Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms. Individual freedoms are subordinate to the state and there is no constitutional accountability under an authoritarian regime. Juan Linz's influential 1964 description of authoritarianism characterized authoritarian political systems by four qualities:
- limited political pluralism; that is, such regimes place constraints on political institutions and groups like legislatures, political parties and interest groups;
- a basis for legitimacy based on emotion, especially the identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat "easily recognizable societal problems" such as underdevelopment or insurgency;
- minimal social mobilization most often caused by constraints on the public such as suppression of political opponents and anti-regime activity;
- informally defined executive power with often vague and shifting powers.
Authoritarian government and states
Linz distinguished new forms of authoritarianism from personalistic dictatorships and totalitarian states, taking Francoist Spain as an example. Unlike personalistic dictatorships, new forms of authoritarianism have institutionalized representation of a variety of actors (in Spain's case, including the military, the Catholic Church, Falange, monarchists, technocrats and others); unlike totalitarian states, the regime relies on passive mass acceptance rather than popular support.
Several subtypes of authoritarian regimes have been identified by Linz and others. Linz identified the two most basic subtypes as traditional authoritarian regimes and bureaucratic-military authoritarian regimes:
- Traditional authoritarian regimes are those "in which the ruling authority (generally a single person)" is maintained in power "through a combination of appeals to traditional legitimacy, patron-client ties and repression, which is carried out by an apparatus bound to the ruling authority through personal loyalties"; an example is Ethiopia under Haile Selassie I.
- Bureaucratic-military authoritarian regimes are those "governed by a coalition of military officers and technocrats who act pragmatically (rather than ideologically) within the limits of their bureaucratic mentality. Mark J. Gasiorowski suggests that it is best to distinguish "simple military authoritarian regimes" from "bureaucratic authoritarian regimes" in which "a powerful group of technocrats uses the state apparatus to try to rationalize and develop the economy" such as South Korea under Park Chung-hee.
- Corporatist authoritarian regimes "are those in which corporatism institutions are used extensively by the state to coopt and demobilize powerful interest groups"; this type has been studied most extensively in Latin America.
- Racial and ethnic "democracies" are those in which "certain racial or ethnic groups enjoy full democratic rights while others are largely or entirely denied those rights," such as in South Africa under apartheid.
- Post-totalitarian authoritarian regimes are those in which totalitarian institutions (such as the party, secret police and state-controlled mass media) remain, but where "ideological orthodoxy has declined in favor of routinization, repression has declined, the state's top leadership is less personalized and more secure, and the level of mass mobilization has declined substantially." Examples include the Soviet Eastern bloc states in the mid-1980s.
Authoritarian regimes are also sometimes subcategorized by whether they are personalistic or populist. Personalistic authoritarian regimes are characterized by arbitrary rule and authority exercised "mainly through patronage networks and coercion rather than through institutitions and formal rules." Personalistic authoritarian regimes have been seen in post-colonial Africa. By contrast, populist authoritarian regimes "are mobilizational regimes in which a strong, charismatic, manipulative leader rules through a coalition involving key lower-class groups." Examples include Argentina under Perón, Egypt under Nasser, and Venezuela under Chávez and Maduro.
Authoritarianism is characterized by highly concentrated and centralized power maintained by political repression and the exclusion of potential challengers. It uses political parties and mass organizations to mobilize people around the goals of the regime. Adam Przeworski has theorized that "authoritarian equilibrium rests mainly on lies, fear and economic prosperity".
Authoritarianism also tends to embrace the informal and unregulated exercise of political power, a leadership that is "self-appointed and even if elected cannot be displaced by citizens' free choice among competitors," the arbitrary deprivation of civil liberties, and little tolerance for meaningful opposition.
A range of social controls also attempt to stifle civil society, while political stability is maintained by control over and support of the armed forces, a bureaucracy staffed by the regime, and creation of allegiance through various means of socialization and indoctrination.
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 one-party state) or other authority. The transition from an authoritarian system to a more democratic form of government is referred to as democratization.
John Duckitt suggests a link between authoritarianism and collectivism, asserting that both stand in opposition to individualism. Duckitt writes that both authoritarianism and collectivism submerge individual rights and goals to group goals, expectations and conformities.
Authoritarianism and totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is an extreme version of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism primarily differs from totalitarianism in that social and economic institutions exist that are not under governmental control. Building on the work of Yale political scientist Juan Linz, 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:
|Role conception||Leader as function||Leader as individual|
|Ends of power||Public||Private|
(1) Unlike their bland and generally unpopular authoritarian brethren, totalitarian dictators develop a charismatic 'mystique' and a mass-based, pseudo-democratic interdependence with their followers via the conscious manipulation of a prophetic image.
