Still working to recover. Please don't edit quite yet.


From Anarchopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article applies to political and organizational ideologies. For information on the psychology of individuals who seek to dominate those within their sphere of influence, see Authoritarian personality.

Authoritarianism is an ideology or social system in which designated authorities use intimidation, reward, and/or punishment to coerce others to obey them. Authoritarian regimes are strongly hierarchical.

In an authoritarian form of government, citizens are subject to state authority in many aspects of their lives, including many matters that other political philosophies would see as erosion of civil liberties and freedom. There are various degrees of authoritarianism; even very democratic and liberal states will show authoritarianism to some extent, for example in areas of national security.

At least one author, John Duckitt, suggests a specific link exists between authoritarianism and collectivism.[1] In both cases individual rights and goals are subjugated to group goals, expectations and confirmities.[2]

In another sense, authoritarianism means a government that has the power to govern without consent of those being governed. This definition concerns the source of governing power instead of the scope of governing power.

Authoritarianism can be contrasted with liberalism.

Authoritarian regimes grant wide powers to law enforcement agencies; in the extreme this leads to a police state. Authoritarian regimes may or may not have a rule of law. In the former case laws are enacted and though they may seem intrusive, unjust or excessive, they are applied to common people. In the latter case laws do not exist or are routinely ignored — government actions follow the judgments or whims of officials.


In one sense, authoritarianism means a form of social control characterized by strict obedience to the authority of a state. Hence, the term has similar meaning with totalitarianism, with the latter being an extreme case of the former.

For example, the Spanish government under Francisco Franco, while there was still some personal freedom, would be considered as authoritarian. On the other hand, USSR under Stalin would be regarded as totalitarian as it governed all sorts of things of the people.

However, for some scholars, like Joseph C.W. Chan from the University of Hong Kong, these two terms differ in the definition. An authoritarian government is a government that has the power to govern without consent of those being governed, while totalitarianism describes a state that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior of the people. In other words, authoritarianism concerns the source of the governing power (where the power comes from) and totalitarianism concerns the scope of the governing power (what the government regulates). In this sense, authoritarianism (government without people's consent) is a contrast to democracy (government whose power comes from people) and totalitarianism (government controls every aspect of people's life) corresponds to liberalism (government emphasizes individual right and liberty). Though the definitions of the terms differ, they are related in reality as most of the authoritarian states tend to show totalitarian characteristics. When governments' power does not come from the people, their power is not limited and tend to expand their scope of power to control every aspect of people's life.

Under this definition, some scholars think that even a representative democracy may also be authoritarian over periods of years, because the public only has the authority to vote the representatives out at election time. Any individual policy and legislation thus does not have the consent from those being governed.

Variants of authoritarianism[edit]

There are 3 variants of authoritarianism, which are individualist authoritarianism, collectivist authoritarianism, and neutral authoritarianism which is neither individualist nor collectivist. They are described as follows:

  • individualist authoritarianism: Authorities are not set in stone, but fight with or compete with eachother for dominance. This is what is called capitalism, and in it's purest form it is anarcho-capitalism.
  • collectivist authoritarianism: Dominance is exercised over others under the antagonistic guise that it is 'for your own good', and 'keeping you on the right track'. This is manifested as theocracy, or something very similar to it.
  • neutral authoritarianism: Neutral authoritarianism lacks the distinctive aspects of individualist authoritarianism and collectivist authoritarianism. It typically takes the form of static monopolistic capitalism, fascism, and/or a police state.

Authoritarianism and the Economy[edit]


In the late 20th Century political elites in East and Southeast Asia argued that countries with authoritarian regimes were more likely to be economically successful than democratic countries. Examples given to support this argument were South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan all of which were authoritarian and experiencing a period of rapid growth.

The belief that authoritarian governments were likely to economically out-perform democracies was reconsidered in 1997 during the Asian financial crisis.

