What Is Autocracy? Definition and Examples (2022)

An autocracy is a system of government in which one person—an autocrat—holds all political, economic, social, and military power. The autocrat’s rule is unlimited and absolute and is not subject to any legal or legislative limitation.

While a dictatorship is by definition an autocracy, a dictatorship may also be ruled by an elite group of people, such as a military or religious order. Autocracy can also be compared to oligarchy—rule by a small group of individuals distinguished by their wealth, education or religion—and democracy—rule by a majority of the people. Today, most autocracies exist in the form of absolute monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Morocco, and dictatorships, such as North Korea, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.

Key Takeaways: Autocracy

  • An autocracy is a system of government in which all political power is concentrated in the hands of a single person called an autocrat.
  • The rule of the autocrat is absolute and cannot be regulated by external legal restraints or democratic methods of control, except for the threat of removal by coup d'etat or mass insurrection.
  • While a dictatorship is essentially an autocracy, a dictatorship may also be ruled by a dominant group, such as a military or religious order.
  • By their nature, autocracies are often forced to place the needs of an elite supportive minority over the needs of the general public.

Structure of Autocratic Power

Compared to complex representative systems of government, such as the United States’ system of federalism, the structure of an autocracy is relatively simple: there is the autocrat and little else. However, no matter how personally forceful or charismatic they may be, autocrats still require some sort of power structure to retain and apply their rule. Historically, autocrats have depended on nobles, business moguls, militaries, or ruthless priesthoods to maintain their power. Since these are often the same groups that may turn against the autocrats and depose them through a coup d'etat or mass insurrection, they are often forced to satisfy the needs of the elite minority over the needs of the general public. For example, social welfare programs are rare to non-existent, while policies to increase the wealth of supportive business oligarchs or the power of the loyal military are common.

In an autocracy, all power is concentrated in a single center, be it an individual dictator or a group such as a dominant political party or central committee. In either case, the autocratic power center uses force to suppress opposition and prevent social movements that could lead to the development of opposition. The power centers operate free of any controls or real sanctions. This is in sharp contrast to democracies and other nonautocratic systems of government, in which power is shared by several centers, such as executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In further contrast to autocracies, power centers in nonautocratic systems are subject to controls and legal sanctions and do allow for public opinion and peaceful dissent.

Modern autocracies sometimes try to present themselves as less-dictatorial regimes by claiming to embrace values similar to those found in the constitutions and charters of democracies or limited monarchies. They may create parliaments, citizen assemblies, political parties, and courts that are mere facades for the autocracy’s unilateral exercise of power. In practice, all but the most trivial actions of the supposedly representative citizen bodies require the approval of the ruling autocrat. The Communist Party of China’s single-party rule of the People’s Republic of China is a prominent modern example.

Historic Autocracies

Autocracy is far from a recently evolved concept. From the emperors of Ancient Rome to the fascist regimes of the 20th century, a few historical examples of autocracies include:

(Video) What Is Autocracy: Autocracy Meaning Explained

The Roman Empire

Perhaps the earliest known example of autocracy is the Roman Empire, founded in 27 B.C. by Emperor Augustus following the end of the Roman Republic. While Augustus proudly retained the Roman Senate—often praised as the birthplace of representative democracy—he used the gesture to hide the fact that he was slowly transferring all meaningful power to himself.

Imperialist Russia

What Is Autocracy? Definition and Examples (1)

Immediately after being crowned ruler in 1547, first Russian Tsar Ivan IV began earning his fearsome reputation as Ivan the Terrible. Through the execution and exile of those who opposed him, Ivan IV established autocratic control over his expanding Russian Empire. To enforce his power center, Ivan established Russia’s first regular standing army featuring two elite cavalry divisions, the Cossacks and the Oprichnina, dedicated almost exclusively to protecting the Tsar. In 1570, Ivan ordered the Oprichnina to carry out the Massacre of Novgorod, out of his fears that the city had become a breeding ground for treason and treachery against his rule.

Nazi Germany

What Is Autocracy? Definition and Examples (2)

Nazi Germany is an example of an autocracy ruled by a single leader and a supporting political party. After a failed coup d'etat attempt in 1923, the National Socialist German Workers Party under Adolf Hitler began applying less-visible methods of taking over the German government. Taking advantage of civil unrest during the 1930s, Hitler’s Nazi party used its charismatic leader’s stirring speeches and clever propaganda to seize power. After being named German chancellor in March 1933, Hitler's party began restricting civil liberties, with the military and Herman Goering’s Gestapo secret police suppressing opposition to Nazi Party rule. Having turned the formerly democratic German Reich government into a dictatorship, Hitler alone acted on behalf of Germany.

Franco’s Spain

What Is Autocracy? Definition and Examples (3)

(Video) 🔵 Autocratic - Autarchy vs Autarky - Autocrat Meaning - Autocratic Examples - Formal English

On October 1, 1936, just three months after the start of the Spanish Civil War, the dominant Nationalist Party rebel leader “El Generalísimo” Francisco Franco was proclaimed Spain’s head of state. Under his rule, Franco quickly turned Spain into a dictatorship widely described as a “semi-fascist regime” displaying the influence of fascism in areas such as labor, the economy, social policy, and single-party control. Known as the “White Terror,” Franco’s reign was maintained through brutal political repression including executions and abuses carried out by his Nationalist Party faction. Although Spain under Franco did not directly join fascist Axis powers Germany and Italy in World War II, it supported them throughout the war while continuing to claim its neutrality.

Mussolini’s Italy

What Is Autocracy? Definition and Examples (4)

With Benito Mussolini acting as Prime Minister of Italy from 1922 to 1943, the National Fascist Party imposed a totalitarian autocratic rule that wiped out political and intellectual opposition, while promising to modernize the economy and restore traditional Italian religious and moral values. After reorganizing the former Italian parliamentary system into what he called a “legally organized executive dictatorship,” Mussolini defied League of Nations sanctions by increasing Italy’s military involvement in foreign conflicts. After invading Albania in 1939, Italy signed the Pact of Steel establishing its alliance with Nazi Germany and heralding its ill-fated participation on the side of the Axis powers in World War II.

Autocracy vs. Authoritarianism

While both autocracy and authoritarianism are characterized by having single dominant rulers who may use force and the repression of individual rights to maintain power, an autocracy may demand less control over the people’s lives and be less likely to abuse its power. As a result, truly authoritarian regimes tend to be more unpopular and thus more subject to revolt or overthrow than autocracies.

Truly authoritarian dictatorships are rare today. More common instead are centralized power regimes best described as “liberal autocracies,” such as Russia, China, and North Korea. Though ruled by single dominant political parties controlled by single dominant leaders, they allow for limited public expression and involvement through institutions like elected congresses, ministries, and assemblies. While most actions of these bodies are subject to party approval, they present at least a guise of democracy. For example, China’s 3,000-delegate elected National People's Congress (NPC), though designated by China’s 1982 constitution to be the state’s most powerful governing body, is in practice little more than a rubber stamp for the decisions of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Sources and Further Reference

(Video) What is Autocracy ? Meaning & Synonyms with Definition and Examples in Hindi and English
(Video) Autocracy, Oligarchy, & Democracy
(Video) What is an Autocracy (Dictatorship)?


What is autocracy and examples? ›

In autocratic governments, the power of the ruler is absolute; dissent is not tolerated. For this reason, scholars have often linked autocracy with totalitarian regimes, such as that of Adolf Hitler in Germany and Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union.

What is autocracy short answer? ›

Definition of autocracy

1 : the authority or rule of an autocrat. 2 : government in which one person possesses unlimited power. 3 : a community or state governed by autocracy.

What is the best example of an autocracy? ›

What is an example of an autocracy? A well known autocracy is the leadership by Adolf Hitler in Germany from 1933-1945. Adolf took control of every decision made. The people had no choice but to follow orders.

What is a definition for autocratic? ›

autocratic. / (ˌɔːtəˈkrætɪk) / adjective. of or relating to an absolute and unrestricted ruler. domineering or dictatorial.

What is an example of Anocracy? ›

Cambodia. Cambodia is an example of anocracy because its government displays democratic and authoritarian aspects.

How do you use autocracy in a sentence? ›

Many poor countries are abandoning autocracy. An autocracy is a country or organization that is ruled by one person who has complete power. She ceded all power to her son-in-law who now runs the country as an autocracy.

How do you say the word autocracy? ›

How To Say Autocracy - YouTube

What do you mean by autocracy Class 9? ›

Autocracy – System of Government

A system of government in which the complete powers of a state or a nation are concentrated in the hands of one single person is known as an autocracy. In a democracy, the real power is in the hands of the people, whereas in an autocracy the power is only in the hands of one person.

What country uses autocracy? ›

Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian absolute monarchy and is run as an autocracy. It has complete control over the political, economic, social and military institutions and rules with no checks on the singular power of the monarch.

Who is the best example of autocratic leadership? ›

Leaders of Silicon Valley such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk all are examples of autocratic leadership. Yet, these are names people seek to emulate. Although they are examples of autocratic leadership in business, they have also transformed society.

Who is a famous autocratic leader? ›

Autocratic leadership is an authoritarian leadership style. It requires one individual to make all the decisions for others without any input or advice. Famous autocratic leaders include Napoleon Bonaparte, King Henry III, and Queen Elizabeth I.

What is an example of an autocratic leader in sport? ›

(silver, example) In sports a referee is autocratic because they must make fast decisions and not go back on them, if they do players will think them weak and argue.

What is the meaning of autocracy in government? ›

An autocracy is a form of government in which one ruler has absolute control and decision-making power in all matters of state and over all the country's people. 5 - 8. Civics, Social Studies.

What is a autocratic government? ›

Autocracy is a system of government in which absolute power over a state is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject neither to external legal restraints nor to regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup d'état or other forms of rebellion).

What is the best definition for democracy? ›

1 : government by the people : majority rule. 2 : government in which the highest power is held by the people and is usually used through representatives. 3 : a political unit (as a nation) governed by the people.

