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A dictatorship is a form of government which is characterized by a leader, or a group of leaders, who hold governmental powers with few to no limitations on them. The leader of a dictatorship is called a dictator. Politics in a dictatorship are controlled by the dictator and they are facilitated through an inner circle of elites that includes advisers, generals, and other high-ranking officials. The dictator maintains control by influencing and appeasing the inner circle and repressing any opposition, which may include rival political parties, armed resistance, or disloyal members of the dictator's inner circle. Dictatorships can be formed by a military coup that overthrows the previous government through force or they can be formed by a self-coup in which elected leaders make their rule permanent. Dictatorships are authoritarian or totalitarian and they can be classified as military dictatorships, one-party dictatorships, personalist dictatorships, or absolute monarchies.
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The use of the term dictatorship originated in the Roman Republic. The earliest military dictatorships developed in the post-classical era, particularly in Shogun-era Japan and in England under Cromwell. Modern dictatorships first developed in the 19th century, which included Bonapartism in Europe and caudillos in Latin America. The 20th century saw the rise of fascist and communist dictatorships in Europe; fascism was eradicated in the aftermath of World War II in 1945, while communism spread to other continents, maintaining prominence until the end of the Cold War in 1991. The 20th century also saw the rise of personalist dictatorships in Africa and military dictatorships in Latin America, both of which became prominent in the 1960s and 1970s. Several dictatorships have persisted into the 21st century, particularly in Africa and Asia.
Dictatorships frequently hold elections in order to establish their legitimacy or provide incentives to members of the ruling party, but these elections are not competitive for the opposition. Stability in a dictatorship is maintained through coercion and political repression, which involves the restriction of access to information, the tracking of the political opposition, and acts of violence. Dictatorships that fail to repress the opposition are susceptible to collapse through a coup or a revolution.