Difference Between Autocracy and Dictatorship

A dictatorship is a form of government in which a dictator exercises absolute control, whereas an autocracy is a style of government in which supreme power is concentrated in the hands of a single individual whose decisions are not restricted by legal constraints.

What is autocracy?

Definition: Autocracy is a system of government in which total authority is consolidated in the hands of a single leader or a small number of powerful individuals. The phrase is derived from two Greek words: auto, which means “self,” and cratic, which means “rule.”

Characteristics of autocracy

Autocratic governments are characterized by the following:

  • Leader or leaders make decisions with little or no consultation from their citizenry or team members.
  • Leaders exercise independent authority over policies and procedures.
  • The leader is always directly responsible for the team members.

Types of autocracies

Autocracy can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but these frequently overlap. Despotism, oligarchy, and fascism are three prevalent forms.


Despotism is a system of government in which a single authority, either an individual or a small group, exercises absolute political authority. Despotism, in its strict definition, is a situation in which one man possesses all power and authority and everyone else is considered his slave. This sort of tyranny was the earliest recorded form of government and civilisation; Egypt’s Pharaoh epitomizes a classical despot. The phrase has acquired a connotation of despotic authority. However, under the ideology of benevolent or enlightened despotism, which gained popularity in 18th-century Europe, absolute monarchs used their power to enact a number of changes in their countries’ political institutions and society. This movement was almost certainly sparked in significant part by Enlightenment principles.


Oligarchy is a system of government in which political authority is essentially placed in the hands of a small, elite segment of the population (whether distinguished by wealth, family, or military prowess). The term oligarchy originates from the Greek for “few” (v ófligon) and “rule.” 

All through history, some oligarchies publicly granted political authority to a minority group, occasionally claiming to be an aristocracy (“organization by the ‘best’ and ‘brightest’”). These governments were frequently ruled by prominent families, whose children were raised and coached to be the oligarchy’s heirs. This authority, however, may not be exerted overtly, with oligarchs choosing to remain “the authority behind the throne,” exercising control using economic methods.


Fascism is a political ideology, movement, or system that elevates nation and frequently race above the individual and advocates for a consolidated autocratic government led by a dictator, strict economic and social regulation, and the repression of opposition. Fascist administrations included Italy’s National Fascist Party under Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or the Nazi Party, from 1925 to 1943.

Faced with a plethora of autocratic regimes, political scientists have begun classifying and analyzing the several varieties of contemporary autocratic regimes. As a result, scholars have seen an increase in autocratic governments. The most prevalent form, electoral or competitive authoritarianism (Levitsky & Way 2010), is defined by the presence of democratic procedures but a lack of liberal democratic substance. 


What is a dictatorship?

Dictatorships are frequently portrayed as harshly repressive regimes in which power is concentrated in the hands of a single individual.


A dictatorship is a system of governance in which a single individual or a small group of individuals has the ability to make decisions without effective constitutional constraints. 

The dictator has absolute power in a dictatorship. They are not called to account for their acts and are allowed to do whatever they want, including restricting citizens’ freedoms and liberties, the freedom of expression and religious liberty. Interestingly, the majority of modern dictatorial regimes do not refer to their leader by the term “dictator,” but rather by a variety of titles. Among these titles are President, King Prime Minister, and so forth. Cambodia, China, North Korea and Russia are all examples of existing dictatorial regimes.

Characteristics of Dictatorships 

Hadenius & Teorell (2007) expanded on this classification by suggesting five distinct categories: monarchies, military regimes, one-party regimes, and restricted multiparty regimes. Cheibub et al. (2010), proposed a new classification system for dictatorships, distinguishing between royal, military, and civilian dictatorships. This thematic study reveals that there exist dictatorial governments that have democratic façades or even some functioning democratic institutions, some of them holding regular elections, have operational political parties and even legislatures.

Comparison between Autocracy and Dictatorship

There is little distinction between dictatorship and autocracy because both systems are ruled by a single individual. Autocracy and dictatorship share a number of characteristics. There are also parallels in the use of force and the punishments meted out to those who disobey the leader’s commands.

Autocracy vs. Dictatorship: Comparison Chart


While autocracies and dictatorships have long been vilified, they do have three significant advantages: efficiency, security, and conformity. When a government is managed by a single individual or group of individuals, there is less waste than when the government is divided into numerous branches. It is more manageable. Leaders can achieve their goals without having to deal with resistant legislators or those wanting more power than they merit.

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Anthony U, A. (2022, February 7). Difference Between Autocracy and Dictatorship. Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects. http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/politics/difference-between-autocracy-and-dictatorship/.

Anthony U, Anthony. “Difference Between Autocracy and Dictatorship.” Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects, 7 February, 2022, http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/politics/difference-between-autocracy-and-dictatorship/.

Author: Luke Hanson