Difference Wiki

Authoritarian vs. Dictator: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on November 26, 2023
Authoritarianism is a governance style emphasizing obedience and control, while dictatorship is a form of government led by a single leader with absolute power.

Key Differences

Authoritarianism is characterized by a concentration of power in a single authority, often a small group or a single individual. It demands strict obedience to the central authority and often limits individual freedoms. Dictatorship, on the other hand, refers specifically to a system where a single person, the dictator, holds absolute power, typically acquired and maintained by force.
Authoritarian regimes may not necessarily be led by a single individual; they can include a small group or a political party exercising total control. In such regimes, power structures are often rigidly maintained. A dictator is always a single ruler, who may rise to power through various means, including democratic elections, before abolishing democratic practices to maintain control.
Authoritarian governments can sometimes maintain a semblance of democracy, like holding elections, but these are often controlled or rigged to ensure the ruling party or leader remains in power. Conversely, in a dictatorship, the leader rarely pretends to uphold democratic values and openly operates as the sole authority.
Authoritarian regimes often employ propaganda, censorship, and suppression of dissent to maintain control. While dictators also use these tools, their rule is more personalized, often revolving around their cult of personality, and their decisions are not bound by laws or institutions.
In authoritarian systems, succession can be institutionalized, following certain norms or rules within the existing power structure. In contrast, dictatorships often face succession crises, as power is usually concentrated in the hands of the dictator, with no clear mechanism for transfer of power upon their demise.

Comparison Chart


Can be an individual, a group, or a party
Always a single individual

Power Acquisition

Through various means, sometimes pseudo-democratic
Often by force or subversion of democratic process

Governance Style

Centralized control, often with some institutional structure
Personalized, often without regard for institutions

Public Perception

May maintain a facade of legitimacy
Often openly operates without concern for legitimacy


May have established norms or rules
Often faces a crisis due to lack of clear succession mechanism

Authoritarian and Dictator Definitions


Relating to or resembling an autocracy.
The company's authoritarian structure left little room for employee input.


A person who behaves in an autocratic way.
In the meeting, he acted like a dictator, dismissing all other opinions.


Marked by a lack of personal freedom.
The school's authoritarian policies were criticized for being too restrictive.


A person exercising absolute power, especially a ruler who has absolute, unrestricted control in a government without hereditary succession.
The dictator implemented policies without regard for democratic processes.


Favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom.
The authoritarian teacher demanded silence and immediate compliance from her students.


A ruler who wields unchallengeable authority or power.
The dictator's decisions were final and not subject to debate or dissent.


Exercising complete or almost complete control over the will of others.
His authoritarian parenting style left no room for debate or discussion.


A person with high authority, especially one who behaves in a tyrannical manner.
He was a dictator in the office, making unilateral decisions without consultation.


Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority.
The authoritarian regime suppressed all forms of dissent.


A ruler with total power over a country, typically one who has obtained power by force.
The dictator ruled the nation with an iron fist, allowing no opposition.


Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom
An authoritarian regime.


An absolute ruler.


Tending to tell other people what to do in a peremptory or arrogant manner.


A tyrant; a despot.


Of, or relating to, or exhibiting strict obedience to an authority; favoring authoritarianism over civic and individual liberties.
The authoritarian personality


An ancient Roman magistrate appointed temporarily to deal with an immediate crisis or emergency.


What is authoritarianism?

Authoritarianism is a governance style that emphasizes strict obedience to authority and often limits personal freedoms.

What defines a dictator?

A dictator is a ruler with absolute power, typically one who has obtained power by force and rules without regard for democratic practices.

Is authoritarianism always negative?

While often viewed negatively due to the suppression of freedoms, some argue that authoritarianism can bring stability in certain contexts.

What happens to opposition in a dictatorship?

Opposition in a dictatorship is often suppressed, imprisoned, or eliminated.

How does propaganda work in authoritarian regimes?

Propaganda in authoritarian regimes is used to control public opinion and suppress dissent.

Do authoritarian governments hold elections?

Some authoritarian governments hold elections, but these are often controlled or rigged to maintain power.

Can a democracy become authoritarian?

Yes, a democracy can become authoritarian if the ruling powers start limiting freedoms and centralizing control.

How does a dictator come to power?

Dictators often come to power through force, coups, or by subverting democratic processes.

Can authoritarian leaders have popular support?

Yes, some authoritarian leaders maintain popular support through nationalism, economic policies, or charisma.

What characterizes the rule of a dictator?

The rule of a dictator is characterized by absolute control, lack of democratic processes, and often a cult of personality.

How do dictators maintain their power?

Dictators maintain power through force, control over the military, suppression of opposition, and sometimes popular support.

Can a dictator be elected?

Yes, dictators can initially be elected but may subvert democratic processes to retain absolute power.

Can authoritarianism exist in different political systems?

Yes, authoritarianism can exist in various political systems, including democracies, monarchies, and communist states.

Can authoritarianism lead to dictatorship?

Yes, authoritarianism can lead to dictatorship if power becomes increasingly centralized in the hands of a single ruler.

Do dictators have absolute control over the law?

In most cases, dictators have control over the law and can bend it to their will.

Are all authoritarian leaders dictators?

No, not all authoritarian leaders are dictators; some authoritarian regimes are led by groups or parties.

How do international communities react to dictatorships?

International reactions to dictatorships vary from sanctions and condemnation to, in some cases, support for strategic reasons.

Are all dictators military leaders?

No, not all dictators are military leaders; some may come from political or civilian backgrounds.

Can a dictator be removed peacefully?

While challenging, dictators can be removed peacefully through political processes, international pressure, or popular uprisings.

Is censorship common in authoritarian regimes?

Yes, censorship is a common tool in authoritarian regimes to control information and suppress dissent.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons