|Part of the Politics series|
|Basic forms of government|
An autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup d'état or mass insurrection). Absolute monarchy and dictatorship are the main historical forms of autocracy. In very early times, the term "autocrat" was written in coins as a favorable feature of the ruler, having some connection to the concept of "lack of conflicts of interests".
History and etymology
In the Medieval Greek language, the term Autocrates was used for anyone holding the title emperor, regardless of the actual power of the monarch. Some historical Slavic monarchs, such as Russian tsars and emperors, included the title Autocrat as part of their official styles, distinguishing them from the constitutional monarchs elsewhere in Europe.
Comparison with other forms of government
Both totalitarianism and military dictatorship are often identified with, but need not be, an autocracy. Totalitarianism is a system where the state strives to control every aspect of life and civil society. It can be headed by a supreme dictator, making it autocratic, but it can also have a collective leadership such as a commune, junta, or single political party.
In an analysis of militarized disputes between two states, if one of the states involved was an autocracy the chance of violence occurring doubled.
Because autocrats need a power structure to rule, it can be difficult to draw a clear line between historical autocracies and oligarchies. Most historical autocrats depended on their nobles, the military, the priesthood or other elite groups. Some autocracies are rationalized by assertion of divine right.
Ancient Greece: From the 8th to 5th centuries B.C., Athens and the surrounding country was a hereditary monarchy. Eventually, aristocrats rose up and formed an oligarchy. These rulers reformed in order to keep the masses subdued; for example, the ruler Pisistratus took land away from the wealthy and gave it to the peasants. This way, the people remained happy while the aristocrats maintained all of the power.
The Roman Empire: In 27 B.C., Augustus founded the Roman Empire following the end of the fragile Republic of Rome. Augustus effectively kept the Roman Senate while consolidating all of the real power in himself. Rome was peaceful and prosperous until the dictatorial rule of Commodus starting in 161 A.D. The third century saw invasions from the barbarians as well as economic decline. Both Diocletian and Constantine ruled as totalitarian leaders, strengthening the control of the emperor. The empire grew extremely large, and was ruled by a tetrarchy, instituted by Diocletian. Eventually, it was split into two halves: the Western (Roman) and the Eastern (Byzantine). The Roman Empire fell in 476 after civic unrest, further economic decline, and invasions led to the surrender of Romulus Augustus to Odoacer, a German king.
Russia: Emperor Nicholas I ruled his regime under the motto "autocracy, Orthodoxy and nationality". Extremely religious, he promoted the Russian Orthodox Church and suppressed other religions as well as the non-Russians living in Russia. The bureaucracy grew while religion, education, and social life were severely restricted. Nicholas I greatly expanded Russia's borders, although his rule was ended after the Crimean War resulted in a severe Russian defeat.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Autocracy.|
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- Pinker, Steven (2011). The Better Angels Of Our Nature. Pg.341: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-141-03464-5.
- Tullock, Gordon. "Autocracy", Springer Science+Business, 1987. ISBN 90-247-3398-7
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