Is there a word for a kind of government where leadership is not elected, but the rulers are not harsh or violent? I am thinking of a 'just dictatorship', if you will.
In Spanish (and at a lesser extent in Portuguese, Catalan and other romance languages) the word "dictablanda" (Port. ditabranda, Cat. dictatova, Fr. dictamolle) has been used.
In its original and still most common meaning it appeared in 1930 to mean the government of General Damaso Berenguer in Spain. That government followed the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and was an intent to preserve monarchy by somehow restoring the previous parliamentary system. Under Berenguer government civil liberties were more or less restored but elections weren't being called.
Then appeared the word "dictablanda" as a pun on "dictadura" ("dictadura"=dictatorship). The pun is that "dura"=hard and "blanda"=soft and it intended to convey the idea that Berenguer government was still a dictatorship despite of repression being way softer.
Although that is still the most common use, and "Dictablanda" is widely used to refer to the last year of Spanish monarchy in 1930-1931, even in scholar contexts, it has also been applied to other governments. As a quick Google search can confirm, it is mostly used in two kind of contexts:
- To criticise alleged authoritarian aspects on basically democratic regimes.
- To downplay the dictatorial aspect of actual dictatorships. For example, here is a video of General Pinochet claiming his government in Chile was a "dictablanda" and not a "dictadura".
Interestingly, the same wordplay works in most romance languages but not in other linguistic families and hence the international but limited spread of the word.
There is the word "benevolent dictator". This word is a theoretical concept from Political Economics. According to wikipedia it can be traced back to John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" (in the context of justifying European colonialism). The idea is that such a dictator acts for the general best: He knows what is best and implements it unobstructed by any group interested.
The title "benevolent dictator for life" has been applied for several highly-respected people in IT, e.g.:
- Richard Stallman (GNU project)
- Linus Torvalds (Linux)
- Guido van Rossum (Python)
The word "dictator" originally didn't imply harshness or violence, at least not necessarily. The Romans had quite a few dictators, some of them to save their Republic while a foreign army was standing in Italy or even at their city gates, but often a dictator's only office was to organize elections and would resign a few days later. "Dictator" was an honorable office; it was the title "king" ("rex") that sent shivers over a Roman's shoulders.
(The elections required the presence of a consul, but sometimes both consuls were leading an army too far away from Rome and could not be recalled. In such a situation, a dictator would have been named.)