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Essay on topic “Authoritarianism”

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During our course I have become interested in authoritarianism and started read more about different types of authoritarian regimes in various countries. I think this topic is controversial, interesting and ambiguous because authoritarian regimes are not similar to each other. It is also very curious to learn how authoritarianism seems and develops in different countries, why it emerged and did not fail. What is the authoritarianism? What do people think when they hear a colocation “authoritarian regime”?

People often use the word “authoritarianism” but do they actually know what authoritarian regime is about. Let`s start with the history of authoritarianism. Roskin mentioned that in subsequent years after World War 2, the European empires gave their colonies independence so after decolonization many new countries emerged and the Third World became authoritarian under governance of single parties (Roskin 2016, p. 103). Scholars began study this political regime in 1960s on the examples of different countries in Africa and Latin America.

As for definition, there is no correct or certain one, authoritarianism is interpreted in various ways. “Political systems with limited, not responsible, political pluralism, without elaborate and guiding ideology, but with distinctive mentalities, without extensive nor intensive political mobilization, except at some point in their development, and in which leader or occasionally a small group exercises power within formally ill – defined limits but actually quite predictable ones” (Linz 2000, p. 159). This definition is clear and reflect main features of this non-democratic regime.

Another interpretation is “nondemocratic government but not necessarily totalitarian” (Roskin 2016, p. 102). I think this term is too general, not very distinct and does not explain characteristics of authoritarianism. Next definition of “authoritarian” according to dictionary tells us: “demanding that people obey completely and refusing to allow them freedom to act as they wish” (Cambridge dictionary). This explanation is common among ordinary people, because citizens are usually thinking about totalitarian features when they hear colocation “authoritarian regime”.

To my way of thinking, this interpretation is not correct and more relevant to term “totalitarianism” because in authoritarianism there is no such thing as total control or oppression. Actually, authoritarianism and totalitarianism are often confused but are different. As argued by Roskin, “Authoritarian regimes are governed by a small group – usually by dictator or the army” but “they do not attempt to control everything, for example, economic, social, religious, cultural matters are left up to individuals” (Roskin 2016, p. 102).

Another definition by The Economist Intelligence Unit`s Democracy Index tells us that authoritarian regimes are political systems in which: political pluralism is absent, state is under dictatorship, some institutions of democracy may exist but they are not so essential, elections (if they take place) are not free and fair, civil liberties are disregarded, the media under control of the state, repression of criticism of the government, censorship takes place and no independent judiciary (The Economist Intelligence Unit`s Democracy Index 2015, p. 46).

This interpretation is very distinct and reveal many important features but I think the definition is not so appropriate because it is more relevant to closed and electoral authoritarianism than to general correct understanding of term so this interpretation, to my way of thinking, reflects the extreme and worst case of authoritarian regime. Sum up all definitions, we can say that authoritarianism is a political system, which is not similar to democracy, but not the absolute opposite of democratic regimes, limits individual freedom, has certain restrictions and strict government.

I consider that first definition by Linz is more relevant than others because it is clear, rather general, reveals the main essence of the term and consists of its major features such as limited pluralism, sources of legitimacy, no guiding ideology, absent of political mobilization and control of some institutions. Authoritarianism can be very diverse and appears in various ways, for example, it can be differ in institutions, survivability, strategies or volume of repressions and competition in the country.

So let`s look at different types and classifications of authoritarian regimes. Firstly, we should consider that authoritarianism could be electoral or non-electoral according to Hadenius and Teorell. If authoritarian regime is non-electoral, it can be a monarchy (traditional) or military (dictatorship), but if regime is electoral, it can be with no-party (personal power), single-party or multi-party (Hadenius, Teorell 2006). Secondly, it is very important to distinguish authoritarianism through analysis of elections that are held in the country.

According to elections regimes can be closed authoritarian, electoral (hegemonic) authoritarian or competitive authoritarian. What are the main differences between them? As for closed authoritarian, there is no elections at all (China or Saudi Arabia), whereas in electoral authoritarian elections take place but they are far from fair, free and frequently. As argued by Schedler, electoral authoritarian regimes organize periodic elections because they try to make at least a semblance of democratic legitimacy, hoping to satisfy external and internal actors (Schedler 2002, p. 36).

However, these elections are not competitive, there is no real opposition or chance for opposition to win. According to Andreas Schedler in electoral authoritarianism there is limited pluralism, a dominant party, dominance of the non-electoral bodies and varied menu of manipulation such as falsification, use of reserved positions and domains, disqualification of candidates, restrict opposition from mass media, etc. (Schedler 2002). In competitive authoritarian there are some oppositional parties and candidates, maybe their chances to win are small but they have an opportunity to weaken incumbents.

Competitive authoritarianism has existence of democratic institutions (parties, parliament, elections) and these institutions cannot be abandoned or turned to open falsification by incumbents. Also, in competitive authoritarian, according to Steven Levitsky, Lukan Way, there are 4 arenas of contestation: elections, parliament, courts and the media (Steven Levitsky, Lukan Way 2002). As for usage of term “authoritarianism”, for political scientists and politicians (the media, ordinary citizens) it is very different because they all put in the word different meaning and vision.

When political scientists hear the word “authoritarianism” they think about main features of authoritarian regimes that I wrote above and try to distinguish various types and classifications of them while others usually assume authoritarian as opposite to democracy and imagine characteristics of totalitarian regimes. In addition, the media and politicians use the term in inappropriate situations and cases for certain goals. I find some interesting American magazine articles with very strange and, to my way of thinking, irrelevant usage of word “authoritarianism” with the aim of propaganda.

