For example what's in North Korea right now - people are given minimal privileges - why is this?

Aren't there some country which is both democratic and dictatorship? Like there is a single person which rules it but which doesn't take away most of the normal human rights. Or which have similar law as most other democratic countries - except who can change those laws - only a single person.

Maybe there is a historical example of such country?

  • 2
    Isn't this like asking why are birds always birdlike? Dictator is a label we apply to political leaders who repress their people. There aren't any dictators who do not because any other definition of the term is archaic and we now refer to those people as autocrats or something else.
    – J Doe
    Mar 16, 2016 at 21:17
  • 4
    @JDoe Dicratorship means a single guy and/or a party have absolute power. They don't have to torture or execute people in order to be dictators, technically. Although in the real world, they might need to do that to continue to be dictators in the long run.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 16, 2016 at 21:37
  • 5
    @SVilcans No, Sweden is not a dictatorship. It is a constitutional monarchy. Please go educate yourself.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 17, 2016 at 10:27
  • 1
    For historical background, the term dictator originally came from a position in the government of the Roman Republic. The top executives were the two consuls, but a dictator could be appointed in times of crisis in order to circumvent the inefficiencies of decision making in a republic. At the end of the Roman civil war, Julius Caesar was appointed dictator for life (NB: not "imperator"-- Octavian was the first Roman Emperor).
    – Era
    Mar 17, 2016 at 14:33
  • 1
    Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan? Hong Kong.
    – Olav
    Sep 24, 2016 at 19:14

12 Answers 12


Who says they do? Check out the Wikipedia page on Benevolent dictators. As of time of writing, three of the listed benevolent dictators are:

  • Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus
    A historical example. Rome appointed him dictator to repel a foreign invasion, which he achieved in a few weeks, then he resigned and went back to his farm.

  • Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
    Turkey's founding father implemented numerous progressive reforms that, among other things, granted equal rights to women, universal suffrage, and mandatory primary education.

  • Lee Kuan Yew
    Singapore's founding father did similar things: raising living standards & literacy, providing cheap housing, lowering unemployment, etc. Singapore is one of the most developed countries in the world today.

Other dictators listed are Josip Broz Tito and France-Albert René. One can also argue that absolute monarchies are dictatorships, in which case one can find many more examples of dictators that didn't repress their people (e.g. Tang Taizong).

I'll also quote an answer to one of my previous questions:

It's an old saw in political science that if one wants a just society one has to surrender to having an inefficient society. Autocrats and dictators are efficient, but that's not always a compliment; Hitler made the trains run on time, but then he used those trains to commit world war and genocide. Representative democracy is slow, contentious, and aggravating — a constant "two steps forward and one step back" affair — but in the long run it grinds its way through to reasonable, moral outcomes. Ten people might be an efficient-sized group to rule a nation, but it is pragmatically and statistically impossible to select a group of ten people who are representative of the nation's population as a whole, so their decisions will not reflect the interests of their populace.

It should be obvious that a dictator who simply dictates his/her way to reasonable, moral outcomes is going to be more efficient and therefore develop their country faster, but that comes at a cost of stifling dissent which is the ultimate cause of representative democracy being slow, contentious, and aggravating. Western media is really fond of playing up this dissent, and thereby give the impression that dictators always repress their people. Maybe a lot of them do, but certainly not all.

  • 2
    Also with regards to efficiency it might be important to note that this is not an objective value. Like dictatorships aren't necessarily efficient with regards to outcomes, they are efficient with regards to decision making. Like if you simply ignore opposition and dissent the decision making becomes quite fast and you can get to action sooner, but that doesn't mean that the outcome is good. Maybe the opposition actually had a point. Like you'd need an actual expert dictator not just a dictator and even then you need some level of consent otherwise the resistance might remove the efficiency.
    – haxor789
    Jan 30, 2023 at 13:21
  • @haxor789 I think efficiency is objective? It's the quality of the decision that is made that is not objective.
    – Allure
    Jan 30, 2023 at 14:16
  • 1
    It's the efficiency "with regard to something" that is objectively measurable, but "efficiency" without something that it relates to is meaningless. So as in a dictatorship the dictator set their own standards by which they are measured they are likely efficient, but that doesn't mean we should necessarily share that judgement.
    – haxor789
    Jan 30, 2023 at 14:18
  • 1
    @haxor789 Oh, I think we're thinking of different things then. When I see the word 'efficient', I generally think of it as w.r.t. time. An efficient decision = a decision that is made quickly.
    – Allure
    Jan 30, 2023 at 14:31
  • I think, after an initial period of Communist-repression, Yugoslavia's Tito was eventually considered to be somewhat benevolent. Jan 30, 2023 at 16:09

Most dictatorships are extremely oppressive because a population that is struggling to stay alive is easier to control and presents less of a threat of revolution. History has proved the masses can be very dangerous if they organize and unite against corrupt leadership. An effective way to prevent this from happening is making sure that most people spend the majority of their energy to keep their family fed and safe.

