Government » Introduction to Government » Forms of Government



Autocracy is a form of government. In an autocracy, a single person has all legal and political power, and makes all decisions by himself or herself. The person who holds the power is called an autocrat. Autocracy comes from the Ancient Greek autós (self) and krátos (power, strength) from Kratos, the Greek personification of authority.

When there is a monarch ruling a country as an absolute monarchy, this is also called an autocracy. Having an autocratic government does not mean the country is governed well or governed poorly. It is just a description on how it is set up.

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 leader, 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.

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 monarchies (such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Brunei and Swaziland) and dictatorships (such as Turkmenistan and North Korea) are the main modern-day forms of autocracy.

In earlier times, the term “autocrat” was coined as a favorable feature of the ruler, having some connection to the concept of “lack of conflicts of interests” as well as an indication of grandeur and power. The Russian Tsar for example was styled, “Autocrat of all the Russians”, as late as the early 20th century.

In modern times, most autocrats gain power as part of a larger nationalist, communist, or fascist movement. Once in power, they eliminate all other kinds of authority in the country, such as judges, the legislature, and political parties.

Emperors and Revolutions. The Government of the Roman Empire | Roman Senate Square

A historical example of autocracy is the Roman Empire. In 27 B.C., Augustus founded the Roman Empire following the end of the Roman Republic. Augustus officially kept the Roman Senate while effectively consolidating all of the real power in himself. Rome was peaceful and prosperous until the dictatorial rule of Commodus starting in 180 A.D. The third century saw invasions from the barbarians as well as economic decline. Both Diocletian and Constantine ruled as autocratic 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 Western 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.

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