The first article (Blasting News, “Sanders: America is drifting toward authoritarianism under Trump” by Willingham Oba, 24. 06. 17) provides information about Sanders` (Democratic candidate in last year’s presidential election) attitude to presidency of Trump. He claims that the USA under Trump`s governance is moving to authoritarianism and loosing democratic features. Sanders believes that Trump symbolizes shift towards to authoritarian regime so senator tries to persuade people to protect their rights and freedom.

I think that Trump did not do anything so horrible, radical or wrongful to say that the USA is going in the authoritarian direction. To my point of view, Sanders use word “authoritarianism” for propaganda against current president because this term is strong, have negative shade and attitude and can kindle conflicts and protests in the society. The second magazine article (The Atlantic magazine, “An American Authoritarian” by a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University Ruth Ben-Ghiat, 10. 08.2016) compare the figure of Mussolini and his reign with Trump and his presidential campaign.

The author argues that Trump is a charismatic authoritarian dictator and tries to explain this statement. In the article we can find following proofs: the authoritarian set of rules and plans is defined by the certain relationship such individuals have with their followers (“personalized bond with voters”), having a campaign ritual (in case of Trump it is straight-armed solute), violent and aggressive language and acts.

First of all, we have to remember that Mussolini was a fascist totalitarian dictator who restricted some rights and freedoms, conducted political repression, built police state and did many other cruel and severe things in politics. Meanwhile, Trump just posted aggressive tweets, said abusive words and gave empty frightening and shocked promises during his campaign. Secondly, the above proofs are not connected with features of authoritarianism and do not reveal any main characteristics of authoritarian regime.

So, as I think, the world “authoritarianism” in both articles is used in inappropriate way and meaning for propaganda and defamation. In the last few weeks we have heard a lot about political situation in Zimbabwe and removal of President Mugabe. Mugabe was President of Zimbabwe for over long 30 years and actually governed the country during 37 years. But after Mugabe`s decision about the dismissal of his vice President and potential appointment his wife as a successor army intervened and forced him to leave.

So let us look at this recent situation from the point of view of authoritarian regime. Under his governance Zimbabwe can be considered as a competitive authoritarianism. What features of Mugabe`s governance can tell us that Zimbabwe is competitive authoritarian? Firstly, we should take into account that its political institutions were designed for protection and preservation of democratic participation. His rule was cruel and his government frequently disrupted citizens’ human rights and freedoms, whereas Mugabe’s edicts were always designed according to the constitution, by passing laws.

Therefore, this type of authoritarian governance, in which incumbents manipulate rules and laws to win elections and stay in power, is called competitive authoritarianism (The Washington Post, “Mugabe is what happens when an authoritarian regime abides by its constitution” by professor of political science Chipo Dendere, 22. 11. 17). Secondly, we know that Mugabe was the commander in chief of the military forces of the country.

Also, the article from The Washington Post tells us that the army did not have any constitutional laws to arrest civilians but it was often interfering to get rid of criminals and opposition around the president, so we can say that their actions were illegitimate and infringed the Constitution. Another important point is that Zimbabwean government used the judiciary and police to arrest activists speaking against the government, furthermore there were security forces who used violence and murder in order to defeat opposition and win elections.

Besides, we should not forget that competitive elections took place frequently in Zimbabwe and there was real opposition such as Morgan Tsvangirai who won in the first round of the presidential elections in 2008. However, Morgan Tsvangirai had to remove his cadency after attacks on his supporters and colleagues from the government. In addition, we should take into consideration that mass media in Zimbabwe is under control of the government so federal channels use a lot of propaganda and system restricts opposition to the media.

Now we see why Zimbabwe can be considered as a great example of competitive authoritarian country and why all this situation with the Mygabe`s resignation happened. This recent news shows us political process in Zimbabwe, explain meaning and features of competitive authoritarianism. So, to sum up, authoritarianism is a comprehensive term which reveals characteristics of non-democracy regime, has many sub-types and meanings.

Authoritarianism is a political regime characterized by a strong leader who seeks to maintain control over the political sphere, lack of guiding ideology and general absence of formal and legitimate limitation on government actions. We should remember about appropriate use of this term and differ it from totalitarianism, dictatorship or tyranny. According to the EIU Democracy Index there are about 50 authoritarian countries in the world, so we should know the main characteristics of these countries, understand their similarities and differences.

List of references

Roskin, Political Science: An Introduction. – 2016. – pp. 102-103. TA l “Roskin 2016, p.103” s “Roskin 2016, p.103” c 1
Linz J., Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes. – 2000. –
The Economist Intelligence Unit`s Democracy Index. – 2015. – p. 46
Hadenius, Teorell, 2006
Schedler A., Elections Without Democracy: The Menu of Manipulation. – 2002. – p. 36
Steven Levitsky, Lukan Way, The rise of competitive authoritarianism. – 2002. –
Blasting News, “Sanders: America is drifting toward authoritarianism under Trump” by Willingham Oba, 24.06.17. URL: http://us.blastingnews.com/news/2017/06/sanders-america-is-drifting-toward-authoritarianism-under-trump-001798211.html
The Atlantic magazine, “An American Authoritarian” by a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University Ruth Ben-Ghiat, 10.08.2016. URL: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/american-authoritarianism-under-donald-trump/495263/
The Washington Post, “Mugabe is what happens when an authoritarian regime abides by its constitution” by professor of political science Chipo Dendere, 22.11.17. URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/11/22/mugabe-is-what-happens-when-an-authoritarian-regime-abides-by-its-constitution/?utm_term=.dec4570cb230BBC news, “Robert Mugabe: Is Zimbabwe’s ex-president a hero or villain?” by Joseph Winter, 21.11.17. URL: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-23431534

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