A dictatorship is a form of government characterized by an unelected leader or group of leaders that hold government power with few to no limitations. The leader of a dictatorship is called a dictator. Politics in a dictatorship take place between the dictator, the inner circle, and the opposition, which may be peaceful or violent. Dictatorships can be formed by a military coup that overthrows the previous government through force or by a self-coup in which elected leaders make their rule permanent. Dictatorships can be classified as military dictatorships, one-party dictatorships, personalist dictatorships, or absolute monarchies.

The term dictatorship originates from its use in Roman Republic. Early military dictatorships developed in the post-classical era, particularly in Shogun-era Japan. Modern dictatorships developed in the 19th century as caudillos seized power in Latin America. Fascist states and Communist states emerged in Europe the 1920s and 1930s. Fascism was eradicated in the aftermath of World War II, while Communism spread to other continents. Personalist dictatorships in Africa and military dictatorships in Latin America became prominent in the 1960s and 1970s. Many dictatorships fell during the end of the Cold War and the third wave of democratisation. Many dictatorships still exist, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Dictatorships often hold elections to establish legitimacy or to provide incentives for members of the ruling party, but these elections are not competitive for the opposition. Stability in a dictatorship is maintained through coercion, which involves the restriction of information, tracking of political opposition, and acts of violence. Strong opposition groups can result in the collapse of a dictatorship through a coup or a revolution.

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