Authoritarianism

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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 describes a form of social control characterized by strict obedience to the authority of a state or organization, often maintaining and enforcing control through the use of oppressive measures. 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]

The fundamental definition of authoritarianism is a government that has the power to author legislation without consent of those being governed. In this sense, even a representative democracy is authoritarian over periods of years because the public only has the authority to vote the representatives out at election time. Legislatures in liberal democracies are, however, usually constrained by a constitution, and courts exist to invalidate unconstitutional laws passed by the legislature.

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[edit] Forms of authoritarian government

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There exists a gradation in authoritarianism, as well as a variety of possible authoritarian behaviors. Authoritarianism may exist under different regimes:

  • Absolute monarchies are almost always authoritarian. For instance, criticizing the royal government of France under the ancien régime could get writers etc. imprisoned by executive order (known as a lettre de cachet).
  • Dictatorships are always authoritarian.
  • Democracies rarely exhibit much authoritarian behavior, except in transition to/from authoritarian states or when martial law is imposed (during war, for example). Many (if not most) citizens of authoritarian states do not perceive their state as authoritarian until late in its development. This makes it difficult to label modern states as 'democratic' or 'authoritarian'. People make this difficulty worse when they use these terms without clear definitions.
  • Despotisms are always authoritarian.
  • Militarchies, countries run by high-ranking military officers, are almost always authoritarian. Note that militarchy does not necessarily mean a dictatorship or a junta, but a generally thoroughly militarized state. A classical example of militarchy would be Ancient Sparta or the Mamluk Egypt.
  • Theocracies are almost always authoritarian. An exception is the Quaker Consensus in Consensus decision-making: 'Decision-making arrived at by finding a "spiritual consensus," rather than voting, was developed by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) early in the 17th century and is in use to the present day.'

As an example of this difficulty, modern democracies once enforced laws that are now widely considered abusive and authoritarian: for instance, countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, until recently enforced sodomy laws imposing the moral and religious values of the majority over matters of private life.

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.

[edit] Authoritarianism and the Economy

[edit] Introduction

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.

[edit] The Middle East

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.

[edit] A Political Economy Approach

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.

[edit] Colonialism

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.

[edit] The Global World Economy

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.

[edit] Indigenous Social Structures and Modes of Production

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.

[edit] See also

This entry is related to, but not included in the Political ideologies series or one of its sub-series. Other related articles can be found at the Politics Portal.

[edit] References

[edit] External links


Forms of Government and Methods of Rule: Autocratic and Authoritarian

Autocratic: Despotism | Dictatorship | Tyranny | Absolute monarchy (Caliphate | Despotate | Emirate | Empire | Khanate | Sultanate | Other monarchical titles) | Enlightened absolutism

Other Authoritarian: Military dictatorship (often a Junta) | Oligarchy | Single-party state (Communist state | Fascist(oid) state) | de facto: Illiberal democracy