Theorising Authoritarianism

Theorising Authoritarianism

This project diagnoses three interconnected problems with current definitions of authoritarianism in political science. First, authoritarianism is treated as a negative category, i.e. a lack of democracy. Second, the authoritarian/democratic distinction focuses excessively on fairness of elections, at a time when the relation between voting in elections and actual influence on policy-making is widely doubted by citizens and political scientists alike. A third problem is the assumption that authoritarianism is a structural, nation-state level phenomenon. Instead, this project proposes a refocus on authoritarian as well as illiberal practices.

Authoritarian practices are defined as patterns of actions that sabotage accountability to people over whom a political actor exerts control, or their representatives, by means of disabling access to information or disabling voice.

Illiberal practices are infringements on the autonomy and dignity of the person, patterned and embedded in an organized context. They comprise interference with legal equality, legal recourse or recognition before the law; infringement of freedom of expression, fair trial rights, freedom of religion, the right to privacy; and violations of physical integrity rights.

A focus on authoritarian practices allows a shift away from only designating ‘regimes’ as authoritarian, recognizing that in contemporary politics, governance arrangements can be more fluid. In this way, we can begin to imagine (and hence identify defining features of) authoritarian practices occurring in established democracies, at the subnational level, or through multilateral arrangements. Comparative analysis of authoritarian and illiberal practices will help us understand conditions in which they thrive, and how they are best countered.

Glasius, M. ( 2018). 'What authoritarianism is … and is not: a practice perspective.' International Affairs 94(3), 515-533.

Glasius, M. (2015). 'Introducing the Symposium and Research Agenda', in Reconceptualizing Authoritarianism, APSA-Comparative Democratization-Newsletter 15(2), 1, 5-8.