In what circumstances might a democratic country turn to a military dictatorship or totalitarian rule? Narrate it with a case study.


CSS Solved Political Science Past Papers | In what circumstances might a democratic country turn to a military dictatorship or totalitarian rule? Narrate it with a case study.

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Question breakdown

In this particular question, the examiner mandates those events, reasons, and circumstances due to which a state pivots to military dictatorship or totalitarian rule from erstwhile democracy. Furthermore, it is urged to define the relative terminologies under the light of certain philosophies along with suitable case analysis. In addition, while answering, the student is restricted to go against the state’s militia while maintaining his stance. Lastly, the examiner solicits strategic measures to avert such authoritarianism.



2-Defining military dictatorship and totalitarian rule

3-Possible circumstances that could trigger absolutism

  • ✔ The chaotic political dilemma in the state; General Ayub khan’s martial law
  • ✔ Urge to acquire power; Napoléon Bonaparte’s expansionist motives submerged French Revolution
  • ✔ Ultra-nationalistic Adolf Hitler and Hindutva motivated Modi’s fascism
  • ✔ Manipulated public opinion to advocate Hobbesian Leviathan; the doctrine of necessity legitimating G. Ayub’s coup
  • ✔ The compulsion to wage war; Thucydides Trap between Athens and Sparta
  • ✔ Corrupt democratic cabinet; Ibn e khaldun’s decline of ‘assabiyah’
  • ✔ Hegemonic acceptance or prevention of the cold war; Ukraine-Russia analysis under Kautilya’s Arthashastra

4-Critically evaluating the strategies to stave off authoritarianism



Starting with the main theme idea of George Orwell’s Animal Farm a totalitarian rule urged all the animals to rampage against Mr jones _ the cruel owner of the farm. But the journey from chaos to peace has never been bloodless; hence faced by animals in the book and people in real life. According to John Acton, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Dictatorship is never a legitimate way to rule citizens. In today’s liberal democratic International order, States like Myanmar, North Korea, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and BJP-led India are considered aggressive and illicit. In addition, a particular state goes through a lot before totalitarian rule dominates. Modern European history saw the French Revolution as the instigating step towards achieving nationalism and statehood with a limited monarchy or complete democracy. However, history pages are inked with the blood from the ‘reign of terror’, which repeated itself time and again. According to Machiavelli, “politics has nothing to do with morals”. And there are politicians and military might who defy all morals and end up ruling a state with complete absolutism. Yet, some circumstances including emergency or war-like situations also compel the military to intervene in the political hemisphere to bring law and order.

2-Defining military dictatorship and totalitarian rule

A dictatorship is a form of government in which one person or a small group possesses absolute power without effective constitutional limitations. The term dictatorship comes from the Latin title dictator, which in the Roman Republic designated a temporary magistrate who was granted extraordinary powers to deal with state crises. Modern dictators, however, resemble ancient tyrants rather than ancient dictators. Ancient philosophers’ descriptions of the tyrannies of Greece and Sicily go far toward characterising modern dictatorships. Dictators usually resort to force or fraud to gain despotic political power, which they maintain through the use of intimidation, terror, and the suppression of basic civil liberties. They may also employ techniques of mass propaganda in order to sustain their public support.

Although the concept of totalitarianism emerged after WW2, when fascism, Nazism, and communist governments came to power. But Niccolo Machiavelli_ father of modern political theory_ in his book ‘The Prince’, gave an account of a Totalitarian ruler. According to him, a ruler is one from whom subjects get feared, he knows how to use virtue and vice, and he should become a fox to recognize traps and a lion to frighten wolves. According to Machiavellianism, “If an injury has to be done to a man, It should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared”. So in a modern context, a ruler who assumes power without morals has absolutism as a main core agenda and knows how to curb chaos should be considered a totalitarian ruler. Along with that, a totalitarian ruler could be both democratic and non-democratic, constitutional or unconstitutional, and legitimate or illegitimate. It can mould public opinion through violence or restrictions.