No there aren't any modern countries that could be considered democratic and a dictatorship. A dictatorship requires all power to be in the hands of one person, which is opposite a democratic system where power resides with the masses.

Historically ancient Rome is closest to a democratic nation with a dictator, since they would elect a temporary dictator. However this ended when Julius Caesar used the power to make himself a true dictator.

  • 2
    On the flip side, a happy and well-fed populace is also less prone to revolution, but dictators who try to make their people happy are likely to fail in that effort, resulting in a people who are well enough fed to revolt but not fed well enough not to revolt.
    – Era
    Mar 17, 2016 at 14:38
  • By Caesar's time the office of dictator hadn't been used for centuries. Caesar basically invented the new office of emperor for himself, and haphazardly slapped the title of dictator on it despite having nothing in common.
    – Grollo
    Jan 30, 2023 at 12:22
  • OP asks about absolute rulers who respect the human rights of the populace, which is not necessarily the same thing as absolute rulers who improve the material standard of living of the populace. One could make a case for Gorbachev as an example of the former but not the latter, and Deng and his successors as examples of the latter but not the former. Feb 2, 2023 at 20:45
  • "An effective way to prevent this from happening is making sure that most people spend the majority of their energy to keep their family fed and safe." <- this also happens in non-dictatorships, like the modern USA. Feb 3, 2023 at 2:15
  • This is incorrect, history shows that revolutions happen when people are discontent.
    – Allure
    Jun 26, 2023 at 1:30

Dictators are incentivized to be repressive because the cost of stepping down is extremely high.

In democratic countries, if a government becomes unpopular, the worst that can happen is the leader gets voted out (i.e. presidential / semi-presidential system) or lose a vote of no confidence (i.e. parliamentary system). Either way, they get to retire alive (sometimes voluntarily with dignity) and live peacefully as private citizens, some go on book tours and give speeches with lucritative donations.

In authoritarian countries, voluntarily relinquishing power is dangerous, because whoever replaces you could eliminate you due to past-rivalry, succession issues, etc. Therefore, once you get into office, your job is to stay there for as long as possible. Most dictators either die in office, go into exile, or get assassinated in coup. (A rare exception is Mikhail Gorbachev, who was allowed to live rather peaceful life as the final leader of Soviet Union.)

Dictators become extremely repressive because they know their position is fragile and the cost of losing their position is high. Therefore they are incentivized to maximize the cost of removing them.

  • Former dictators should fear not only their successor but the people they ruled as well. When M. Gorbachev died last year, there were people saying 'rot in hell' and similar things (this post (in Russian) for example pikabu.ru/story/otvet_na_post_umer_gorbachev_9413601). It's a miracle he lived that long after leaving his job.
    – anemyte
    Jan 30, 2023 at 11:37
  • 1
    @anemyte One could argue the populus sometimes ARE successors to the dictator. In cases of successful democratic transition, dictators have reasons to fear democratic institutions bringing them to justice. Jan 30, 2023 at 14:07
  • @anemyte - in all fairness, from direct experience, russians hate Gorby far less than half (or say 30%) of USA hates Trump. And I can probably even state that the other 30% of USA thinks Obama or Biden (with somewhat valid reasons) are far more of dictators than Gorbachev. I most certainly think that of Trudeau (and I'm not a Canadian). Gorbachyov isn't hated for being a dictator, but for "breaking USSR", which as all things in life seems greater and greener as time goes by - a phenomenon which started at least as far back as Ancient Greece's myths of "Golden age"
    – user4012
    Feb 16, 2023 at 3:42

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both: but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.

-- Niccolò Machiavelli

A ruler has basically two options:

  • A: be a benevolent ruler who gives their population everything they want and keep them appeased.
  • B: be a tyrannical ruler who takes everything for themselves and their cronies and suppresses any protests against this.

