Dictatorships often vary from one another as much as they do from democracies. There are dictatorships like Malaysia under the National Front, but there are also dictatorships like North Korea under Kim Jong-il. These regimes differ from each other on multiple levels, ranging from their de facto institutional structures, to their political openness, to their interconnectivity with the outside world.
In this chapter, we begin with a brief discussion of how dictatorships are defined. We then present some theoretical background on how dictatorships have been categorized. Lastly, we discuss in depth the contemporary typologies of dictatorship and the typology used in the rest of this study.
In order to understand how dictatorships function, it is first important to define what we mean when we refer to them. There are, of course, a variety
of ways in which scholars have defined dictatorships. This section will briefly review them.
According to Juan Linz, “authoritarian regimes are political systems with limited, not responsible political pluralism, without intensive nor extensive political mobilization, and in which a leader or a small group exercises power within formally ill-defined limits but actually quite predictable ones.”1
This definition is roughly echoed by Samuel Huntington,2
who writes that authoritarian regimes are characterized by a single leader or group of leaders with either no party or a weak party, little mass mobilization, and limited political pluralism. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, by contrast, emphasize representation. They argue that dictatorships are regimes in which the government represents solely “the preferences of a sub-group of the population”3
. Non-democracies are “for the elite and the privileged;”4
decisions are made either by a single individual, the elite, a junta, or an oligarchy. In a different vein, Paul Brooker’s definition focuses on the electoral process, with dictatorship defined as the “theft of public office and powers.”5
For this study, we use Adam Przeworski et al.’s simple definition of democracy and dictatorship: democracies are regimes in which “those who govern are selected through contested elections;”6
dictatorships are “not democracies.”7
Though our knowledge of dictatorships is less advanced than our knowledge of democracies, the literature on modern dictatorial regimes is increasingly growing. As Brooker notes, “theorists and analysts of totalitarianism, authoritarianism, one-party states, military regimes and personal dictatorship have made a major contribution to the development of political science.”8
In the sections that follow, we detail foundational work on dictatorships and how our conceptions of dictatorships have evolved across time.
Early studies of dictatorship are largely descriptive in nature and predominately focus on the notion of totalitarianism. Huntington9
defines totalitarian regimes as rule by a single party led by an individual with a powerful secret police and a highly developed ideology. In totalitarian regimes, the
government has total control of mass communications and social and economic organizations. Such regimes aim to create an ideal society through the use of government propaganda.
Following World War II, the concept of totalitarianism gained traction in political science, likely as a result of increased international exposure to the regimes of Germany under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Hannah Arendt’s10
work on the subject is foundational in the field. In The Origins of Totalitarianism
, Arendt highlights the uniqueness of totalitarianism, calling it a new and extreme form of dictatorship comprised of “atomized, isolated individuals.”11
Relying heavily on the cases of Hitler and Stalin, Arendt argues that ideology plays a prominent role in totalitarian regimes. Though the type of ideology used varies, the common thread among all totalitarian regimes is that the leadership wants to transform human nature
, by providing a complete road map for the organization of human life.12
The leadership seeks to exert full control over society, subjecting citizens to omnipresent terror as a means of ensuring compliance. Critical actors in maintaining such a tight grip over society are the leader, the secret police, and the party.
Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski
In a similar vein, Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski13
highlight six features of totalitarian dictatorships in Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy
. These features are: the implementation of an official ideology, a single political party, party control over mass communications, party control over the military, a central economy, and a secret police. In later work, Brzezinski14
defines totalitarianism as a new form of government that seeks to bring about a social revolution, based on the ideological assumptions declared by the leadership. In totalitarian regimes, power is “wielded without restraint.”15
The main goal of the leadership is to achieve the total unity of society and politicization of the populace via political organizations. These means are achieved through propaganda and terror. The leader has greater power than the party or security apparatus and typically possesses religious or charismatic appeal. Examples cited include Nazi Germany, Communist Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, and Communist China.
Totalitarianism vs. Authoritarianism
In Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes
builds on this body of work and develops a typology of political systems, disaggregating regimes according to whether they are democratic, authoritarian, or totalitarian. The key factors that distinguish totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are the degree of social pluralism and levels of political mobilization. Linz argues that authoritarian regimes are characterized by a mentality, whereas totalitarian regimes are characterized by an ideological belief system. The main goals of authoritarian regimes are political demobilization and depoliticization. Authoritarian regimes do not seek to homogenize society and instead allow for some degree of pluralism. By contrast, totalitarian regimes place great emphasis on political mobilization and use ideology as a main source of their legitimacy.