3-Possible circumstances that could trigger absolutism

Various possible circumstances could compel a military leader to intervene in a regular and democratic government. Similarly, a political figure could also be limitless and become a totalitarian might due to different reasons. Following are some of those circumstances that could trigger both military and civilian rulers to hold absolutism:

  • The chaotic political dilemma in the state; General Ayub khan’s martial law

General Ayub Khan, in his book, ‘ Friends, not masters’, propounded time and again that the political malaise led him to choose the coup medium to restore peace and order in the Republic. Pakistan was unable to devolve a constitution for good 9 years after the sudden demise of Quaid-e-Azam. Various political deadlocks between both wings of the state erupted, partially resolved during this course of time. But certain mayhems were triggering military men to think about assuming power. Firstly, on 20th September 1958 Abdul Hakim was removed as a speaker from East Pakistan. Secondly, Shaheed Ali, a party legislator died due to violence in Assembly. Thirdly, there were rumours that Kalat wanted to secede. All in all, Iskandar Mirza abrogated the constitution, dismissed PM Feroze khan Noon, and declared martial law on 7th October 1958. On 24th October, Ayub khan was sworn in as PM. But weaker Iskandar Mirza’s control over two wings of Pakistan led then PM Ayub Khan to topple the former’s government and exiled him permanently and Ayub Khan assumed President’s office on 27th October 1958. So, various political and administrative reasons triggered General Ayub to assume office. His coup lasted for 44 months. In between, local government through BD members was strengthened. In 1960, through indirect elections, Ayub legitimately assumed a presidential seat. In 1962, a presidential constitution was provided by his government. Another formal term was won against Fatima Jinnah by him in 1965. But the reason why he primarily assumed political office became the reason for his blow. Firstly, when it was considered that Pakistan had won the 1965’s war on the battlefield but lost at the ‘Tashkent Declaration’ table. And secondly, student riots that ended up killing 1 student from Rawalpindi resulted in nationwide chaotic mayhem and the arrest of Sheikh Mujeeb and Z.A. Bhutto by General Ayub. All in all, on 25th march, 1969 second martial law by General Yahya khan was successfully attempted which later on resulted in the ‘Fall of Dhaka’ in 1971. And hence the cycle continued for decades in the weak political discourse of Pakistan. 

  • Urge to acquire power; Napoléon Bonaparte’s expansionist motives submerged French Revolution

A revolution after Maximilian Robespierre’s ‘Reign of Terror’ and execution of the French monarch and his wife Marie Antoinette, who is famous for saying, “If Frenchmen don’t get bread, then they should eat cake”. Although France was not a democratic state, the blood-bled during the revolution was worth a democracy. But that couldn’t happen as Napoleon Bonaparte’s expansionist ulterior motives compelled France to be in a continuous war against other European nations including Britain, Austro-Hungarian Empire, etc. And the fruit of the revolution couldn’t get awarded to the people of France due to Bonaparte’s absolutism and much more. He was curbed through the concert of Vienna in 1815 and the ‘Metternichism’ policy of K. Von Metternich. At last, the one who led the revolution provided France with codes, and did much to establish the hegemony of France was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 by European powers. Hence, the totalitarianism of Bonaparte was laid to rest. The reasons and circumstances that compelled him to self-declare himself as a  monarch could be summed up under one sentence; power and expansionism led to the fiasco of the French Revolution. However, at his downfall, Napoleon himself stated, “My downfall raises me to infinite heights”. But Talleyrand categorically embarked, “Might doesn’t make a right. Has not Europe suffered enough from that doctrine, and paid for it  “with so much blood and so many years”? The golden age of peace could be right around the corner if only every peacemaker would follow this course of action”.