(2) Concomitant role conceptions differentiate totalitarians from authoritarians. Authoritarians view themselves as individual beings largely content to control, and often maintain, the status quo. Totalitarian self-conceptions are largely teleological. The tyrant is less a person than an indispensable 'function' to guide and reshape the universe.
(3) Consequently, the utilisation of power for personal aggrandizement is more evident among authoritarians than totalitarians. Lacking the binding appeal of ideology, authoritarians support their rule by a mixture of instilling fear and granting rewards to loyal collaborators, engendering a kleptocracy.
Compared to totalitarianism, "the authoritarian state still maintains a certain distinction between state and society. It is only concerned with political power and as long as that is not contested it gives society a certain degree of liberty. Totalitarianism, on the other hand, invades private life and asphyxiates it." Another distinction is that "authoritarianism is not animated by utopian ideals in the way totalitarianism is. It does not attempt to change the world and human nature." Carl Joachim Friedrich writes that "a totalist ideology, a party reinforced by a secret police, and monopoly control of ... industrial mass society" are the three features of totalitarian regimes that distinguish them from other autocracies.
Authoritarianism and democracy
Authoritarianism and democracy are not fundamentally opposed to one another; it is possible for democracies to possess authoritarian elements. An illiberal democracy (or procedural democracy) is distinguished from liberal democracy (or substantive democracy) in that illiberal democracies lack features such as the rule of law, protections for minority groups, and an independent judiciary.
A further distinction that liberal democracies have rarely made war with one another; research has extended the theory and finds that more democratic countries tend to have few wars (sometimes called militarized interstate disputes) causing fewer battle deaths with one another, and that democracies have far fewer civil wars.
Some commentators, such as Seymour Martin Lipset, believed that low-income authoritarian regimes have certain technocratic, "efficiency-enhancing advantages" over low-income democracies, helping authoritarian regimes generate development. Morton H. Halperin, Joseph T. Siegle, and Michael M. Weinstein (2005) counter this belief, arguing that the evidence has showed that there is no "authoritarian advantage" and that there is a "democratic advantage" instead. Halperin et al. argue that democracies "realize superior development performance" over authoritarianism. They point out that poor democracies are more likely to have steadier economic growth, and less likely to experience economic and humanitarian catastrophes, than authoritarian regimes; that civil liberties act as a curb on corruption and misuse of resources; and that democracies are more adaptable. Halperin point out that the vast majority of refugee crises and financial catastrophes occur in authoritarian regimes.
Studies suggest that several health indicators (life expectancy and infant and maternal mortality) have a stronger and more significant association with democracy than they have with GDP per capita, size of the public sector, or income inequality. Prominent economist Amartya Sen has theorized that no functioning liberal democracy has ever suffered a large-scale famine.
Research shows that the 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 democratic policies. Research by the World Bank suggests that political institutions are extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption, and that parliamentary systems, political stability and freedom of the press are all associated with lower corruption. One study has concluded that terrorism is most common in nations with intermediate political freedom. The nations with the least amount of terrorism are the most and least democratic nations.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of examples of states which are currently (or frequently) characterized as authoritarian:
- Azerbaijan under Ilham Aliyev (2003–)
- Bahrain under the House of Khalifa (1746–)
- Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko (1994–) on account of Lukashenko's self-described authoritarian style of government.
- Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and Hun Sen (1985–)
- Cameroon under Paul Biya (1982–)
- People's Republic of China under the Communist Party of China (1949–). “Some scholars have deemed the Chinese system a 'fragmented authoritarianism' (Lieberthal), a 'negotiated state' or a 'consultative authoritarian regime.'"
- Cuba under Fidel and Raúl Castro (1959–)
- Egypt under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (2014–)
- Iran under Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei (1981–). Linz wrote in 2000 that "it is difficult to fit the Iranian regime into the existing typology, as it combines the ideological bent of totalitarianism with the limited pluralism of authoritarianism and holds regular elections in which candidates advocate differing policies and incumbents are often defeated."
- Kazakhstan under Nursultan Nazarbayev
- Laos under the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (1975–)
- North Korea under the rule of the Kim dynasty and the Korean Workers' Party (1947–)
- Russia under Vladimir Putin (1999–) (see Putinism for more) – described as "really a mixture of authoritarianism and managed democracy."
