In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Authoritarian Regimes

  • Introduction
  • General Overview and Literature Surveys
  • Early Works
  • Data Sets
  • Journals
  • Authoritarian Survival and Persistence

International Relations Authoritarian Regimes
Vesna Danilovic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0124


There has been an upsurge in the study of comparative authoritarianism since the 1990s, which has led to a number of novel arguments, some still in the evolving stage, and to the identification of new forms of authoritarian rule. The evolution in academic approaches to authoritarianism can be classified variably, but overall three stages can be easily discerned. The first classic texts were concerned either with totalitarianism or with the social and historical origins of authoritarianism. Historical surveys, combined with a focused discussion of typical cases, were used to illustrate the arguments. In the 1970s, research moved toward greater rigor in delineating the causal mechanisms behind autocracies and the socioeconomic conditions that gave rise to various forms of authoritarian rule or, alternatively, undermined their stability and facilitated democratization. While the arguments were usually informed or tested in a specific regional context, there were also notable attempts to generalize across regions with comparative case studies. The 1990s brought the next stage in authoritarian studies, focusing predominantly on institutional factors and authoritarian persistence rather than breakdown. It also resulted in further conceptual refinements and typologies that would not be confined to particular regions. New forms of authoritarianism in the aftermath of the Cold War also received greater attention, and this renaissance of authoritarian research in comparative politics was imported in other areas, most importantly in international relations. While comparative authoritarianism is well into the stage of solidly accumulated knowledge, the link between various institutional types of autocracies and international politics is still in its infancy, largely because of the previous treatment of autocracies as uniformly similar in their foreign behavior, as was the case with the influential democratic peace theory.

General Overview and Literature Surveys

Brooker 2009 and Ezrow and Frantz 2011 are two of the relatively few general texts on comparative authoritarianism with an extensive scope of topics and issues to serve as solid introductions to the field. As a bourgeoning area of study, it will eventually result in a greater number of general introductions to this thematic field. Meanwhile, there are several comprehensive overviews of the state of the art in this area. These mostly reflect the current interest in authoritarian institutional variations or structures. Brancati 2014 surveys the literature in general, whereas others focus on specific institutional forms: Magaloni and Kricheli 2010 on single-party regimes, Geddes, et al. 2014 on military dictatorships, or Gandhi and Lust-Okar 2009 on electoral authoritarianism. Koehler and Warkotsch 2011 stands out as a theoretically grounded and methodical attempt at periodization of the authoritarian research.

  • Brancati, Dawn. “Democratic Authoritarianism: Origins and Effects.” Annual Review of Political Science 17 (2014): 313–326.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-052013-115248

    Discusses recent studies about the use of nominally democratic institutions, such as parties, elections, or legislatures, to prolong autocratic rule and forestall democratization. Presents the literature in terms of five mechanisms through which authoritarian rulers use such institutions for their own purposes: signaling, information acquisition, patronage distribution, monitoring, and credible commitment. Argues that, while theoretically rich and diversified, the research needs to resolve several empirical and measurement problems.

  • Brooker, Paul. Non-democratic Regimes. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    Surveys both traditional and recent conceptual approaches to authoritarianism, provides an in-depth analysis of three common types of dictatorships (military, single-party, and personalist), and concludes with a discussion of democratization, cautioning that not all transitions inevitably lead to democracy. Discusses case studies where the process was forestalled through the institutionalization of semi-dictatorships and other intermediate types, including “protodemocracies.”

  • Ezrow, Natasha M., and Erica Frantz. Dictators and Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders. New York: Continuum, 2011.

    A wide-ranging text on authoritarian regimes, covering the major issues of their origin, resilience, and breakdown. Carefully separates the survival of the regime from its leaders. Geddes’s typology is used as a starting point to frame the detailed presentation of research on single-party, military, personalist, monarchical, and hybrid regimes, each illustrated in specific regional contexts.

  • Gandhi, Jennifer, and Ellen Lust-Okar. “Elections under Authoritarianism.” Annual Review of Political Science 12 (2009): 403–422.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.11.060106.095434

    Discusses the extant research on the role of elections in authoritarian regimes, ranging from their uses for co-optation, elite management, and mass mobilization to their informational value. Details the questions needing more exploration about electoral behavior under authoritarianism, such as why the opposition chooses to run in elections they are likely to lose, why the public opts to vote under authoritarianism, or whom the incumbents decide to include in their coalition.

  • Geddes, Barbara, Erica Frantz, and Joseph G. Wright. “Military Rule.” Annual Review of Political Science 17 (2014): 147–162.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-032211-213418

    Surveys the literature on military regimes, distinguishing between the “strongman” type ruled by a military personalist dictator and the “military regime” led by a group of high-ranking officers. Suggests that the strongman type is consequently the least likely to lead to democratization, more likely to break down through violence, and more prone to the use of force than other autocratic types.

  • Koehler, Kevin, and Jana Warkotsch. “Putting Institutions into Perspective: Two Waves of Authoritarianism Studies and the Arab Spring.” Paper presented at the general conference of the European Consortium for Political Research, Reykjavik, 25–27 August 2011.

    Divides the scholarship on authoritarianism into two waves. The first wave was primarily focused on the socioeconomic conditions behind the formation of different types. Starting in the late 1980s, the second wave turned to institutional analyses and the issues of stability, with a marked interest in “hybrid regimes.” Discusses the problems of concept formation in authoritarian institutionalist studies, illustrating critical points in the case of the Arab Spring.

  • Magaloni, Beatriz, and Ruth Kricheli. “Political Order and One-Party Rule.” Annual Review of Political Science 13 (2010): 123–143.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.031908.220529

    Presents two arguments about the role of parties as a mechanism for an autocrat’s political survival in single-party regimes. Whether used for mobilizing mass support or co-opting elites into the system, the research still needs to explore the issue of why political parties are formed under authoritarianism in the first place. A few lines of research are suggested toward that end, which the authors support with their preliminary empirical analysis.

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