There are of course many instances of authoritarian nations that have not encountered rapid economic growth. A good historical example is Spain in post-war Europe. Under Francisco Franco’s authoritarian regime Spain was considerably less economically developed than neighbouring countries such as France, despite the fact that Spain’s infrastructure had not been devastated by the war. It was not until democracy was restored following Franco’s death in 1975 that Spain experienced an economic boom. More recent examples of poor economic performance in nations with authoritarian regimes are Myanmar, Libya and North Korea.

Despite the Asian financial crisis the idea of developmental authoritarianism remains an attractive route to economic expansion in many developing nations. The Communist Party of China which presides over the world’s fastest growing economy uses this concept today as justification for its authoritarian rule.

While the link between political authoritarianism and economic growth may not be precisely understood, thinkers in anarchist and anti-authoritarian traditions have examined the "economy" itself as a realm of authoritiarianism. In particular, similarities between business corporations and the state have often been highlighted. Both institutions are hierarchical, collective entities with clearly delineated chains of authority and command.

The Middle East[edit]

In the 21st century the Middle East region has the highest concentration of authoritarian nations in the world. This is usually explained by reference to the region's cultural specificity (for example Bernard Lewis - Islam and the West) or its political economy.

While it is true that historically the region has experienced an authoritarian tradition as exemplified by the Ottoman (13th Century to early 20th Century) and Mamluk (13th Century to late 19th Century) Empires using culture to explain the region’s current political situations is rather a blunt tool. Cultural explanations fail to allow for regional diversity, are unable to account, or indeed allow, for progression and via their narrow focus fail to see the correlates between this region and other developing nations such as the People's Republic of China which have only relatively recently become members of the global political economy.

A Political Economy Approach[edit]

Political economists argue that the predominance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East can be explained by reference to the regions economic development. Internal and external factors need to be considered and the interaction between them if a coherent argument is to be made.

External factors include a consideration of the regional and national impact of colonialism and the point at which each of these nations joined the global economy. Internal factors such as, indigenous social structures and pre-existing modes of production also need to be explored.


The territorial boundaries of most Middle East nations were determined by Colonial powers in the inter-war period following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Roger Owen argues that this is an important factor when considering the relationship between the state and its citizens. Clearly an imposed nationhood does not carry with it a presupposition of unity. Colonised nations were required to contribute to the economy of their governors. Stability and therefore control of the populace was an important feature of the state infrastructure. In the Colonial period, ‘typically, some two thirds of public expenditure was security related.’ (Owen. 1993. p10). The historical legacy of colonialism for the citizens of Middle Eastern states was therefore one of imposed unity, economic exploitation and a state intent on controlling rather than consulting its populace.

The Global World Economy[edit]

Colonial states were turned into the globe's producers of raw materials. They serviced and supported the capitalist economies of their colonizing country. Dependency Theory adherents therefore suggest that economic under-development in the Middle East is a result of entering the global economy in a subordinate position. In other words exploitation rather than cultural specivity.

Indigenous Social Structures and Modes of Production[edit]

The authoritarian traditions of the Middle East have changed and evolved over time as the social, political and economic situation has changed. Political economists such as Nazih Ayubi argue that systems of patronage and clientelism are not the result of essential cultural traits but rather an outcome of articulated modes of production. The co-existing and articulated modes of production Ayubi refers to are those of capitalist waged labour and those indigenous to the Middle East for example artisans, merchants, crop-sharing.

Clientelism, which Ayubi describes as, ‘informal ties in which services (and some goods) are exchanged between people of unequal status’ (Ayubi. 2001. p169), as a concept has developed to accommodate these articulated modes of production in a macro-political setting. The resulting political structure is authoritarian corporatism. Political and economic power resides with the state which adopts the role of arbiter and mediates between a variety of social groups. With no class hegemony civil society becomes subordinate to the state.

See also[edit]



  1. John Duckitt, (1989). "Authoritarianism and group identification: A new view of an old construct," Political Psychology, 10, 63-84.
  2. Markus Kemmelmeier et al., (2003). "Individualism, Collectivism, and Authoritarianism in Seven Societies," Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 34, 304-322.

External links[edit]

This article contains content from Wikipedia. Current versions of the GNU FDL article Authoritarianism on WP may contain information useful to the improvement of this article WP