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OverviewDominant Characteristics Of Political Systems, Specific Forms Of Authoritarian Rule, Outlook, Bibliography

The term authoritarianism can be applied to a great variety of contexts. It can refer to authoritarian behavior, leadership styles, or personality types in families, industrial enterprises, bureaucracies, and other forms of organizations. Here, it refers to political regimes that fall under this broad label. The major characteristics of authoritarian regimes include a limited political pluralism with restrictions on the activities of interest groups and parties, a low level of social mobilization and popular political participation, a dominantly "subject" or "parochial" political culture, and usually a personalized form of leadership.

The term came into use in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when it became necessary to distinguish hierarchically structured, traditional monarchical or more recent "bonapartist" autocratic regimes from liberal democracies, on the one hand, and all-encompassing "totalitarian" systems, on the other. Liberal democracies can be defined with regard to three major dimensions: an open and competitive political pluralism (usually in a multiparty system), a high level of political participation (as in fair and free elections, referenda, etc.), and political institutions that guarantee a certain separation of powers, the rule of law, and basic human rights (such as freedom of expression, information, organization, religion, etc.). Totalitarian systems, at the other extreme, are characterized by monistic, all-encompassing social and political organizations (such as a single party; dependent unions; organizations for women, youth, etc.), a high level of social mobilization (as in political rallies, high election turnouts), an explicit, monolithic, absolutist ideology, and a strong repressive apparatus. In fact, however, these distinctions cannot always be drawn precisely and some "gray" areas exist between these types. In common usage, all nondemocratic systems are lumped together as "dictatorships." Whereas the original use of this term in the Roman republic referred to emergency powers for a limited period, today it implies all kinds of arbitrary rule and political repression. Nevertheless, important qualitative differences can be found among such nondemocratic regimes.

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