What it is: A dictatorship is government by one person holding absolute authority: a dictator, tsar, despot, autocrat or tyrant.

What it means: There have been dictators throughout world history. In the 20th century dictatorships of various kinds developed after the First World War. Kemal Atatürk was a nationalist dictator in Turkey from 1923 to 1938. Adolf Hitler (Germany, 1933-1945), Benito Mussolini (Italy, 1922-1943) and Francisco Franco (Spain, 1939-1975) were notable right-wing fascist dictators. Josef Stalin was dictator of Communist Russia from 1924 until his death in 1953. Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, which was also a Communist country, ran a regime of terror under the title of ‘President’ from 1974 until he was overthrown and executed in 1989. Dictators hang on to power through the use of force. Some, during the last century and in parts of the world such as South America and Africa, were actually put in power (and kept there) by their country’s armed forces. Almost all the (mostly European) dictators named above relied on armed police and other security forces to terrorise the people.

Think about it: Learning about dictators like these can help to identify the sort of person who might be a potential dictator. But the social and political conditions of a dictator’s country and time are more important: they are the reason why many dictators have been able to win support and come to power. ‘It is the charm of dictatorship that it liberates people from responsibility,’ said a Polish newspaper editor who experienced dictatorship at first hand. But people have seldom foreseen the oppression they will endure daily under a dictator: the ‘violence, humiliation, silence’ and ‘the murder of the soul’. Dictators can take over even democratic governments (as Hitler, among others, did). Even leaders who seem to care about the people can still be dictatorial and ignore public opinion. How can we stop power falling into the wrong hands? Do we need to learn more about politics to do that, or is politics part of the problem?