In a representative democracy, rulers will want to win their re-election, so they will naturally gravitate towards benevolence. But a dictator doesn't need to gain public approval. They either have no elections, or they win the election in other ways, like discrediting and suppressing the opposition and manipulating the counts. Which means the public support isn't that important for remaining in power.

The tyrannical option is certainly the more comfortable one for the ruling class. They enjoy a higher quality of life and a higher degree of personal freedom because they don't need to maintain a positive public image at all times.

But most importantly, the tyrannical option is the safer option. A population who has a low degree of education, no disposable income and no disposable time is a population that is hardly able to revolt. They are too occupied with taking care of their basic needs to organize a revolution. But a rich and educated population with time and resources on their hands is far harder to control. It just takes one strong political movement to convince them that the dictator isn't as benevolent as they claim to be and organize a revolution. We have seen this recently during the Arab Spring. This series of revolutions would not have been possible if the people in power hadn't loosened their grip in the years before and let their population become wealthier and more educated.

For further watching, I recommend this video by CGP Grey: The Rules for Rulers.

  • That presupposes that the tyrant has an economic source of income different from the people he reigns over. Because otherwise the productive outcome of an uneducated mass at or beyond the physical breaking point is also low or decreasing. So while the population isn't well equipped, the same applies to the ruler. Likewise if the ruler isn't able to compete with other rulers he isn't going to be the ruler for long either.
    – haxor789
    Jan 30, 2023 at 13:11
  • +1 for Machiavelli quote alone, but I am challenging the assertion that the starting two bullet points are a binary choice. Things are rarely THAT binary, and every ruler has shades of granting different things to different sets of people (actually Rules for Rulers covered some angles of this) and takes away things from different sets of people. ...
    – user4012
    Feb 16, 2023 at 3:50
  • For example, looking at Putin as some answers did, original unwritten social contract was that he was taking away political freedom in exchange for promise of stability and economic ... well, if not prosperity than "conditions better than the mess that happened in the 90s". And he was fairly successful in delivering that for a while, which pleased a fairly large proportion of "bread and circuses" type populus, who hasn't really grown up - given Russia's political history over last 1000 years - in a tradition of self-governance, and likes big strong Tzar as a culture
    – user4012
    Feb 16, 2023 at 3:51
  • This is incorrect, history shows that revolutions happen when people are discontent.
    – Allure
    Jun 26, 2023 at 1:31

People seem to forget that being nice to the population you want to fully control actually hurts your ability to control others. Do you know why when slavery was allowed in the US many slaveholders made laws forbidding slaves to learn how to read or write and treated them cruelly? Because an abused population that is not educated enough to question the status quo is easier to control than a well-educated population with higher standards for leadership.

Here, treating the population better actually makes ruling over them harder and in places like North Korea, a huge chunk of the population are basically slaves that the Kim dynasty and their cult of personality control. In fact, North Korea has been described by some intellectuals as a form of modern feudalism where the regular citizens are basically serfs/peasants, so just like many feudal lords of old, the ruling class of North Korea abuses the peasants to keep them in line and keep them from questioning the order of things or demanding forms of better treatment that might affect the Kim dynasty's power.

Even a population with some degree of education needs misinformation and propaganda that might hurt the quality of education in order to keep the people in line. According to the book The Use and Abuse of History: Or How the Past Is Taught to Children, the USSR's education was filled with propaganda & a decent of inaccurate information, like information denouncing 'genetics' as bourgeois propaganda.

  • Because an abused population that is not educated enough to question the status quo is easier to control than a well-educated population with higher standards for leadership. => the Soviet people were well educated, even compared to their US counterparts, so I'm not sure this is a valid proposition. Jan 29, 2023 at 20:15
  • @JonathanReez Somewhat, but I guess that depends on the definition of well-educated. While the USSR citizens were better than the US in many areas, according to the book The Use and Abuse of History: Or How the Past Is Taught to Children, the USSR's education was filled with propaganda & a decent of inaccurate information, like information denouncing 'genetics' as bourgeois propaganda.
    – Tyler Mc
    Jan 30, 2023 at 0:23

Frame challenge: The question makes no sense. You can't have a government that is both a democracy and a dictatorship, simply because of the definitions of those words.

The word Democracy comes from the roots demo (people) and cracy (government). It is, by definition, a government formed by the people. In modern days, as population has expanded, governments of direct democracy (where literally every citizen votes on literally every issue) have become impractical, but nevertheless the form of a democratic government takes place with representatives of people voting on issues. The core tenet of a democratic government is many people voting on things (e.g. the US House of Congress/Senate).

