History has known far more authoritarian regimes than any other form of government. Authoritarianism is a form of non-democratic rule defined by state power being centralized in a single person or a small group of people. Unlike democracies, these individuals in power are not dependent on the people for power. Thus, under authoritarianism, state leaders have little accountability to the public and there is little individual freedom. Additionally, authoritarian regimes are not bound by a constitution that might limit their power. Such democratic liberties such as the right to assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are highly controlled or non-existent. State policies are designed to maintain the power status quo in favor of the ruling group and perceived threats are marginalized or, in some cases, extinguished.
Authoritarianism is more likely to exist in countries that have not yet experienced a high degree of modernization. This is because, without modernization, many of the fundamental institutions thought to be required for democracy are not yet thoroughly developed. These institutions include intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and the emergence of an economic middle class. In fact, it is highly correlated that a middle class is a vital requirement for the existence of democracy. However, modernization by itself does not always mean that the end result will be a democracy. For instance, if modernization occurs in some urban areas but lags behind in the rural areas it could be destabilizing to democratic institutions. Poverty is also strongly linked to authoritarianism although it alone is not a correlation.
Authoritarian regimes would not survive if there was not at least a segment of the population that supported them. This support is most often found among the elite who are bought off by authoritarian leaders to maintain power. The elites are often more concerned with their own personal economic well being than regime type and are successfully co-opted into the regime. For instance, in a society that lacks adequate development to assure “relatively equitable distribution” of resources the elites may be “more willing to share power” in exchange for economic incentives. In fact, for many regimes the acquisition and control of the countries resources is crucial to maintaining power. Authoritarian regimes do not need to rely on the unrepresented people for taxes and the regime “can effectively ignore their political demands.”
Perhaps the most well known authoritarian regime of the past century is the former Soviet Union. However, the Soviet Union’s form of authoritarianism can more accurately be described as totalitarianism. Totalitarianism describes a regime that is centrally ruled, promotes a “well-defined ideology” and “seeks to transform and fuse the institutions of state, society, and the economy.” The Soviet Union used totalitarianism to implement its communist ideology. After the Bolshevik’s came to power in 1917,...