brought to an end by the accession to power of Saddam Hussein in 1979”.
● A coup d’état might be justified by economic dissatisfaction and claims that the current incumbent is performing badly. For example, an LSE paper, Guarding the State or Protecting the Economy?: The Economic Factors of Pakistan’s Military Coups, 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.
● Nationalist struggles, like those which expelled the colonial powers in Africa, are waged in the name of freedom.
Max Weber, in paragraph 9 of his lecture Politics as a Vocation, referred to “‘charismatic’ domination” 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 (184.108.40.206). 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. Some dictators try to install a hereditary monarchy, as described below (220.127.116.11). A coup d’état has been the mechanism in many cases, but that can lead to violence. The best hope is for a peaceful transition to an elected presidency.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6313.htm.