Family dictatorship

A family dictatorship, or hereditary dictatorship, in political science terms a personalistic regime, is a form of dictatorship that occurs in a nominally or formally republican or socialist regime, but operates in practice like an absolute monarchy or despotate, in that political power passes within the dictator's family like a hereditary monarchy. Thus, although the key leader is often called president or prime minister rather than a king or emperor, power is transmitted between members of the same family due to the overwhelming authority of the leader. Sometimes the leader has been declared president for life and uses this power to nominate one of his or her family as successor.

A family dictatorship is different from a monarchy (where the descent is required by general constitutional law), or a political family (where members of the family possess informal, rather than formal and overwhelming political authority).

Distinguishing featuresEdit

A family dictatorship is different from an absolute monarchy, and the ruler does not usually base his or her authority on the concept of divine right. In the latter, the transition of power within a family is required by general law as part of the state's constitutional arrangement, and continues to apply to all successions in the regime. In the former, this arrangement is not required by general law. In some cases, a special law might be enacted to formally nominate one particular family member of the present leader as the successor. In other cases, the law of the state may even formally provide for elections, but control exerted by the leader on the political and electoral process ensures a hereditary succession. Furthermore, whether each succession succeeds depends on the level of authority and control of the leader. As a result, modern family dictatorships often transition into a non-familial (non-personalistic) regime after a small number of successions: usually just one, and rarely more than two.

A family dictatorship is also different from other political families. In the latter, informal power and influence accrued to the family enables the family to continue to hold political power, often through open and contested elections. In the former, the family uses either formal legal or political power or control to ensure a familial succession, and usually via a controlled or uncontested election, or no election at all.

Because a family dictatorship exerts significant control on its succession, a successor is often determined well in advance. However, because it often lacks a formal general law basis for the succession, there are often long periods of uncertainty as to the identity of the successor. As often happens in other types of totalitarian regimes which plan their own succession, after a successor is determined or short-listed, they often go through a significant period of "grooming", in which the successor gains the experiences and qualifications aimed to make him or her attain the authority necessary to lead the regime.

Successful transitions of powerEdit

Dates in parentheses denote the period of rule.


  •   Roman Republic: Gaius Julius Caesar (49–44 BCE) succeeded by his grand-nephew and adopted son Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (44–27 BCE).
  •   Roman Empire: The early dynasties of the Roman Empire, the Principate, operated similarly to a family dictatorship. Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE) kept up the facade of a republic during his reign but designated his own successor, Tiberius, by adopting Tiberius and convincing the Senate to transfer his powers to Tiberius (14 CE–37 CE) upon his death. For three hundred years, subsequent emperors customarily designated their successor by adoption, most famously during the Julio-Claudian (27 BCE–68 CE) & Nerva-Antonine (96–192 CE) dynasties. But, from the outset, this was due to a combination of factors, including ill-luck, political intrigue, the necessitation of a valid heir, and the influence of the Praetorian Guard following the assassination of Caligula (37–41 CE), rather than Augustus's original intentions for succession to the throne. From the reign of Diocletian (284–305 CE) onwards, during the Dominate, emperors ruled in an openly monarchic style.
  •   Dutch Republic: Stadtholders were chosen exclusively from the House of Orange-Nassau. In all, nine princes of this dynasty ruled the Republic from 1559 to 1795. Stadtholders were described as dictators by William Aglionby in his 1669 book, The Present State of the United Provinces of the Low-Countries.[1]
  •   The Protectorate: Oliver Cromwell (1653–1658) succeeded as Lord Protector by his son Richard Cromwell (1658–1659). Richard Cromwell was overthrown by the army in Spring 1659, leading to the restoration of King Charles II the next year.

Central and South AmericaEdit


Kim Jong-Un, supreme leader of North Korea and member of the three-generation Kim dynasty is a prominent example of family dictatorship.
The Al-Assad family has ruled Syria since 1971.


  1. ^ Chiang Ching-kuo was Premier 1972–1978 and Chairman of the Kuomintang 1975–1988.

Unfulfilled successionsEdit

Potential successionsEdit

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit