What makes a leader a dictator?

Political leadership

Jan C. Behrends

To person

Dr. phil., born 1969; Historian at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB) for social research, lecturer in Eastern European history at the Humboldt University in Berlin; WZB, Reichpietschufer 50, 10785 Berlin.
Email: [email protected]

Political leadership in the dictatorship is based on personal networks of power and the attempt to create a charismatic, "emotional communalization" (Max Weber) between the ruler and the ruled.


Towards the end of the First World War, Max Weber was of the opinion that it would be difficult to replace the monarchy as a legitimizing force. The hereditary charisma of a king provided the state order with a source of legitimacy which "especially in modern mass states cannot easily be replaced". [1] The radical break that the revolution in autumn 1918 meant for German statehood therefore seemed problematic to him. And on a general level, Weber illustrated a basic problem of modern rule: How could a republic build emotional ties between rule and society that had made Europe's monarchies strong? How could political leadership be re-established, legitimized and enforced?

The political observer Max Weber was a seismograph for how topical these questions were at the beginning of the 20th century. In many ways, they have lost little of their urgency: in Central Asia, China and parts of South America, forms of dictatorial rule and variants of authoritarian leadership are firmly anchored. They draw their legitimacy from an anti-liberal agenda that also characterized the dictatorships of Europe in the 20th century.