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Autocracy vs. Dictatorship: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on November 18, 2023
Autocracy is a system where one person holds all governing power, while a dictatorship is a form of autocracy where the ruler often takes power by force and maintains it with intimidation.

Key Differences

Autocracy, as a term, encapsulates any system of government where a single individual possesses all decision-making authority. It simply refers to the concentration of power in one person's hands, regardless of how they obtained or maintain that power. Dictatorship, on the other hand, is a more specific subset of autocracy. In a dictatorship, the leader often assumes power, not through traditional or lawful means, but through force, coercion, or manipulation.
In autocratic systems, the singular ruler may have come into power through various means, including inheritance or appointment. There might be a constitutional framework that allows for an autocratic leadership style. Dictatorships, in contrast, frequently disregard or manipulate existing laws and constitutions. The dictator's rule is often characterized by oppressive measures, suppression of opposition, and the widespread use of fear.
Autocracy can be seen in different historical contexts and might not always have a negative connotation. For instance, many absolute monarchies of the past functioned as autocracies. Dictatorship, however, is mostly seen in a negative light due to the human rights abuses, lack of freedoms, and the repressive nature associated with most dictatorial regimes.
While autocracy denotes a system of governance, dictatorship points more toward the manner in which the power is used and maintained. Every dictatorship is an autocracy, but not every autocracy is necessarily a dictatorship.

Comparison Chart


A system where one person has all governing power
A form of autocracy with oppressive rule

Assumption of Power

Through inheritance, appointment, or other means
Often through force, coercion, or manipulation


May or may not be oppressive
Typically oppressive and rights-abusive


General term for single-person rule
Specific form of autocratic rule

Historical Connotation

Seen in various historical contexts, like absolute monarchies
Mostly negative due to associated human rights abuses

Autocracy and Dictatorship Definitions


A country, state, or society governed by one person.
The small island nation was an autocracy ruled by a single queen.


Governance by a dictator or dictators.
The country lived under a brutal dictatorship for decades.


Unlimited authority or absolute power in the hands of a single individual.
Critics argued that the president's actions were pushing the nation towards autocracy.


A form of government where power is concentrated in the hands of one individual or a small group.
The rebels aimed to overthrow the dictatorship and establish a democracy.


Rule or leadership that's centralized in one person.
The business functioned like an autocracy, with the CEO making all major decisions.


A country ruled by a dictator or by a totalitarian regime.
Fear and censorship were rampant in the dictatorship.


A system of government by one person with absolute power.
The king's autocracy meant he made all decisions without consultation.


Absolute authority in governance, especially one characterized by a lack of established democratic procedures.
The sudden dissolution of the parliament was a clear sign of a budding dictatorship.


Governance where the ruler's actions aren't restricted by a constitution or laws.
Without checks and balances, the country slid into autocracy.


A system of governance with centralized control often maintained through force and intimidation.
Under the dictatorship, dissent was swiftly and harshly dealt with.


Government by a single person having unlimited power; despotism.


The office or tenure of a dictator.


A country or state that is governed by a single person with unlimited power.


A state or government under dictatorial rule.


(uncountable) A form of government in which unlimited power is held by a single individual.


Absolute or despotic control or power.


(countable) An instance of this government.


A type of government where absolute sovereignty is allotted to an individual or a small clique.


Independent or self-derived power; absolute or controlling authority; supremacy.
The divine will moves, not by the external impulse or inclination of objects, but determines itself by an absolute autocracy.


A government which exercises autocratic rule.


Supreme, uncontrolled, unlimited authority, or right of governing in a single person, as of an autocrat.


Any household, institution, or other organization that is run under such sovereignty or autocracy.


Political independence or absolute sovereignty (of a state); autonomy.


The office, or the term of office, of a dictator; hence, absolute power.


The action of the vital principle, or of the instinctive powers, toward the preservation of the individual; also, the vital principle.


A form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.)


A political system governed by a single individual


A political theory favoring unlimited authority by a single individual


Is autocracy always oppressive?

No, it simply denotes single-person rule; the nature of rule can vary.

Can autocracy exist within a constitutional framework?

Yes, if the constitution allows for single-person decision-making authority.

Is dictatorship a type of autocracy?

Yes, dictatorship is a subset of autocracy.

What is autocracy?

Autocracy is a system of governance where one person possesses all decision-making authority.

How can someone become an autocrat?

They can inherit power, be appointed, or obtain it through other lawful means.

How does a dictator usually come into power?

Often through force, manipulation, or overriding existing laws and constitutions.

What characterizes a dictatorship?

It's often characterized by oppressive rule, human rights abuses, and rule through force or coercion.

Are all autocracies dictatorships?

No, while all dictatorships are autocracies, not all autocracies are dictatorships.

Can dictatorships have legal frameworks?

They might, but they frequently manipulate or disregard them to maintain power.

Which form of governance typically has a more negative connotation?

Dictatorship typically has a more negative connotation due to its repressive nature and associated human rights abuses.
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
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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