Conversely, the word Dictatorship means "government by a dictator". A single person, named "dictator" (or whatever other word you would prefer to use), makes all the decisions for everyone, and nobody can question their authority. The root word dict means "to speak", meaning that the words of a dictator, whatever they say, are the laws.

The only way a government can be both a democracy and a dictatorship is if you have a citizenry vote for a single person to be the leader, and then grant that leader complete authority. With which, of course, the first thing that person will do would be to eliminate the voting process entirely and seize complete power (see also: the modern-day Russian Federation).

What the question intends to ask, therefore, is, "is there an example of a benevolent dictator", specifically a person who rules in a dictatorship but treats their people with dignity. To which other answers have provided examples. But it is noteworthy that the term "democratic values" itself is a misnomer, because "democracy" does not infer any sense of values or code or morals; it is simply a system of government. It is noteworthy that the "democratic values" of, for example, Japan, vary wildly from the "democratic values" of, say, the USA, and therefore the term "democratic values" is nebulous in meaning. The only constant across democracies being some recognition of what can loosely be defined as "human rights", and so a better framing of the question would use the term "human rights" or "dignity".

The reason I wrote this answer is because it is important to recognize that, while democracy often begets standard of living and human rights (because a democratically-elected government would not retain power without respecting those things), there are plenty of democracies, both past and present, which do not; the "human rights" of a democracy is governed by the beliefs of its people (for example 18th-century America, which was most certainly a democracy, but instituted slavery and did not have women's suffrage). Therefore, simply being a "democracy" doesn't necessarily imply any better standard of living than being a dictatorship (they are often correlated, but I hesitate to believe that, absent Covid protocols which are historically very novel, anyone would tell you that China, a dictatorship, has a worse standard of living than Brazil or the Philippines, which are both democracies).

  • I think he meant democracies where leaders have so much powers because of their electoral popularity, relatively no opposition and firm control over all the institutions that they can virtually do anything they want without much question. And note that sometimes democracies do degrade when an undemocratic leader comes to power - Hitler is a good example of this.
    – sfxedit
    Feb 2, 2023 at 19:35
  • @sfxedit Hindenburg is a good example, Hitler did not really get a democratic mandate.
    – haxor789
    Feb 15, 2023 at 21:26
  • 1
    @sfxedit Hindenburg already is an example of "democracies do degrade when an undemocratic leader comes to power" all by himself. He had been a dictator pre-Weimar, as leader of the military junta that ruled during the second half of WWI and he was openly antidemocratic and antirepublican and used the already overpowered status of president to deteriorate the republic. And unlike Hitler he was actually elected (even directly), first with a plurality and later with a narrow majority.
    – haxor789
    Feb 16, 2023 at 12:55
  • 1
    @sfxedit Hindenburg and Hitler came from different backgrounds though. Hindenburg was old military aristocracy, leader of the armed forces in WWI and favored the 2nd Reich over the republic. While Hitler is 40 years younger, served as private in WWI and was leader of a fanatically antisemitic movement. They had mutual friends though like Ludendorff or von Papen who were also high ranking military staff or former aristocracy. So Hitler wasn't their first choice and they would have loved for their own dictatorship/monarchy but thought they could ride on Hitlers populism while...
    – haxor789
    Feb 16, 2023 at 13:02
  • 1
    ... Hitler thought he could use their position in order to establish historic continuity. He apparently praised Hindenburg and tried to sketch him as the binding link between the 2nd and 3rd Reich. So yeah Hindenburg didn't like the idea of giving a nobody this power, but later agreed to that also because conservatives whom he valued lend Hitler their credibility. Also not aware of any assassination plot against Hindenburg. His death marked the fusion of chancellor and president, but it's not as if his life had been much of an opposition either.
    – haxor789
    Feb 16, 2023 at 13:05

Because humans make mistakes and oppression becomes the only way to stay in power

There is a belief that governments have to trade off freedom and effectiveness. In the chaos prevalent in many pre-WW2 democracies many people in democracies pined after the "benefits" of Fascist and Nazi government. This belief didn't go away with the end of the war: there is a famous Star Trek episode where the Enterprise discovers a planet governed along Nazi principles and the Star Fleet officer who instigated this did so claiming that the Nazis were "the most efficient government the Earth had ever seen". Historians looking at the detail don't agree (if anything, the idea came from Nazi propaganda).

