So, something that seems odd to me is that while there are a number of dictatorships around the world, very few of them have the dictator deciding to crown themselves as a monarch, despite the veneer of legitimacy that doing so might grant them (e.g. divine right to rule). The Catholic Church has been crowning monarchs for literally over a thousand years, so there doesn't seem an obvious reason why right-wing South American dictators from Catholic-dominated countries couldn't get themselves crowned as king.

Despite this, there doesn't seem to be any examples where a dictator has gotten themselves crowned as king. Why is this? Left-wing dictators have an obvious reason why, since communist ideology is anti-monarchist, but why don't right-wing dictators crown themselves as king?

Note that I'm asking about modern dictators who don't have any previous royal lineage, rather than monarchies established by individuals from existing royal lines (e.g. Saudi Arabia).

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    The Pope did not crown kings; the Pope crowned all emperors (specifically the Holy Roman Emperors) who did not crown themselves ;-). Apr 6, 2020 at 16:39
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica That is false. The Pope definitely did crown, but most importantly, recognize Kings and Kingdoms.
    – Oak
    Apr 7, 2020 at 22:35
  • @Oak Hm. Which one do you have in mind? Maybe Pippin the Younger but there is no direct source that there was a coronation as such. The Pope must acknowlegde or recognize the kings, until the 1300s; the coronation was done by (Arch)Bishops though. Apr 7, 2020 at 22:58
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Just out of the top of my head, the Manifestis Probatum, one of the earliest examples where a Pope decided to recognize a new Kingdom (after the whole Charlemagne thingy)
    – Oak
    Apr 8, 2020 at 0:59
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5 Answers 5


tl;dr: Because the middle ages are over.

You no longer want to be King - you want to be President

Most of the world used to be ruled by kings and emperors, but today the only remaining absolute hereditary monarchies in the world are Saudi-Arabia, Brunei, Qatar, Oman and Eswatini. There are still lots of countries which are still officially hereditary monarchies (like parts of Europe or the Commonwealth realms), but the role of the monarch in these countries is mostly symbolic. The true political leader is the head of the government.

So if a dictator declares themselves monarch, then they risk the same fate as monarchies all over the world. At best having their power eroded to a level where they are just a figurehead for the elected government, at worst being ousted in favor of a non-hereditary government when they become cumbersome.

You don't want heredity legitimation, you want democratic legitimation

In the modern world, having regular elections (even if they aren't fair elections) and thus upholding the appearance of a democracy beats wearing a crown. It also makes it easier for foreign politicians from democratic countries to recognize your government as legitimate. And with most of the international superpowers in the world being democratic countries, this really matters.

The Catholic Church isn't what it used to be

The Catholic church used to crown kings and emperors during the middle ages. But it has no longer provided that service for over 200 years now. The last political leader crowned by a pope was Napoleon in 1804 (and that was more a coronation with a pope than by a pope).

With most political power being secular in nature, the authority of the Catholic church is relegated to religious and moral matters. Further, I couldn't really imagine any of the three popes I experienced during my lifetime (John-Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis) to legitimize a dictator by crowning them king.

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    Well, technically, the Pope IS a king himself. Among his official titles is King of the Vatican. It's not a hereditary position for obvious reasons. Apr 6, 2020 at 16:25
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    Napoleon crowned himself emperor - placing the crown on his own head. Apr 7, 2020 at 1:32
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    Technically a country like Denmark is a traditional kingdom, with an absolute monarch. Currently the laws are being proposed by the legislative body (Folketing) which are then passed by the monarch and the government rule in the monarch's stead. There's no legal obstacle for the monarch to just overthrow all of this (and that did happen in the Easter crisis of 1920). Whether they would get away with it, is another matter. This is the default setup of modern European kingdoms; we have a venier of democracy, but legally it's not much different from what it was in the 19th century.
    – Clearer
    Apr 7, 2020 at 7:39
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    +1, I remember when Saddam Hussein was President of Iraq, he claimed a 99% popular vote during elections. Never mind those who opposed him had a tendency to "disappear", he could tell anyone in the world that he had the people's support, and was thus the legitimate leader of the country.
    – Seth R
    Apr 7, 2020 at 15:10
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    @jamesqf The question explicitly mentioned legitimization by the Catholic Church as a relevant benefit. And in regards to which dictators which would benefit from it: There are lots of parts of Africa where the Catholicism is quite strong. The northern part of Africa is mostly Muslim, but religion in the southern half is often an interesting coexistence of Catholicism and traditional animist believes.
    – Philipp
    Apr 8, 2020 at 8:26

The short answer would be: Because even dictators cannot simply do whatever they want.

Let's for example take a look at one of the oldest dictators of history: Caesar Augustus.

Now, technically Augustus was a king in all but name, but couldn't effectively call himself one, because the Romans, since having deposed of their last king centuries ago, despised the mere thought of having a king once again. Therefore Augustus wisely chose to refrain from crowning himself king and instead carried the title "Princeps" and proclaimed to be merely the "first among equals" amongst the citizenry of Rome.

Had he chosen to crown himself king, Rome could have potentially fallen into another civil war once again, given the fact that his father had been slain under the accusation of having the intent to crown himself king.

Ironically enough, merely a few decades later the cognomen "Caesar" had become the de facto royal title of the Roman Emperor. In fact, the german language still uses the word "Kaiser", which is directly derived from and pronounced like "Caesar", in the same way that english uses "emperor".

The point is, as said in the beginning: Even dicators with an enormous amount power cannot simply do whatever they want: Even they have to keep up the appearance as in the example above and keep their cronies satisfied, just as the roman emperors had to keep the Praetorian Guard happy, lest they be deposed of.

