In the twentieth century, the term dictatorship has come to mean a government in which absolute power is concentrated in the hands of a dictator and sometimes his cronies. Many dictators have held the formal title of "President", but wield extraordinary, often non-constitutional or de facto powers.
Dictators can come to power in a variety of different ways. They can be elected (see below), be appointed by the resident ruling party or Communist hierarchy, or inherit their position from a deceased relative. Still other modern dictators seize power in a military coup d'état, and are supported by the military.
The dictator generally controls the three state powers : legislative, executive and judicial.
In a dictatorship, there is not periodical universal, free, direct and secret polling of the citizens to elect the leaders. Sometimes dictators can initially obtain power from democratic elections (like Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany), but shortly after being elected the dictator will ban all opposing parties and cancel all future elections (see human rights). Though free elections will never occur under a dictatorship, sometimes dictators orchestrate phony elections in an attempt to grant themselves some illusion of democratic legitimacy and public support. Usually, the dictator runs for "re-election" unopposed, with voters being asked to answer a simple "yes or no" ballot on the leader's continued rule. As can be expected, coercion and corruption usually plague such "elections" and dictators will often claim unrealistically high voter turnouts and results. Dictator Charles King[?] of Liberia for example once claimed to have been "re-elected" by a majority that was more than 15% larger than his country's entire electorate.
For most of history dictatorship has been the most common form of rule. In early European history power was held by a variety of absolute monarchs who ruled their kingdoms with virtually unlimited powers. As the years went on, political liberalism began to spread, and so too did the rise of nation states, constitutions, and democracy. Monarchs lost most of their powers to elected assemblies and in some cases were abolished altogether, and replaced by republics. In several countries such reforms spiraled out of control, and amid the power vacuum[?] created, certain leaders would arise out of the confusion ans seize control. Following the French Revolution, for example, power was rapidly consolidated by future dictator Napoleon Bonaparte.
In the 20th Century two World Wars were fought to prevent the rapid territorial expansion of dictatorial regimes. In World War One, the aggressors were the few remaining absolute monarchs of Europe, while in World War Two the villains were the elected dictators of fascist Germany and Italy.
When World War Two ended, there was a widespread "dumping" of former European colonies in Asia and Africa. In many cases independence was granted to these territories somewhat prematurely, and many of these new nations quickly collapsed into a military dictatorship. The post-WW2 Cold War between the dictatorship of the Soviet Union and the United States of America also greatly affected global dictatorships, with many of the world's dictators able to consolidate their hold on power by catering to the interests of the two superpowers. When the Cold War ended, many dictatorships (including the Soviet Union itself) quickly collapsed and were replaced by democratic governments.
Today, dictatorship has reached an all time global low. Europe is now free of the rule of dictators that have dominated most of their history, with the Belarussian state controlled by its president Aleksandr Lukashenko being the only remaining exception. South and Latin America, which were once monopolized by the rule of the military are now largely free and democratic, as well. The biggest hold-outs of dictatorship remain in certain regions of Africa, Asia, and most of the Middle East.
A new global dedication to human rights have also helped force many dictators out of favor, and prevent the rise of new ones. Today, dictators and dictatorship members are often subject to national and international responsibility for their acts (see International Criminal Court).