In the late 1950s and early 1960s many western economists believed that the Soviet Union, with its apparent ability to rapidly industrialise and develop scientifically based on "efficient" central planning (they were the first to put a satellite in orbit!), would win the economic competition with the west. They were in retrospect, very, very wrong.

And the underlying reason why they were wrong tells us something important about the need for dictatorships to repress their people.

The point is that all leaders, democratic or not, make mistakes. Sometimes huge consequential mistakes. Kruschev tried to copy American agricultural practices and ended up starving a lot of his people. He also initiated the plan to produce cotton in central asia the result of which was possibly the greatest ecological disaster of the 20th century.

But democratic leaders also make big mistakes. Britain under Eden's leadership tried to regain control of the Suez canal by military means. The result was national humiliation. The USA mistakenly sought to prop up the South Vietnamese government in an attempt to prevent the spread of communism and ended up losing despite killing millions of Vietnamese and tens of thousands of American soldiers. this, too, was a national humiliation.

In a democracy that makes mistakes like those, politics can, eventually, minimise the problem by peacefully deposing the leaders who made the errors. Both Eden and LB Johnson (who was responsible for the worst escalation in Vietnam) had their political careers cut short. and this process minimizes the scale of the errors and their likelihood of being repeated.

No such option exists in a dictatorial system (though Kruschev was ousted by his colleagues, the rule by one party was not at risk). If the leader or party wants to stay in power, they can't easily admit their mistakes as this would undermine their authority. So they hide them and suppress dissenting voices. Whatever their initial motivation to lead the country "efficiently" for the good of the people, they can't continue to lead if their errors are openly admitted. This is a spiral of doom. If they suppress criticism of their policies, bigger future errors are even more likely.

Repression of free thinking and dissent becomes necessary to prevent the people realising how flawed their leaders are.

The inevitable logic is that, since leaders are fallible, but non-democratic leaders cannot be seen to be fallible or their power evaporates, oppression becomes necessary to retain power. The logic of human fallibility drives the need for repression.


This is really difficult to answer, because while these terms seem well defined, they really are not. Is Putin a dictator? By some metrics and definitions, he can be labeled that. Is Obama? Again, depends on your metrics, definitions and views. Are Iranian rulers? Are rulers of Singapour dictators?

The same goes for "repress". Is it "repression" when people have broad economic freedom like in Singapour? What about (claimed) broad political freedom but very limited economic freedom like is the ideal of Western socialists? What if the "repression" is only targeted at direct political enemies, like in Putin's Russia, but not as much at the broad populace? What about Sunni Gulf monarchies where people live the life of luxury (well, did before the oil price crashed) but are extremely restricted on a personal level both socially/religiously, and politically; but aren't typically brutally oppressed on the latter dimension in good times when nobody's revolting?

Having said that, there's definitely a strong correlation between oppression and dictatorship, which can be traced to a couple of reasons:

  1. Dictatorships frequently (though, as you can see in the laundry list above, not always) arise in resource-poor countries.

    As such, repression is needed to ensure control of said limited resources, to benefit the people in power and their supporters (the ruling clans and Sunnis like in Saddam's Iraq or Alawites in Al-Assad's Syria or North Korea).

    Of course, human nature being human nature, this doesn't even need to happen in resource-poor areas, see the house of Saud in KSA; or any of the empires of the past.

  2. Dictatorships can frequently lead to poor governance (since there's no incentive to govern well at the risk of losing political power), which increases people's discontent. Political repression allows the rulers to keep the power against that discontent.

  • 1
    1. Is the oposite of reality, dictatoships often arise in resource rich countries. If you have oil or precious stones, the likehoud of having a dictatorship is much higher than if you just have wood. stones and cheese as country's production.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 16, 2016 at 15:26
  • 2
    Do we have stats to prove whether authoritarian regimes are more common in poorer or richer countries? Mar 16, 2016 at 16:45
  • Number two doesn't make much sense. If they repress more, they get more problems, so they repress more to solve it, then get more problems. That's only a motivation to oppress more if they already intend on being oppressive, and shows a limited skillset. Mar 16, 2016 at 16:52
  • @PointlessSpike - Hard to say, especially since poorer or richer is also not exactly easy to define. GDP or even IPC are both poor metrics (in a lush tropical paradize where you can fish for food and don't need good shelter, existing on $1/day is likely easier than middle-class existence in Manhattan). But eyeballing, a vast majority of countries with high democracy/freedom indexes seem to be clustered around upper quartiles of wealth (which doesn't really address causality)
    – user4012
    Mar 16, 2016 at 16:53
  • 1
    @user4012 The problem with many dictatorships (like contemporary Russia) is that we cannot know if people support the official gov/party because they fear them, or because they genuinely support them. So it's impossible to tell whether they feel repressed or not. (the same is true abuout North Korea, by the way)
    – Bregalad
    Mar 16, 2016 at 21:35

