The popular image of many non-democratic regimes is dominated by the military dictator. From Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator to Woody Allen’s Bananas to Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, authoritarian rulers are often shown in uniform in movies and other forms of entertainment. Real dictators, from Hitler to Saddam Hussein, have often worn military garb, even if they had not risen up through the ranks of the military (Hitler was only a corporal in the First World War; Saddam Hussein was never accepted into the military academy of Iraq). And it certainly seems as if military rule should be the most common form of non-democratic rule, given the fact that military officers control force. In his seminal study of military intervention in politics, The Man on Horseback, Finer (1962) posed the question thus. Yet, despite the fact that the military possesses arms, military rule properly speaking is both less common and more fragile than a naive view of the political advantages of military force might suggest. This chapter shows why. It begins by examining the main way in which the military has come to power in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the coup. Though the military can often exercise influence without staging a coup, specific conditions of the post-colonial context in many areas of the world tended to encourage the military to attempt to seize power directly. We shall also see that these factors have become less salient in recent times, and thus coups and military regimes have declined in number and importance.
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