That being said, the short paragraph about the title "Caesar" was not merely anecdotal, but illustrates how a long lasting dictatorship might eventually drop the appearance and become an open monarchy, provided it manages to successfully establish a stable line of succession, which of course is THE core aspect of a regular monarchy.

The main issue today however seems to be exactly that: Most dictatorships simply don't last long enough and/or don't manage to establish a hereditary line of succession, but in theory it is of course possible:

Should Assad manage to stay in power and have one of his children inherited his position, as he inherited it from his father, and so forth and forth, then one day in the future Syria might be a de facto monarchy, even though the royal title might not necessarily be "king", but something else.

In fact, the better example might be North Korea, where the title of "Supreme Leader" is currently held in the third generation.

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    +1 Minor note - Julius Caesar adopted Octavian as his heir only posthumously in his will. So this served further to undermine his claim to any title or perceived “throne”. Also, there’s a famous story where Mark Anthony offers Caesar a crown in public and the dictator rejects it in response to the jeers of the crowd. This illustrates your point nicely.
    – Boaz
    Apr 6, 2020 at 22:15
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    +1 most modern dictators are actualy in pretty tight position about what they do - they are limited by global and regional powers and local economy and military feudals. That's why when a dictator is overthrown, people generally elect a new dictator.
    – fraxinus
    Apr 7, 2020 at 11:33

(I'll assume that these dictators you're referring to actually want absolute power. It's not obvious that this is the case in general.)

The following quote is from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. For context: Lord Voldemort is the "big bad guy", the Ministry of Magic is effectively the government, and the Minister of Magic is the head of that government (or the "king" in the context of your question). Voldemort had taken over the Ministry, but didn't appoint himself as Minister of Magic.

Ron: Why didn't Voldemort declare himself Minister of Magic?

Lupin (laughing): He doesn't need to,Ron. Effectively he is the minister, but why should he sit behind a desk at the ministry? His puppet, Pius Thicknesse, is taking care of everyday business, leaving Voldemort free to extend his power beyond the ministry. Naturally many people have deduced what has happened: there has been such a dramatic change in Ministry policy in the last few days, and many are whispering that Voldemort is behind it. However, that is the point: they whisper. They daren't confide in each other, not knowing whom to trust; they are scared to speak out, in case their suspicions are true and their families are targeted. Yes, Voldemort is playing a very clever game. Declaring himself might have provoked open rebellion; remaining masked has created confusion, uncertainty and fear.

In other words: They could, but there's no reason to do so when they don't actually gain anything but are risking open rebellion.

  • 16
    Why bring Harry Potter into this?
    – user29681
    Apr 6, 2020 at 4:21
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    @Chipster because I took the quote from a Harry Potter book.
    – Allure
    Apr 6, 2020 at 4:37
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    Because it answers the question, even if in the abstract.
    – cellepo
    Apr 12, 2020 at 17:07

One of the primary characteristics of leadership is legitimacy: a leader needs to present him/herself as as having a legitimate right to hold the powers of authority granted to leaders. Up until the late 18th century or so, legitimacy was tied to deeds and birth. Someone would commit a 'deed' — usually a military victory that demonstrated a capacity to exert control over a particular region, and settle it into an established territory — and it was assumed that the particular virtues that enabled that deed were passed down through the bloodline. This led to aristocracies and monarchies, in which political authority was handed down from parent to child, usually with an assortment of rites and rituals intended to demonstrate that legitimacy (the donning of a crown, the passing of a scepter...).

During the 18th century, however, we saw the rise of Liberalism, which asserted that human virtues were not passed down passively through bloodlines, but were granted by God and developed by individuals through their will, reason, and ingenuity. There were a lot of factors behind the rise of Liberalism — the Protestant reformation, which broke up the authoritarian hegemony of the Roman church and refocused religion on the individual; the constant infighting of kings and nobility across Europe and Britain, which drained funds and led nobles to heavy, impromptu taxation; the rise of philosophy and science (following the invention of the printing press), which dramatically raised education levels and public information — but the culminations nation was a series of populist revolutions (the American and French revolutions most notably) which shifted the metric of legitimacy from established bloodlines to public measures of competence and approval.

We currently live in a world that is dominated by Liberal ideation of this sort, so someone who wishes to lead a nation — even if they wish to be the sole, absolute authority — needs to find legitimization by presenting him/herself as the leader chosen by the people. Even nations that overtly pass power down by bloodline — like North Korea — style themselves as republics where the leader is the people's choice. Making the move from dictator (a populist notion) to king (a bloodline notion) would be difficult: One would have to convince the populace that there was some virtue inherent in heritage that isn't related to personal skill or competence, and that idea is fairly alien to the modern Liberal psyche.


Other answers are right at explaining why a dictator shouldn't want to proclaim himself king. However, it isn't exact to say that they don't because even in the 20th century some of them did or tried to do, although most of them failed - which seems to confirm the answers that say that they shouldn't have tried.

A few examples:

Interestingly, those would-be kings weren't more successful than their fellow dictators who refrained from proclaiming themselves kings. In fact, Yuan Shikai's proclamation as emperor actually undermined his position and was a leading cause of his own downfall.

Other dictators that became king-like figures but ostensibly didn't want to be styled as kings were somehow more successful (like Franco, Horthy or Kim Il-sung, maybe the last successful founder of an extant de-facto monarchy to last for more than two generations). Comparing that group with the former one adds weight to the other answers.

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    But Horthy did renew the kingdom, he just ruled as the regent. Apr 8, 2020 at 14:45
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    Interestingly, both Franco and Horthy were supposed to be monarchists and were supported by monarchists. However they kept power to themselves instead of actually restoring their kings. "Just ruling as the regent" is a great excuse to be the de-facto king without becoming and usurper - even when it is actually impossible to reinstate the king.
    – Pere
    Apr 8, 2020 at 15:26

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