Both (see note)
An autocracy is a government in which power is concentrated in a single person, known as the autocrat, a term constructed from the Ancient Greek auto meaning "self", and kratos, meaning "power". Autocrats lead their countries with absolute authority, free from checks and balances, and operate above the law, which they are typically free to reshape at will. Types of autocracy include dictatorships, absolute monarchies, and elective monarchies such as Vatican City. As of 2022, the organization Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) classified approximately 88 of the world's countries as autocracies, home to 70% of the world's population.
Autocracies are widely considered to be a suboptimal form of government, as they tend to greatly benefit the autocrat, and perhaps a small circle of their closest allies, at tremendous cost to the vast majority of the country's people. Autocratic governments tend to control, restrict, and exploit their citizens, whose human rights are minimalized and may be violated on a regular and/or ongoing basis. Autocracies are also highly prone to governmental corruption.
Like democracy, autocracy exists in degrees, with some countries being much more autocratic than others. Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) divides autocracies into two forms: closed autocracies and elective autocracies. A closed autocracy is one in which neither the chief executive (the autocrat) nor the legislature are chosen via election, so the average person has no opportunity to help choose the leadership of the country.
An elective autocracy does hold public, multi-party elections that theoretically give the citizenry a role in choosing their governmental leaders. However, these elections typically lack many of the safeguards that keep them fair and free. An example of an elective autocracy is Russia, whose elections are notoriously rife with corruption, including the exile or arrest of opposing candidates, a massive governmental effort to stuff ballot boxes and strong-arm/intimidate voters, and term limits that are routinely rewritten to keep autocratic dictator Vladimir Putin in power.
Autocrats function with very little input from the decision-makers or stakeholders around them. The autocrat makes all of the decisions, regardless of the consequences, rules, or policies on the table. Personal freedoms are limited. The government tends to be deeply involved in most every aspect of everyday life, from controlling the media to running many of the country's major businesses and industries. The desires and decisions of the autocrat, which may be presented as the needs of the state, outweigh the human rights of the country's citizens. As such, it is a rare occasion when an autocracy runs well while also maintaining human rights.
Human rights violations are rarely punished in an autocracy, as the government authorities to which such violations would be reported are typically either the source of the violations or allies of the violators (often other government agencies or agents). Thus, civilians who speak out about human rights violations are often more likely to find themselves targeted than they are to attain justice. Fear of retaliation and/or punishment is the prevailing mood and motivator for the average citizen to "put up and shut up".
Experts generally agree on several historical examples of autocracies, some of which are ongoing:
Not all autocrats are dictators leading corrupt regimes. Abraham Lincoln was considered an autocrat by some, due to his tendency to make far-reaching executive decisions during the Civil War. It could be argued that Lincoln's actions led directly to both the end of slavery and the Civil War, which had a seismic impact on the United States and resulted in an estimated 600,000 deaths.
Napoleon Bonaparte was an autocrat as well, and built an empire of more than 70 million people. Napoleon's empire may have been the most divisive and destructive in France’s history.
Powerful, authoritarian corporate leaders are also occasionally described as autocrats. Based upon the testimonies of current and former employees, Microsoft's Bill Gates, Apple's Steve Jobs, and Tesla/Twitter's Elon Musk could all arguably be described as autocrats thanks to their dominating leadership style.
|Central African Republic||Electoral Autocracy|
|DR Congo||Electoral Autocracy|
|El Salvador||Electoral Autocracy|
|Equatorial Guinea||Electoral Autocracy|
|Hong Kong||Closed Autocracy|
|Ivory Coast||Electoral Autocracy|
|North Korea||Closed Autocracy|
|Palestine||Both (see note)|
|Papua New Guinea||Electoral Autocracy|
|Saudi Arabia||Closed Autocracy|
|South Sudan||Closed Autocracy|
|United Arab Emirates||Closed Autocracy|
Afghanistan, home to roughly 42 million, is a closed autocracy.
At last count, 88 countries were considered as some form of autocracy.