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I've always found it odd that there are high-profile positions in the US using the title of "czar," which has obvious connotations to Russia. An example is John Kerry, who is often informally referred to as the US Climate Czar.

When did this usage of czar start, and was it deliberately used to harken back to the Russian czars?

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  • Related example from outside US and outside politics: Marcel Reich-Ranicki was often described in German as Literaturpapst ("pope" of literature).
    – gerrit
    Nov 19 at 15:50
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    It's usually the media who use the term, and those described as whatever czars aren't usually politicians (at least at the same time they're czars), but administrators & envoys.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 20 at 3:05
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The term 'Czar' is used frequently, since the turn of 20th Century, by members of both parties, and in nations other than the United States.

It's an informal term meant to describe a person who has been invested with broad authority over a single area of policy. The term itself predates Russo-slavic uses and arises from the Latin, "Caesar," a titled used by Roman dictators. "Dictator" meant something else in Roman antiquity than it does in contemporary use: 'dictator' was a legal position granted by the Senate to assign command authority to a single person in times where speed of decision-making was the order of the day, usually to confront a crisis.

The rationale for the origin of the term is disputed, and likely unknowable, but it's a mistake to assume the term is associated either with Socialism or with socialism. The Republican Party also appoints czars of various policy spheres when they see the need to do so. And as a matter of historical fact, Communism and Socialism in the former Russian Empire rose in direct opposition to the Tsars, so - if anything - it's about as anti-Communist a term as one can get.

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  • 8
    For a very recent example of republicans appointing a czar: Donald Trump named Mike Pence corona-virus czar.
    – user141592
    Nov 18 at 17:31
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    "Caesar" was a title used by Roman emperors, and it originated as a hereditary name in the Julii family. Dictatorship had been abolished for a century or so by the time "caesar" became a title. Nov 18 at 18:53
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    Ethymologically the term is Latin, but this form (czar, tsar) is clearly Slavic and was udoubtedly borrowed from Russian. Of the Great Powers, Russia was the last absolute monarchy, and the connotation is exactly that: czar is an absolute ruler of a large domain.
    – Zeus
    Nov 18 at 23:56
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    Why is there a paragraph disavowing connections to (S/s)ocialism when the Q only talks about Russia? That Czar came from Ceasar is undisputed, but why do US Americans not use Ceasar, Kaiser, or any other word - why Czar? that was the Q
    – bukwyrm
    Nov 19 at 6:21
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    The Oxford English Dictionary has multiple citations from 19th century America, as well as throughout the 20th century meaning "A person having great authority or absolute power; a tyrant, ‘boss’." I guess it was preferred over Kaiser, etc, because it's short and snappy and distinctive, and (in modern usage) not as negative as dictator or tyrant. Lots of other words for kings, emperors, and rulers are used in various extended senses without their original connotations: tycoon, mogul, sultan, king. (Nobody thinks Burger King is advocating the replacement of the US republic with a monarchy.)
    – Stuart F
    Nov 19 at 10:44
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I see you've already got an accepted answer, but I don't find it satisfactory, at least for US usage.

It's Always Been Used in America... Sort of

"Czar" as a word being synonymous with authoritarianism or a dictatorial style has been a part of the US as long as there has been a US, with early politicians leveling the term at each other off and on. So it's always been in the US vocabulary.

Enter Judge Landis

After the 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal, the owners of baseball needed to clean up their sport. Ultimately, they decided that Federal Judge Kenesaw Landis was the man to do it. He became the first commissioner of Major League Baseball, with a broad set of powers the leaders of baseball before him didn't have. Ultimately, he was nicknamed the Czar of baseball, both because he wielded his power heavy and often, and because he came into conflict with one of baseball's biggest stars, Babe Ruth, "The Sultan of Swat." Newspapers simply couldn't resist headlines like "The Sultan and the Czar." It was a great title to contrast the popular Ruth with the skepticism people had for the job Landis would do as baseball commissioner.

He did a much better job than people expected, however.

By the time Landis died in 1944, he had done a tremendous job cleaning up baseball, had become immensely popular, and had turned the nickname "Czar" into a much more positive one. Throughout the 30s and 40s, Czar had entered the American political sphere as someone who accomplished difficult tasks and wields power effectively rather than the authoritarian meaning it had before.

Edit: I just realized that I'm on the politics stack and not the history stack. I'm going to leave my answer up, but it's probably better suited for that community.

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