I mean that depends on what you argue is the definition and nature of a dictatorship. Like historically a dictator was a special privilege in the Roman Empire. So after the Roman Kingdom was replaced with the Roman Republic there was a lot of priority placed on checks and balances, so that no one person could seize power for themselves. So even the highest positions of authority were time limited and had the principle of collegiality, meaning the position was always occupied by 2 people who should keep each other in check.

Now in the case of an emergency the senat could seize it's own power and grant a former consul (highest office) some serious political privileges. Not relying on senat's consent, being the sole authority no second person, exemption from legal punishment for their actions, commander of the armed forces, able to deal out punitive measures and so on.

As this was in sharp contrast to the otherwise rather reluctant position on authoritarian rule, these privileges were limited to 6 month and the title usually also included the purpose of these privileges. So they literally had one job and close to all power available to fulfill it.

That being said the Romans already saw that fail in practice. For example Caesar already declared himself dictator for life and so de facto became a new king/emperor/tyrant. And while apparently some people over the years have advocated for such authorities that combine the entire power of the realm to solve one problem, the modern definition is pretty closely tied to that failure and the transition to an illegitimate, absolute and tyrannical power.

Also a democracy and a dictatorship are mutually exclusive either the power rests with the people (demos = the people) who rule (-cracy = rule or archy=ruler) or it rests with the dictator, who is not bound by their will.

That being said in theory it might be possible that a dictator gets it's power through a democratic mandate. That is the people agree that person X should be the commander and have all powers at their disposal to solve a concrete problem Y. In that case dictatorship is based on public consent and thus no repression is necessary. However if the dictator only really does what people agree with anyway, there's no real argument to have a dictator in the first place. Like it's just democracy with additional dangerously authoritarian steps. The crucial part is what happens if he does something that people don't agree with. Because while potentially based in a democratic mandate, a dictator isn't bound by that mandate. So as there is no (direct) accountability and no restriction on their power through the people they could just overrule dissent.

Also the longer such a rule lasts, the more people are going to question the leader's expertise ("why didn't he solve the problem already with all that power?") and the more this excessive power and the overriding of dissent will itself be seen as a problem. Maybe even a bigger one than whatever he was supposed to solve initially. And from that, societal conflicts will arise, that limit the power of the dictator, either by limiting his powers or disposing of him directly or simply because society gets fractured, sabotages itself and loses effectiveness in various ways.

So in order to stay in power and have power to be useful, he needs to resolve that conflict. Which is usually done by means of "carrot and stick"-politics, that is a mixture of giving the people something to appease them with their lack of political agency. "Yeah we might not have political agency but we've got these goodies..." ("bread and circuses"). Or simply repression, banning opposition and forcing people to stay in line. You can also make people believe that you've everything under control and are some god-like entity, but in that case you've also got to repress information that confirms "Nah, just a flawed human". So either way you'd rely on at least some level of censorship, propaganda and repression where the facade isn't working.

Also sure you can have constitutional monarchies where you have de jure one person as the head of state who runs the whole country, but de facto these people are just subjects for the yellow press and the actual political decision making happens in democratic institutions. However in that case you wouldn't speak of a dictatorship.

So your idea only works if they don't use and abuse their power in which case, you could legitimately ask why have them in the first place and if they make use of/abuse their power than this will create societal conflicts that they need to keep down or face a restriction of their power one way or the other.


It seems to me this question has the situation oddly turned around. Political oppression is a tactic used by some political leaders to gain, secure, and enhance their power. In a milquetoast sense this is a universal. Even the touted concept of 'law and order' is (in fact) a form of political oppression: a (hopefully) constrained and limited form of oppression directed at individuals whose behaviors are detrimental to society as a whole. And as we've all observed, when 'law and order' ceases to be constrained and limited, it quickly becomes overtly oppressive.