What is an example of democracy? ›

The U.S. is an example of Democracy. They have a representative democracy where the people choose the Executive and Legislative officials for the debate over policies that interest the people.

What are the three areas democracies and autocracies differ? ›

Democracies and autocracies differ in three essential elements: selection of leaders, citizen participation, and checks and balances.

What is autocracy AP Human Geography? ›

Autocracy. A country that is run according to the interests of the ruler rather than the people.

What is an example of oligarchy? ›

Examples of a historical oligarchies are Sparta and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. A modern example of oligarchy could be seen in South Africa during the 20th century. Here, the basic characteristics of oligarchy are particularly easy to observe, since the South African form of oligarchy was based on race.

Is a person in authority who has complete power? ›

A dictator is someone who has absolute power — or who at least behaves as if they do by bossing others around.

What type of noun is autocracy? ›

noun, plural au·toc·ra·cies. government in which one person has uncontrolled or unlimited authority over others; the government or power of an absolute monarch. a nation, state, or community ruled by an autocrat.

Is autocratic a leader? ›

Autocratic, or authoritarian leaders, are often described as those with ultimate authority and power over others. These leaders tend to make choices based upon their own ideas alone and do not listen to their team or seek input from others.

What is the difference between autocracy and monarchy? ›

The main difference between Monarchy and Autocracy is that the Monarchy is a system of government where the head of state position is inherited within family and Autocracy is a system of government.

What is an example of government? ›

The political organization by which a state or nation is ruled. The definition of government is the exercise of control or authority over a group of people. An example of government is the British Parliament.

What is meant by autocracy Class 10? ›

'Autocracy' refers to the rule of a single person over a nation or state.

What are the 7 types of government? ›

Some of the different types of government include a direct democracy, a representative democracy, socialism, communism, a monarchy, an oligarchy, and an autocracy.

What is the synonym of autocratic? ›

  • authoritarian,
  • authoritative,
  • bossy,
  • despotic,
  • dictatorial,
  • domineering,
  • imperious,
  • masterful,

What is a real world example of democracy? ›

For example, the United States is a representative democracy because most decisions are made not by the people themselves, but by representatives who act on the people's behalf.

What are three examples of authoritarian leaders? ›

Examples of leaders who have used authoritarian leadership include Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Bill Gates, Kim Jong-un, Larry Ellison, Lorne Michaels, Richard Nixon and Vladimir Putin.

What is leadership style example? ›

A servant leader strives to serve the needs of their team above their own. It is also a form of leading by example. Servant leaders try to find ways to develop, elevate and inspire people following their lead to achieve the best results. Servant leadership requires leaders with high integrity and munificence.

How do autocratic leaders work? ›

Should you encounter such a beast then here are some hints and tips for coping:
  1. Understand what motivates an autocratic leader. ...
  2. Know the weaknesses of an autocratic leader. ...
  3. Never take it personally. ...
  4. How to deal with autocratic bosses:
  5. Don´t try to change them. ...
  6. Focus on your work. ...
  7. Avoid fights. ...
  8. Do not be defensive.

Why is autocracy important? ›

Decisions can be made very quickly

In this leadership style, there is no need to gather consensus from your team or from other parts of the organisation when making decisions. Your say goes. Because of this, autocratic leadership lends itself particularly well to high-stress situations where quick decisions are vital.

Is Bill Gates an autocratic leader? ›

Bill Gates adopted an autocratic leadership style in the early years of Microsoft to ensure the company grew at the pace that he had envisioned. Autocratic leaders believe that the best way to manage their team is to control the way they do their work.

What are the advantages of autocratic leadership? ›

Here are the top advantages of autocratic leadership:
  • Faster Decision-making. ...
  • Better Communication. ...
  • Boosts Productivity. ...
  • Effective Handling Of Crises. ...
  • Reduces Employee Stress. ...
  • Ideal To Counter Team Inexperience.
Oct 11, 2021

What is an example of a autocracy country? ›

Today, most autocracies exist in the form of absolute monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Morocco, and dictatorships, such as North Korea, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.

What is autocracy and how does it work? ›

Autocracy is a system of government in which absolute power over a state is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject neither to external legal restraints nor to regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup d'état or other forms of rebellion).

What are 3 examples of democracy? ›

Types of democracy can cluster around values. For example, some like direct democracy, electronic democracy, participatory democracy, real democracy, and deliberative democracy, strive to allow people to participate equally and directly in protest, discussion, decision-making, or other acts of politics.

Which country has autocracy government? ›

Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian absolute monarchy and is run as an autocracy. It has complete control over the political, economic, social and military institutions and rules with no checks on the singular power of the monarch.


1. What is Oligarchy? | Robert Reich
(Robert Reich)
2. Autocracy
3. What is Autocratic Leadership ?
4. Autocracy (Dictatorships) Explained, with examples.
(The Political Conversationalist)
5. What is Autocracy ?
(Anwar Aniq)
6. Democracy vs Autocracy
(Big Jim)

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