Democracy and dictatorships are two types government that are fundamental opposites. In a democracy, power rests with the country's people, who make decisions either by voting directly or by electing representatives to make decisions on their behalf. A dictatorship is an autocratic style of government in which power rests with only one person or group who makes decisions for the country's population regardless of their wishes.
In a representative democracy, a country is governed by elected representatives. These representatives are chosen by the country's citizens and are expected to legislate on their behalf during a term in office. The United States is an example of a representative democracy. However, the U.S. Constitution applies limits to majority rule to protect the interests of minority members of the population. These checks create a style of representative democracy known as a republic. Majority rule is still the guiding principle of a republic, but it is not absolute.
A direct democracy is a government in which citizens vote directly on laws instead of having representatives vote for them. Although this style of government is difficult to implement on a large scale, 24 states in the United States and several European countries allow citizens to initiate a referendum (a general vote on a single issue). Direct democracy requires citizens to be involved in their government and functions best when people participate in politics and vote regularly.
A military dictatorship is formed when a leader uses the military to obtain and remain in power. Under this form of government, a country's citizens to do not have the power to legislate and may experience an erosion of civil liberties. A military dictatorship formed in Chile in 1973 when General Augusto Pinochet led a coup and ruled by force for 17 years. After the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, another military dictatorship formed under Francisco Franco, who restricted religious freedom and other forms of cultural expression until his death in 1975.
Although not always defined as a dictatorship, absolute monarchy functions in the same way: a single person has complete authority over a country. Most modern monarchies are constitutional or symbolic, but monarchies that existed further back in history were extremely powerful. Until the beginning of World War I, Russia was an empire ruled by powerful autocrats known as Czars. Russian Czars had power over all aspects of Russian life and enforced their authority with censorship and military intervention. The Czar was also head of the Russian church, whose clergy taught the Russian people that the Czar was appointed by God.
A civilian dictatorship is an authoritarian regime that is generally distinguished by rulers that are not military members, do not call themselves kings and do not have hereditary successors. This definition is flexible, however, encompassing countries like North Korea, which has traditions of hereditary rule. Civilian dictatorships can be overseen by individuals (who may legitimize their regime by holding elections) or by dominant parties, as practiced in China.
- University of Notre Dame: Major Types of Democracy
- New York University: Varieties of Dictatorship
- Portland State University: An Important Distinction: Democracy Versus Republic
- University of Southern California: Direct Democracy Works
- King's College: Facism
- Stanford University: International Effects on the Democratic Onset in Chile
- BBC: Higher Bitesize - The Tsar's Regime Till 1914
- The Economist: Democracy Index 2012
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