The people we generally call 'dictators' (as opposed to tyrants, aristocrats, oligarchs, etc, who wield oppressive power in different ways) generally arise in democracies, republics, socialist states, or other Liberalism-derived systems, ones where social influence plays a more significant role than sheer military force. In such systems leaders must style themselves as representatives of the people, and so power-hungry leaders try to present themselves as the 'voice of the people': one who speaks for (or dictates to) the public, as opposed to one who listens and responds to the public. Anyone who pursues this path must necessarily alienate and suppress dissent, because any dissent challenges the conception that the dictator speaks with the voice of the people.

In Liberal societies a power-hungry leaders must pit 'the people' against 'the outsiders', constantly redefining 'the people' and 'the outsiders' to conform those who do and do not support the leader. And once that division takes root, 'the outsiders' must be oppressed (whether dictators really want to or not) because that is the only way for them to ensure the loyalty and transferred influence of 'the people' (i.e., their supporters).


Aren't there some country which is both democratic and dictatorship?

Most democracies where one party is politically very strong tend to have leaderships that are somewhat dictatorial - especially when they have an opposition that are much weaker politically and they have firm ideological control over the administration and other institutions. But whether they ignore the democratic values and choose to be dictatorial totally depends on their character and leadership abilities. India is a good example of a democracy that has seen leaders that have had near dictatorial powers due to their popularity:

  1. Jawaharlal Nehru: For the first few decades, only one indian political party consistently won the elections in India, and it was thus defacto a one-party ruled country. India's first Prime Minister had no real political opposition and thus had dictator-like powers. But he recognized that until there was an opposition to criticise his governance, India would just be a banana republic and democratic in name only. So he even included politicians critical of him in his government (like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who later went on to found his own political party), wrote newspaper articles criticising himself and gave space to opposition political leaders to criticise him publicly in the parliament.

As Prime Minister, Nehru carefully nurtured the country’s infant democratic institutions. He paid deference to the country’s ceremonial presidency and even to its largely otiose vice-presidency; he never let the public forget that these notables outranked him in protocol terms. He wrote regular letters to the Chief Ministers of the States, explaining his policies and seeking their feedback. He subjected himself and his government to cross-examination in Parliament by the small, fractious but undoubtedly talented Opposition, allowing them an importance out of all proportion to their numerical strength, because he was convinced that a strong Opposition was essential for a healthy democracy. He took care not to interfere with the judicial system; on the one occasion that he publicly criticised a judge, he apologised the next day and wrote an abject letter to the Chief Justice, regretting having slighted the judiciary. And he never forgot that he derived his authority from the people of India; not only was he astonishingly accessible for a person in his position, but he started the practice of offering a daily darshan at home for an hour each morning to anyone coming in off the street without an appointment, a practice that continued until the dictates of security finally overcame the populism of his successors.

Source: The enduring relevance of Nehru’s legacy

  1. Indira Gandhi: India's 3rd Prime Minister, was the daughter of Nehru. She was popular with the masses, but unlike him she was considered a light-weight and inexperienced politician. Her popularity earned her the Prime Minister's post, but her unwillingness to be manipulated by those who had backed her lead to huge rift in the party. In her fight against her critics and political opponents, she kept seeking more and more political powers. In the process, she lost sight of her political ideals and values and nearly became India's first dictator by briefly suspending democracy and imposing emergency on the country. Yet, as someone who had once participated in the freedom movement under Gandhi (and her father Nehru) she was a true democrat, lifted the emergency, and was soundly defeated in the next election. And became PM again when she was re-elected again after a few years. Perhaps due to the politics she emerged in, her style of politics remained confrontational and it ultimately lead to her assassination.

She continues to remain one of India's most popular politician because she took charge of the country when India was at its most vulnerable moment economically and politically, and made it a self-reliant country with her bold leadership and vision.

  1. Narendra Modi: India's current popular Prime Minister, elected in 2014 to the Parliament, and now serving his 2nd term is a megalomaniac and follows a religious fundamentalist fascist ideology (note: these two recent BBC documentaries are now banned in India by him). He is following in Hitler's footstep in undermining India's democratic institutions one by one, and openly governs in a dictatorial manner disregarding all parliamentary traditions.

Modi, it gives me no pleasure to tell the readers, met virtually all the criteria that psychiatrists, psycho-analysts and psychologists had set up after years of empirical work on the authoritarian personality. He had the same mix of puritanical rigidity, narrowing of emotional life, massive use of the ego defence of projection, denial and fear of his own passions combined with fantasies of violence – all set within the matrix of clear paranoid and obsessive personality traits. I still remember the cool, measured tone in which he elaborated a theory of cosmic conspiracy against India that painted every Muslim as a suspected traitor and a potential terrorist. I came out of the interview shaken and told Yagnik that, for the first time, I had met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, perhaps even a future mass murderer.

