Autocracy | Definition, Features, Merits & Demerits

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What is Autocracy? Definition, Features, Advantages & Disadvantages

Autocracy: Autocratic Rule

Definition of Autocracy

An autocracy is a government under the control of one person who usually achieved his position by force. It is a government of an absolute ruler. The autocratic state is a form of despotic or tyrannical rule.

The autocratic state is also sometimes called the authoritarian state. it represents an attempt by the ruling classes to perpetuate their domination.

A typical example of an autocracy system of government is Chile under General Augusto Pinochet which overthrew the democratically-elected socialist government of President Salvador Allende in 1973.

Etymologically, the term autocracy derives from the Greek words “autos“, which means by itself, and “kratos“, which means government or power.

Ultimately, the concept of autocracy comprises a form of government directed by a single person, who does not have any type of control by their governed. In other words, it is a non-democratic regime.

In this absolute power there are no limits for the president, since there are no regulation or control mechanisms for him, unless a coup d’état or a massive insurrection occurs.

Autocracy | Definition, Features, Merits & Demerits

Adolf Hitler came to power legitimately but ruled with autocracy.

Characteristics of Autocracy

These are some of the Features of an autocratic leader.

  • Concentration of power
  • Rise to power
  • Repression
  • Violence
  • Corruption
  • Cult of Personality
  • Formation of an Oligarchy
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Features of Autocratic Rule

The main characteristics of autocracy may be summarised as follows:

  • It is usually found in developing countries which are dependent on the developed capitalist countries. The crises of the society and the world economy which threaten the continued existence of the state and the ruling class encourage the emergence of an autocratic government.
  • The autocratic state is similar to the fascist state which existed in europe in the early 20th century.
  • At the beginning, openly oppressive rule was usually justified by the need to deal with nepotism, corruption and other social vices.
  • There is a highly developed system of terror and repression. The terror and repression may involved the use of torture, assassination and other forms of physical violence against opponents or would-be opponents of the ruling elite.
  • Repression operate openly or covertly
  • Despite poverty and economic crisis, the autocratic state finances a large military apparatus. In the words of Clive Thomas, there is a large “unproductive sector of spies, enforcers, assassins, thugs, etc”.
  • There is a general tendency to manipulate the electoral and the legal process, and of constitutionality in general. This is done to create a ‘legal’ basis for the unconstitutional exercise of state power.
  • In an autocratic state, the government normally embarks on the destruction of the organs of the masses in order to assure its own security.
  • Parallel institutions are usually established where it is difficult, or impossible to deal with popular or mass organisations. For example, government-sponsored trade unions or bodies may be floated to counter the popular ones.
  • The formulation of policy is generally arrived at without allowing argument or objection.
  • The government believed to be socialist or capitalist.
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Autocratic Regime: Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of Autocracy

It is difficult to talk of the benefit of autocracy as most governmental activities are directed towards sustaining a one-man rule.

Nevertheless, this system of government may facilitate the mobilization of the people for rapid social economic development.

Disadvantages of Autocracy

The demerits of autocracy far outweigh its benefits. The disadvantages of autocracy include:

  • Autocracy is an unstable form of government.
  • If the autocratic state is not overthrown in a popular uprising. It may degenerate further along the lines of military rule and dictatorship.
  • The use of open force, systematic repression and the violation of Human Rights invariably make the state increasingly unpopular.
  • The state denies the right for the development of worker and other mass organisations.
  • It tends to equate state power with class power. That is, political leaders are more likely to work in the interest of members of the ruling class that for the masses.
  • A war of liberation, or a coup, or probably divine intervention becomes the only method of removing an autocratic government.

Examples of Autocracy

Autocracy Rule in Russia
The Tsar was a local emperor who belonged to the historical Russian nobility.

Here are some examples of autocracy in world history:

  • Communism of Fidel Castro (Cuba)

Fidel Castro started a revolution in Cuban Republic, being a guerrilla with ideals of social equality, but later he became an autocratic governor who held power almost for life. This took away civil, political, speech and press rights, rights to demonstrate and even religious rights.

  • Nazism of Adolf Hitler (Germany)

The Nazism is a clear example of autocracy in the 20th century. This came to power legitimately but developed a government in which military power and the manipulation of ideas dominated the people without control until its completion, on the end of the Second World War.

  • Mao Tse Tung’s Communism (China)

Mao Tse Tung, the main representative of the Chinese Communist Party since 1949, ruled until his death and repressed any attempt at ideological difference along with the imposition of an intense cult of his personality. In addition, it maintained the low status of the population through much repression.

  • Tsarist Russia (Russian Empire)

Russia prior to the October Revolution was ruled by the Tsar, a local emperor who belonged to the historical Russian nobility.

  • French Absolutism (France)

15th century France was ruled by Louis XIV, an absolutist monarch who was not subject to any institutional regulation.

  • Franco’s Spain

Francisco Franco, the conservative Spanish military man, put an end to the Spanish Civil War in the 20th century through an atrocious dictatorship that disappeared thousands of opponents and centralized political powers in him, through the figure of “Caudillo”.


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