Authoritarianism: Definition, Features & Examples

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Meaning of Authoritarianism

portrait-official-francisco-franco authoritarianism spain
An authoritarian leader imposes his will even above the law.

What is Authoritarianism?

Authoritarianism is a non-democratic system of government in which one person or elite holds power. And in which political rights and civil liberties are widely restricted.

The authoritarianism is a way of exercising power in an authoritarian manner. It is also understood as an abusive attitude of authority. This word is especially used to describe authoritarian systems of government of a nation or country. It comes from the adjective ‘authoritarian‘.

Authoritarianism is a type of autocratic regime. In other words, a non-democratic regime in which power is concentrated in a single person. In an authoritarian system, it is the dictator who holds the supreme power, but it does not mean that his power has no limits as in other systems. The authoritarian leader leaves a certain pluralism (very limited) and is quite influenced by the components of his government.

It must also be said that they have a conservative character, since what they are looking for is the paralysis of the regime in the face of a possible substantial or radical change. For this reason, culture and society do not usually vary much from the previous regime to the new authoritarian one.

Examples of Authoritarianism

Rafael-Leónidas-Trujillo authoritarianism Dominican Republic
Authoritarian governments like that of Trujillo criminally persecute enemies.

Authoritarianism, understood as a form of authoritarian government, has occurred throughout the History of Humanity. Authoritarianism is one of the characteristics of dictatorial systems.

A current example of authoritarianism may be the North Korean government. In the context of social relationships, a classic example of authoritarianism is that which sometimes occurs in the family environment. Authoritarianism is considered to exist when parents act as an authority figure in a repressive way, with strong rules and sometimes with violent control methods.

Characteristics of Authoritarianism

In authoritarianism, in a generic way, a series of differentiating characteristics can be found. One of them is the existence of repressive norms or laws that restrict freedom. In many cases, these are arbitrary measures that do not respond to justice.

Power is concentrated in a few people or groups and exercise power without leading to negotiations. Authoritarianism does not correspond to a single ideology, since it is a way of exercising power and authority.

Juan José Linz, a renowned Spanish sociologist, developed authoritarian as a system of government. The following characteristics are derived from his study:

  • Limited pluralism: Not all opposition is eradicated, but a slight pluralism is allowed, but never against the regime.
  • Heterogeneous elite: A specific group does not dominate, there are a series of diverse elites in which there is a certain balance in the display and execution of power.
  • There is no very defined Ideology: Unlike what happens in totalitarian regimes, in authoritarianism there is no strong ideology. The leaders have certain ideas and mentality of how the regime and the society should be, but nothing more.
  • De-politicization: A slight ideological control is maintained over the population, which it passively abides by. The party does not have much weight and is weak, it can be created in advance or only to give body to the ruling elites.
  • Limited Leadership: The leader or elite is not usually charismatic, and the power develops within limits that are not very well defined but are quite predictable.

Authoritarianism and Democracy

authoritarianism chile pinochet
Authoritarianism and totalitarianism are two different forms of political and social oppression.

A democracy or democratic system can lead to authoritarianism when power is exercised unilaterally and repressively through the media such as the army or legislation without seeking social consensus. Some democratically elected leaders have exercised their power in an authoritarian or autocratic way, establishing laws that corrupt the idea of ​​real and participatory democracy.

This is especially the case when a party that obtains an absolute majority uses that advantage to make changes, for example, in the system of access to power.

Types of Authoritarianism

Linz also establishes three main types of authoritarian regimes.

  • Military bureaucratic regime: The governing coalition is made up of the military and bureaucrats. It is strongly de-ideologized and demobilized. It has a high military presence, but technocrats and high officials also carry a lot of weight. Ex: Chile of Pinochet, Greece of Papadopoulos, etc.
  • Authoritarian corporatist regime: The company has a slight participation, through structures controlled by the regime. Eg: Portugal of Salazar and Spain of Franco.
  • Mobilization regime in post-democratic societies: In these regimes, the rulers try to make society feel part of the regime and to approve and embrace its ideology. They compensate for the lack of plurality with more participation, thus trying to legitimize themselves. Ex: Egypt from Nasser and Turkey from Ataturk.
robert mugabe authoritarianism zimbabwe
Mugabe ruled for 30 years until he was deposed by the current president of Zimbabwe.

Franco’s Authoritarianism

To see with a practical example the features of an authoritarian regime, we are going to use the Franco regime that developed in Spain between 1939 and 1975. Describing the characteristics previously exposed with the Spanish case.

  • Limited pluralism and heterogeneous elit : Within the government there were several different “families” or groups: monarchists, Falangists, Catholics, military, and so on. There were discrepancies between them, but always within the guidelines set by the regime.
  • There is no well-defined ideology: At first there was a clear fascist predominance, but over the years and the need to adapt the regime to survive in an increasingly democratized Europe, the regime became de-ideologized. Although Catholic values ​​prevailed.
  • Depoliticization: An attempt was made to leave the population out of any political influence, except traditional and Catholic values. The party did not carry great weight. Even the dictator himself advised his ministers to dedicate themselves exclusively to their operational tasks, leaving aside the political plane.
  • Limited leadership: Franco, unlike other leaders around him, did not have great charisma, he was only exalted by his most staunch and extremist followers. He played a role of referee, giving and taking power to the components of his government.

Advantages of Authoritarianism

Autocratic leadership is beneficial if used in situations where there is little time for group decisions or the leader is the most experienced member of the group. Therefore, when it is necessary to make quick and decisive decisions, it is the best alternative.

For example, in professions where there are emergency situations: paramedics, military, police, firefighters, etc.

Likewise, autocratic leadership can be effective with employees who require close monitoring of their tasks, as it prevents them from relaxing, and improves performance, productivity and the speed with which they carry out their work.

Disadvantages of Authoritarianism

Criticisms of this style of leadership are based on a series of disadvantages that are a consequence of the application of this type of leadership. The authoritarian leader does not take into account the opinion of the workers and employees, because for him they are simply individuals who must follow his orders.

Many employees may feel unappreciated and undervalued, leading to the decision to leave the company.

Studies have shown that some workers perform less with this type of leadership and that, as scientific data shows, it has a greater negative impact on  stress (or burnout) and well-being of workers, compared to other types of leadership like the transformational. It is not recommended for companies in which their intellectual capital is creativity.

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