  • Ultra-nationalistic Adolf Hitler and Hindutva motivated Modi’s fascism

After World War 1, Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, and thus the Allies permitted Germany to have a Republic named as Weimar Republic, which lasted for 14 years. Germany was held responsible for instigating WW1, and thus various sanctions were laid on her. As a result, Germany faced inflation, unemployment, food shortages, and debt reparations. During a brief time of Gustav Strassemann, the plighted state recovered but ‘The Great Depression’ put her back into darkness. It was at that time, Germans turned towards communism. It was time, that an Austrian-born, Adolf Hitler_ a former customs inspector and later wounded German armed man_  organized a band to overthrow the Weimar Republic. A failed coup was attempted for him in 1923, but he was jailed for that. During that time in jail, Adolf Hitler wrote his famous book called ‘Mein Kampf’, in which he explained his plans to make Germany strong again on the narrative of supreme Aryan Racial nationalism. Afterward, with the help of the wealthy class’s funds and support from ‘Brown shirts’, the Nazi party rose to power through his rigged elections and later on eliminated his rivals with the help of his secret police ‘The Gestapo’. All in all, Hitler submerged all his opponents and rose to power and his legacy of non-Semitism and holocaust stories still haunt the world. Afterward, he entered into WW2, with conquering motives. But the great military and totalitarian might committed suicide in 1945 when Russians and British fleets advanced towards Berlin. Although there were many economic and political circumstances involved in raising Hitler to power, his hunger for power and urge to raise Germany as a super nationalistic nation compelled him to defy democratic mediums and choose tyranny.

On the other hand, the world’s largest democracy; India, remains always under the international watchdog’s eyes for the former’s non toleration and ill-treatment of depressed classes. The voyage from secular Gandhi to Godse was brutally ended within one year of independence when Nathuram Godse killed Gandhi for his toleration policy towards Muslims and secularism. But in the recent past, Indian democratic values shattered again when Narendra Modi_ a former RSS member like Nathuram Godse_ rose to power. His high-handed foreign policy towards his rivals and internal politics of ethnic cleansing truly exhibit his urge to convert a democratic state into a totalitarian regime. Although the recent BBC documentary; ‘India: The Modi Question’, is considered as ‘propaganda’ by the Modi regime, the investigative reports of the documentary show former London’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs Jackstraw alleged Modi’s the government in Gujarat as CM to instigate violence and grotesquely murdering thousands in the state run by his Totalitarian regime. The fascist nature of Modi’s administration completely shows how he turned his democratic government into a tyrannical rule. There could be many reasons or circumstances involved that compelled him to be a totalitarian ruler yet his Ultra nationalistic and jingoistic nature wins against all possible circumstances. Hence, The Guardian published an article that said, “Narendra Modi is the divisive manipulator who charmed the world”.

  • Manipulated public opinion to advocate Hobbesian Leviathan; the doctrine of necessity legitimating G. Ayub’s coup

One of the reasons why a dictator holds the office is that he has either public opinion in his favour or has legitimate grounds to carry on his tyranny. In Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan theory, people decide that they will be giving all their rights to the sovereign to acquire peace and the contract translates that powers given to the sovereign will be irrevocable, unlimited, and indivisible. So, in today’s dictatorship, a dictator suspends the fundamental rights of his subjects and enjoys unlimited powers. During Ayub Khan’s coup, through the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, it was made legitimate by the apex courts of Pakistan. Furthermore, Ayub Khan made efforts to consolidate his regime by strengthening the third tier of the government and so-called elections. Hence, it made him stronger like ‘Hobbesian Leviathan’, where he got the public opinion tilted towards himself. So these are some of those favourable circumstances that promote dictatorship and help Totalitarian regimes to alternate the contract with their subjects through their public opinion.

  • The compulsion to wage war; Thucydides Trap between Athens and Sparta

Greece is the oldest democracy in the world. It was the Spartan urge to have hegemonic superiority over Athens; an already established hegemon. For that, the 1st Peloponnesian war was fought between Athens and Spartans, where plague proved to be the concluding factor that killed 30,000 Athens along with its king Pericles and Spartans left. Then,’ The peace of Nicias’ pledged both states to not wage war. But the second Peloponnesian war was fought in 415 B.C. As a result, Athens was destroyed by the Spartans and a puppet government of 30 tyrants was installed by the Victorious Spartans. But after 4 years, Athens overthrew the government of 30 tyrants and again restored democracy. To analyse the whole situation, it can be evaluated that it was the Spartan urge to be hegemonic that led them to dismantle Athens and its democracy, putting both states into ‘Thucydides Trap’. Hence, one of the reasons why a state is compelled to tyranny is either a result of a war or the urge of a competitive state to wage war against it.

