Authoritarianism describes a form of government characterized by an emphasis on the authority of the state in a republic or union.
Theodore M. Vestal of Oklahoma State University
has written that authoritarianism is characterized by:
- "Highly concentrated and centralized power structures," in which political power is generated and maintained by a "repressive system that excludes potential challengers" and uses political parties and mass organizations to "mobilize people around the goals of the government";
- The following principles: "1) rule of men, not rule of law; 2) rigged elections; 3) all important political decisions made by unelected officials behind closed doors; 4) a bureaucracy operated quite independently of rules, the supervision of elected officials, or concerns of the constituencies they purportedly serve; 5) the informal and unregulated exercise of political power";
- Leadership that is "self-appointed and even if elected cannot be displaced by citizens' free choice among competitors" 6). Modern Democracy
- No guarantee of civil liberties or tolerance for meaningful opposition;
- Weakening of civil society: "No freedom to create a broad range of groups, organizations, and political parties to compete for power or question the decisions of rulers," with instead an "attempt to impose controls on virtually all elements of society"; and
- Political stability maintained by "control over and support of the military to provide security to the system and control of society; 2) a pervasive bureaucracy staffed by the regime; 3) control of internal opposition and dissent; 4) creation of allegiance through various means of socialization."
Authoritarian political systems may be weakened through "inadequate performance to demands of the people." Vestal writes that the tendency to respond to challenges to authoritarianism through tighter control instead of adaptation is a significant weakness, and that this overly rigid approach fails to "adapt to changes or to accommodate growing demands on the part of the populace or even groups within the system." Because the legitimacy of the state is dependent on performance, authoritarian states that fail to adapt may collapse.
Authoritarianism is marked by "indefinite political tenure" of the ruler or ruling party (often in a single-party state) or other authority. The transition from an authoritarian system to a democratic one is referred to as democratization.
John Duckitt of the University of the Witwatersrand has suggests a link between authoritarianism and collectivism, asseritng that both are in opposition to individualism. Duckitt writes that both authoritarianism and collectivism submerge individual rights and goals to group goals, expectations and conformities. Others argue that collectivism, properly defined, is based on consensus decision-making, the opposite of authoritarianism.
Authoritarianism and totalitarianism
is generally considered to be an extreme version of authoritarianism. Paul C. Sondrol of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
has examined the characteristics of authoritarian and totalitarian dictators and organized them in a chart:
|| Authoritarianism |
|| Low |
| Role conception
|| Leader as function
|| Leader as individual |
| Ends of power
|| Private |
|| High |
| Official ideology
|| No |
| Limited pluralism
|| Yes |
|| No |
Sodrol argues that the while both authoritarians and totalitarianism are forms of autocracy, they differ in "key dichotomies":
Thus, compared to totalitarian systems, authoritarian systems may also leave a larger sphere for private life, lack a guiding ideology, tolerate some pluralism in social organization, lack the power to mobilize the whole population in pursuit of national goals, and exercise their power within relatively predictable limits.
Regimes commonly labeled totalitarian include Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union under Stalin; fascist Italy by Benito Mussolini; the People's Republic of China under Mao; Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, the leadership of Nicolae Ceauşescu (1968-1989) in Communist Romania; the ledadership of Enver Hoxha (1946-1985) in Albania; Iraq under Saddam Hussein (1979-2003); The Gaddafi regime in Libya; and North Korea continuing onto this day.
Regimes often labeled authoritarian include Spain under Franco; Argentina under Juan Peron; Yugoslavia under Tito; the Soviet Union post-Stalin; the post-Mao People's Republic of China; Imperial Japan under Hideki Tojo and his militarist regime during WWII; Cuba under Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro; Indonesia under Suharto; various countries during White Terror stages, including Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek; South Korea pre-1987; The Augusto Pinochet militarist regime in Chile (1973-1990); East Germany under Erich Honecker (1971-1989); Greek military junta of 1967–1974; Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic (1989-2000); Malaysia; and Singapore.
Authoritarianism and democracy
Democracies may be considered authoritarian. An illiberal democracy
(or procedural democracy
) is distinguished from liberal democracy
(or substantive democracy
) in that illiberal democracies lack some democratic features, such as the rule of law
, an independent judiciary
, separation of powers
, civilian control of the military
, freedom of expression
, and freedom from censorship
. The central characteristic of an illiberal democracy is that institutional political processes are skewed in favor of the incumbent regime. Opposition may be dealt with by means of onerous regulations on political organizations in civil society
, unfair electoral processes (such as barriers to ballot access
or extensive gerrymandering
), manipulation of the media
(either by ignoring or distorting opposition, or by biased coverage
of opposition, often in state-owned press
or oligarchical MSM
). Illiberal democracy has also been termed "electoralism
" or "soft authoritarianism."
There are many theories criticizing authoritarianism, most of which at the same time support democracy:
- Numerous studies using many different kinds of data, definitions, and statistical analyses have found support for the democratic peace theory. The original finding was that liberal democracies have never made war with one another. More recent research has extended the theory and finds that democracies have few Militarized Interstate Disputes causing less than 1000 battle deaths with one another, that those MIDs that have occurred between democracies have caused few deaths, and that democracies have few civil wars.
- Poor liberal democracies tend to have better education, longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, access to drinking water, and better health care than poor dictatorships. This is not due to higher levels of foreign assistance or spending a larger percentage of GDP on health and education. Instead, the available resources are more likely to be managed better.
- Studies suggest that everal health indicators (life expectancy and infant and maternal mortality) has a stronger and more significant association with liberal democracy than they have with GDP per capita, size of the public sector, or income inequality.
- In the post-Communist nations, after an initial decline, those most democratic have achieved the greatest gains in life expectancy.Although it must be noted that must were also the most developed states from the ex URSS before its end.
- A prominent economist, Amartya Sen, has theorized that no functioning democracy has ever suffered a large scale famine. This includes democracies that have not been very prosperous historically, like India, which had its last great famine in 1943 and many other large scale famines before that in the late nineteenth century, all under British rule. However, some others ascribe the Bengal famine of 1943 to the effects of World War II . The government of India had been becoming progressively more democratic for years. Provincial government had been entirely so since the Government of India Act of 1935.
- Refugee crises almost always occur in nondemocracies. Looking at the volume of refugee flows for the last twenty years, the first eighty-seven cases occurred in autocracies.
- Research shows that the liberal democratic nations have much less democide or murder by government.However it should be noted that those were also moderately developed nations before applying liberal policies. Similarly, they have less genocide and politicide.
- Liberal democracies are more often associated with a higher average self-reported happiness in a nation.
- Research by the World Bank suggests that political institutions are extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption: democracy, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of the press are all associated with lower corruption. Freedom of information legislation is important for accountability and transparency. The Indian Right to Information Act "has already engendered mass movements in the country that is bringing the lethargic, often corrupt bureaucracy to its knees and changing power equations completely.
- In the last forty-five years,the African countries poor democracies have grown their economies more rapidly than nondemocracies of the same continent.
- Of the eighty worst financial catastrophes during the last four decades, only five were in democracies. Similarly, poor democracies are half likely as nondemocracies to experience a 10 percent decline in GDP per capita over the course of a single year.
- Several studies have concluded that terrorism is most common in nations with intermediate political freedom. The nations with the least terrorism are the most democratic nations.