- Singapore is considered authoritarian, especially under the Lee Kuan Yew years until 2015.
- Saudi Arabia under the House of Saud (1744–)
- Sudan under Omar al-Bashir
- Syria under Hafez and Bashar al-Assad (1970–)
- Thailand under General Prayut Chan-o-cha who overthrew the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in a military coup and installed a military junta to oversee the governance of Thailand (2014–)
- Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan (2003–) – described as a “competitive authoritarian regime”
- Turkmenistan under Saparmurat Nyazow (1991–2006) and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (2006–) 
- Uzbekistan under Islam Karimov (1989–2016)
- Venezuela under Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro (1999–)
- Vietnam under the Vietnamese Communist Party (1976–)
- Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe (1980–).
- Argentina under the Argentine Revolution period of military rule (1966–73) and later during the justicialista rule of Juan Perón (populist authoritarianism).
- Brazil during both the Estado Novo period under Getúlio Vargas (1937–45) and under military government from a 1964 coup until a transition to democracy in the early and mid-1980s.
- Burma from a 1962 coup until a transition to democracy beginning in 2011.
- Chile under Augusto Pinochet from 1973 until a transition to democracy in 1990.
- Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak (1952–2011)
- Libya under Muammar Gaddafi from 1969 until his deposition and death in 2011.
- Lithuania under Antanas Smetona from late 1926 until the Soviet ultimatum of 1940.
- Republic of Macedonia under Nikola Gruevski (2006–16)
- Portugal under the Estado Novo regime of António de Oliveira Salazar and Marcelo Caetano from 1932 to 1974.
- Spain under Francisco Franco from 1936 to 1975, when the Spanish transition to democracy began after Franco's death.
- South Africa under the National Party from 1948 until the end of apartheid in 1994.
- South Korea from 1948 until a transition to democracy in 1987.
- Taiwan from 1945 until the transition to democracy in 1990s.
- Turkey from 1925 through 1945, when a transition to democracy began.
Authoritarian weakness and resilience
Andrew J. Nathan notes that "regime theory holds that authoritarian systems are inherently fragile because of weak legitimacy, overreliance on coercion, overcentralization of decision making, and the predominance of personal power over institutional norms....Few authoritarian regimes—be they communist, fascist, corporatist, or personalist—have managed to conduct orderly, peaceful, timely, and stable successions." One exception to this general trend is the endurance of the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party, which has been unusually resilient among authoritarian regimes. Nathan posits that this can be attributed to four factors: (1) "the increasingly norm-bound nature of its succession politics"; (2) "the increase in meritocratic as opposed to factional considerations in the promotion of political elites"; (3) "the differentiation and functional specialization of institutions within the regime"; and (4) "the establishment of institutions for political participation and appeal that strengthen the CCP's legitimacy among the public at large."
After World War II there was a strong sense of anti-authoritarianism based on anti-fascism in Europe. This was attributed to the active resistance from occupation and to fears arising from the development of superpowers. Anti-authoritarianism also became associated with countercultural and bohemian movements such as the Beat Generation in the 1950s, the hippies in the 1960s and punks in the 1970s.
According to a study by Brandt and Henry there is a direct correlation between the rates of gender inequality and the levels of authoritarian ideas in the male and female populations. It was found that in countries with less gender equality where individualism was encouraged and men occupied the dominant societal roles, women were more likely to support traits such as obedience which would allow them to survive in an authoritarian environment, and less likely to encourage ideas such as independence and imagination. In countries with higher levels of gender equality, men held less authoritarian views. It is theorized that this occurs due to the stigma attached to individuals who question the cultural norms set by the dominant individuals and establishments in an authoritarian society as a way to prevent the psychological stress caused by the active ostracizing of the stigmatized individuals.
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- "The way of the hippie is antithetical to all repressive hierarchical power structures since they are adverse to the hippie goals of peace, love and freedom ... Hippies don't impose their beliefs on others. Instead, hippies seek to change the world through reason and by living what they believe."Stone 1994, "The Way of the Hippy"
- McLaughlin, Paul (2007). Anarchism and Authority. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 10. ISBN 0-7546-6196-2.
- Brandt, Mark J.; Henry, P. J. (2012). "Gender Inequality and Gender Differences in Authoritarianism". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 38 (10): 1301–15. doi:10.1177/0146167212449871.
- Juan J. Linz, An Authoritarian Regime: The Case of Spain, in Cleavages, Ideologies and Party Systems (eds. Eric Allard & Yrjo Littunen) (Helsinki: Academic, 1964)