  • Corrupt democratic cabinet; Ibn e khaldun’s decline of ‘assabiyah’

Not to confuse Ibn e khaldun’s Asabiyyah with modern nepotism as Khaldun’s political philosophy also talks about the impeachment of a flawed government and its cabinet members. In today’s world, a state that goes through corrupt political practices endangers a revolution like that of Lenin in Russia. Pakistan recently ranked 140th in the corruption Index by International Transparency, meaning that Pakistan is on verge of corruption, weak economic conditions, and a divided political environment. It was Ibn e Khaldun’s philosophy that gives an account of how modern cabinets should work otherwise, a stronger group with strong asabiyah could overthrow the government. In Pakistan’s history, time and again democratic governments were sent to house over corruption charges especially, the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s government by president Farooq Leghari by using erstwhile 58(2B). Hence, corruption could be a factor that can make a state headless, and thus, new totalitarian rulers emerge over the surface of political discourse.

  • Hegemonic acceptance or prevention of the cold war; Ukraine-Russia analysis under Kautilya’s Arthashastra

Although Kautliya’s Arthashastra says all about preparing for war and planning to conquer yet Russia_ to prevent another cold war_ decided that the United States will stay away from its eastern borders. But after NATO membership became a talk of the town for erstwhile USSR state Ukraine, Russian Federation laid forward its concerns in the form of a ‘Charter of Demands’ but all the demands were ignored and hence, Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. A war that influenced every nook and corner of the world with repercussions like inflation, economic crisis, and oil shortage. Many scholars also allege Russia for its hegemonic agendas but Russia put forward that It would be sensible if former arch-rivals stay away from each other’s borders. It is to be noted that V. Putin once said,” It (Ukraine) is not a country, just a piece of land which was separated from Russia after the cold war”. It all speaks about the hegemonic nature of the Russian Leader. All in all, the people of Russia are significantly in the favour of V. Putin and hence, his Ultra nationalistic and supportive subjects grant him the power to invade or wage war against any state despite sanctions.

4-Critically evaluating the strategies to stave off authoritarianism

It is to be kept in mind that dictatorship, tyranny, or totalitarianism are never considered good for the safe harbour of democracy. According to Immanuel Kant’s theory of Democratic Peace, states having a democratic government are less likely to go to war. It is proved in the case scenario of India and Pakistan that the war of 1965 was fought when G. Ayub khan was in power in Pakistan, the 1971 debacle and Fall of Dhaka’ came during G. Yahya khan’s tenure, and although Kargil is considered a flawed judgement of G. Pervez Musharraf. To stave off those circumstances that trigger a dictator or totalitarian rule and to maintain world peace, stronger laws must be legislated and executed to spread awareness among the masses that democracy is the right way. As Nelson Mandela said, “An educated, enlightened, and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of a democracy”. There should be a consensus between civil-military relationships and later should stay away from the regular political workings of the former. Furthermore, there should be internal checks in the political parties that curb the totalitarian nature of those in power through internal and external impeachment procedures. Also, strengthening the judiciary with surety of separation of power can bring democracy to new heights.


From the bird’s eye view, It was Montesquieu in ‘The spirit of Laws’, who opined, “It is very necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check on power”. In the manifestation of this mentioned statement, it is clearly illustrated that if power is granted without checks, it will create absolutism. Democracy flourishes a state towards the best of its direction but if a state is halted time and again due to nondemocratic and totalitarian regimes, It will go decades back from where it started. So proper checks and balances along with institutional strengthening can stop totalitarianism from infecting a state. Educating the masses about their fundamental rights and the power of voting can generate a positive public opinion toward democracy. For that, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy can not succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.

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