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 (  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 (  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.