Source: Obituary of a culture

  • 1
    I don't think that any of them qualify as dictators.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 31, 2023 at 0:54
  • @ohwilleke Never claimed they were "real" dictators. Only pointed out how their popularity ensured that they could behave dictatorially in a democracy - the only thing holding them back from becoming full fledged dictators were their own political ideology or the democratic checks and balances of the political system in the case of Narendra Modi.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 31, 2023 at 2:04

Aren't there some country which is both democratic and dictatorship? Like there is a single person which rules it but which doesn't take away most of the normal human rights...

As you mentioned democracy in your question, the PM of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, is a dictator who also happens to have a democratic facade.

The PM of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, is the perfect example for your question; I will use her regime in the following section to demonstrate how her dictatorship and autocracy turned Bangladesh into a living hell.

Is Sheikh Hasina, a dictator?

Sheikh Hasina has been ruling in Bangladesh since 2007/8 with direct Indian help. As revealed by the then Minister for External Affairs, Pranab Mukherjee, in his book named The Coalition Years, how he took control of the situation from the Bangladesh Army-backed civilian government and installed Hasina. There was also a news article from The Statesman regarding the US and Indian disagreement about Sheikh Hasina. The USA wanted to install Nobel laureate Dr. Mohammad Yunus but failed due to heavy Indian opposition.

The general election of 2007/08 was designed to guarantee 80 seats for Sheikh Hasina's party out of 300 seats in the parliament. Later she robbed two consecutive general elections(2014 and 2018) where the ballot boxes were stuffed overnight.

The above information confirms that, indeed, Sheikh Hasina is a dictator.

Why do dictators always repress their people?

Dictators don't repress their people for fun. The repression is the byproduct of their regime, administration, and ambition.

The repression makes its way because of three primary reasons:

  1. dictators want to keep themselves in power forever
  2. dictators and their cronies embezzle public money
  3. dictators let their loyal people do corruption

Case Study: Sheikh Hasina

Sheikh Hasina has thus far forcefully disappeared more than 600 people over the years. Extra-judicial killings murdered numerous other people. These were army officers, opposition party activists, or simply people she didn't trust. Army officers were neutralized so that she could be safe from military coups. Opposition party activists were neutralized to secure party candidates' elections or to settle personal vendettas.

During Sheikh Hasina's rule, the central bank of Bangladesh was looted several times via hacking; money and gold reserve disappeared without any explanation, or her cronies smuggled huge about of money, mainly to India and Canada.

She gave treasonous facilities to foreign companies (mainly Indian, e.g., Gautam Adani) to suck billions of dollars every year from Bangladesh.

Illegal Indians are flooded in Bangladesh as they work in various sectors, mainly in RMG.

Thus Bangladesh has become the fourth-largest remittance supplier for India.

Finally, the state institutions and law enforcement agencies are dismal as limitless corruption engulfed the country. As a result, Bangladesh suffers from high inflation, low quality of life, education, and health care.

So, as you can see, these are all byproducts of Sheikh Hasina's quest for money and power.

  • 1
    While I consider some of the sources low-quality or doubtful, and the overall claim exaggerated and biased (it is clear you don't like Hasina and consider her a puppet of India), I have recalled the downvote as your update has certainly made the answer better.
    – sfxedit
    Feb 2, 2023 at 20:21
  • 1
    You have linked to pro-jamaati bloggers, and minor online media outlets (run by some who are not even in living in Bangladesh any more). Many of the sources are not in English and so obviously hard to verify for those who do not know the language. Apart from all that, you have also misunderstood the question and your answer is still irrelevant asthe questioner is asking about "benevolent dictators" in a democracy - single person which rules it but which doesn't take away most of the normal human rights. Your answer claims Bangladesh is not a democracy and is a list of human rights violation
    – sfxedit
    Feb 2, 2023 at 20:47
  • I understand the need to express your political views to the world, especially when you feel emotional about it, but this isn't really a platform for it. I do encourage you to participate here, but try to moderate your views, and try to be more neutral by forcing yourself to consider the viewpoints of the "other side". You'll find such views are more accepting everywhere and it'll also impact you positively as the world really isn't that black and white, as we all sometimes feel here.
    – sfxedit
    Feb 2, 2023 at 20:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .