A dictator is a ruler (e.g. absolutist or autocratic) who assumes sole and absolute power (sometimes but not always with military control) but, without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch. When other states call the head of state of a particular state a dictator, that state is called a dictatorship. The word originated as the title of a magistrate in ancient Rome appointed by the Senate to rule the republic in times of emergency (see Roman dictator and justitium).
In modern usage, the term "dictator" is generally used to describe a leader who holds and/or abuses an extraordinary amount of personal power, especially the power to make laws without effective restraint by a legislative assembly. 
The term "dictator" is comparable to, but not synonymous with, the ancient concept of a tyrant; initially "tyrant", like "dictator", did not carry negative connotations. A wide variety of leaders coming to power in a number of different kinds of regimes, such as military juntas, single-party states and civilian governments under personal rule, have been described as dictators. For example, Hitler, Stalin and Kim Jong-il.
In the Roman Republic the term "Dictator" did not have the negative meaning it has later assumed. Rather, a Dictator was a person given sole power (unlike the normal Roman republican practice,where rule was divided between two equal Consuls) for a specific limited period, in order to deal with an emergency. At the end of his term, the Dictator was supposed to hand over back to the normal Consular rule and give account of his actions - and Roman Dictators usually did.
The term started to get its modern negative meaning with Julius Caesar making himself a Dictator without a set limit to his term, and keeping the title until his assassination. (which was itself largely due to republican diehards resenting his keeping indefinite dictatorial powers).
Still, even in the 19th Century, the term "Dictator" did not always have negative connotations. For example, the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi, during his famous Expedition of the Thousand in 1860, proclaimed himself "Dictator of Sicily", which did not prevent him from being extremely popular in Italian and international public opinion. His usage of the term was clearly derived from the original Roman sense - i.e., a person taking power for a limited time in order to deal with an emergency (in this case, the need to unite Italy) and with the task done Garibaldi handed over power to the government of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.
Garibaldi's case was, however, an exception. In general, the term "dictator" came to be a negative term, not a title used by rulers to call themselves but a term used by the foes of an oppressive ruler. Such was the case with Maximillien Robespierre, whose supporters knew him as "The Incorruptible", while his opponents called him "dictateur sanguinaire", french for "bloodthirsty dictator".
In popular usage in western nations, "dictatorship" is often associated with brutality and oppression. As a result, it is often also used as a term of abuse for political opponents, for example, Henry Clay's dominance in Congress—first as Speaker of the House and later as a member of the Senate—led to his nickname, "the Dictator." The term has also come to be associated with megalomania. Many dictators create a cult of personality and have come to favor increasingly grandiloquent titles and honours for themselves. For instance, Idi Amin Dada, who had been a British army lieutenant prior to Uganda's independence from Britain in October 1962, subsequently styled himself as "His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular". In the movie "The Great Dictator" (1940), Charlie Chaplin satirized not only Adolf Hitler but the institution of dictatorship itself.
The association between the dictator and the military is a common one; many dictators take great pains to emphasize their connections with the military and often wear military uniforms. In some cases, this is perfectly legitimate; Francisco Franco was a lieutenant general in the Spanish Army before he became Chief of State of Spain; Manuel Noriega was officially commander of the Panamanian Defense Forces. In other cases, the association is mere pretense.
Because of the negative associations, modern leaders very rarely (if ever) use the term in their formal titles. In the 19th century, however, official use was more common.
The benevolent dictator is a more modern version of the classical “enlightened despot”, being an absolute ruler who exercises his or her political power for the benefit of the people rather than exclusively for his or her own benefit. Like many political classifications, this term suffers from its inherent subjectivity. Such leaders as Napoleon Bonaparte, Anwar Sadat, Alfredo Stroessner, Kenneth Kaunda, Józef Piłsudski, Ion Antonescu, Miklós Horthy, Deng Xiaoping, Omar Torrijos, Park Chung-hee and Sukarno have been characterized by their supporters as benevolent dictators. In Spanish, the word dictablanda is sometimes used for a dictatorship conserving some of the liberties and mechanisms of democracy. (The pun is that, in Spanish, dictadura is “dictatorship”, dura is “hard” and blanda is “soft”). Some examples includes Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito or Spain under Francisco Franco. This contrasts with democradura (literally “hard democracy”), characterized by full formal democracy alongside limitations on constitutional freedoms and human rights abuses, frequently within the context of a civil conflict or the existence of an insurgency. Governments in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Eritrea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela have at various times been considered régimes by different critics and opposition groups, not necessarily with an academic or political consensus about the application of the term emerging.
In social choice theory, the notion of a dictator is formally defined as a person who can achieve any feasible social outcome he/she wishes. The formal definition yields an interesting distinction between two different types of dictators.
Note that these definitions disregard some alleged dictators, e.g. Benito Mussolini, who are not interested in the actual achieving of social goals, as much as in propaganda and controlling public opinion. Monarchs and military dictators are also excluded from these definitions, because their rule relies on the consent of other political powers (the barons or the army).
DICTATOR (from the Lat. dictare, frequentative of dicere, to speak). In modern usage this term is loosely used for a personal ruler enjoying extraordinary and extra-constitutional power. The etymological sense of one who " dictates " - i.e. one whose word (dictum) is law (from which that of one who " dictates," i.e. speaks for some writer to record, is to be distinguished) - has been assisted by the historical use of the term, in ancient times, for an extraordinary magistrate in the Roman commonwealth. It is unknown precisely how the Roman word came into use, though an explanation of the earlier official title, magister populi, throws some light on the subject. That designation may mean " head of the (infantry) host " as opposed to his subordinate, the magister equitum, who was " head of the cavalry." If this explanation be accepted, emphasis was thus laid in early times on the military aspect of the dictatorship, and in fact the office seems to have been instituted for the purpose of meeting a military crisis such as might have proved too serious for the annual consuls with their divided command. Later constitutional theory held that the repression of civil discord was also one of the motives for the institution of a dictatorship. Such is the view expressed by Cicero in the De legibus (iii. 3, 9) and by the emperor Claudius in his extant Oratio (i. 28). This function of the office, although it may not have been contemplated at first, is attested by the internal history of Rome. In the crisis of the agitation that gathered round the Licinian laws (367 B.C.) a dictator was appointed, and in 314 B.C. we have the notice of a dictator created for purposes of criminal jurisdiction (quaestionibus exercendis). The dictator appointed to meet the dangers of war, sedition or crime was technically described as " the administrative dictator (rei gerundae causa). Minor, or merely formal, needs of the state might lead to the creation of other types of this office. Thus we find dictators destined to hold the elections, to make out the list of the senate, to celebrate games, to establish festivals, and to drive the nail into the temple of Jupiter - an act of natural magic which was believed to avert pestilence. These dictators appointed for minor purposes were expected to retire from office as soon as their function was completed. The " administrative dictator " held office for at least six months.
The powers of a dictator were a temporary revival of those of the kings; but there were some limitations to his authority. He was never concerned with civil jurisdiction, and was dependent on the senate for supplies of money. His military authority was confined to Italy; and his power of life and death over the citizens was at an early period limited by law. It was probably the lex Valeria of 300 B.C. that made him subject to the right of criminal appeal (provocatio) within the limits of the city. But during his tenure of power all the magistrates of the people were regarded as his subordinates; and it was even held that the right of assistance (auxilium), furnished by the tribunes of the plebs to members of the citizen body, should not be effectively exercised when the state was under this type of martial law. The dictator was nominated by one of the consuls. But here as elsewhere the senate asserted its authority over the magistrates, and the view was finally held that the senate should not only suggest the need of nomination but also the name of the nominee. After the nomination, the imperium of the dictator was confirmed by a lex curiata (see CoMITIA). To emphasize the superiority of this imperium over that of the consuls, the dictator might be preceded by twenty-four lictors, not by the usual twelve; and, at least in the earlier period of the office, these lictors bore the axes, the symbols of life and death, within the city walls.
Tradition represents the dictatorship as having a life of three centuries in the history of the Roman state. The first dictator is said to have been created in 501 B.C.; the last of the " administrative " dictators belongs to the year 216 B.C. It was an office that was incompatible both with the growing spirit of constitutionalism and with the greater security of the city; and the epoch of the Second Punic War was marked by experiments with the office, such as the election of Q. Fabius Maximus by the people, and the co-dictatorship of M. Minucius with Fabius, which heralded its disuse (see Punic WARs). The emergency office of the early and middle Republic has few points of contact, except those of the extraordinary position and almost unfettered authority of its holder, with the dictatorship as revised by Sulla and by Caesar. Sulla's dictatorship was the form taken by a provisional government. He was created " for the establishment of the Republic." It is less certain whether the dictatorships held by Caesar were of a consciously provisional character. Since the office represented the only supreme Imperium in Rome, it was the natural resort of the founder of a monarchy (see Sulla and Caesar). Ostensibly to prevent its further use for such a purpose, M. Antonius in 44 B.C. carried a law abolishing the dictatorship as a part of the constitution.
BIBLIOG RA PHY. - Mommsen, Romisches Staatsrecht, ii. 141 foil. (3rd ed., Leipzig, 1887); Herzog, Geschichte and System der rOmischen Staatsverfassung, i. 718 foil. (Leipzig, 1884); Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopddie, v. 370 foil. (new edition, Stuttgart, 1893, &c.); Lange, Romische Alterthumer, i. 542 foil. (Berlin, 1856, &c.); Daremberg-Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquites grecques et romaines, ii. 161 foil. (1875, &c.); Haverfield, " The Abolition of the Dictatorship," in Classical Review, iii. 77. (A. H. J. G.)
The word dictator or despot in modern times is used to describe the absolute ruler (other than a king) of a country, who uses force and fear to keep himself and his friends in authority, and can effectively make laws all by himself. A country that is ruled by a dictator has never been a democracy. A country that is ruled by a dictator is called a dictatorship.
Some dictators gained political power by winning an election and cancelling new elections once they took power.
It is not always clear whether a leader is a dictator or not. Some leaders got into power by elections, but sometimes they gave false election results.
Kings and emperors often use force and fear too, but usually they are not called dictators. This is because kings and emperors have some reason from being in power (usually their father was king or emperor), but a dictator gained power himself. Also, when someone is king or emperor of a country, usually there were several kings or emperors before them. A dictator often creates the job of dictator by gaining power.
Some people call leaders dictators because they simply do not like them and they seem powerful.