6.3.1.5   Establishing, and Maintaining, Law and Order

(This is an archived page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book.  Current versions are at book contents).

An authoritarian government meets the requirement for a sovereign, as described by Hobbes in Leviathan (Part II, Chap. 17) when he argued for the need to delegate power to a person or a group of people to enforce peace and well-being: a governing power that is absolute and unquestioned.  He acknowledged that the sovereign might be instituted by “acquisition… where the sovereign power is acquired by force”. 

When Hobbes was writing, in the 17th century, monarchy was commonplace – but the essence of his argument was that any government is better than anarchy.  Legitimacy, according to Hobbes, depends upon being able to maintain law and order. 

Although a powerful individual might be good at restoring order in a given situation, changes of government, or leadership succession, can bring problems for some authoritarian regimes.  Dictators are often replaced by a coup d'état, with varying levels of violence.

In some authoritarian countries, though, leaders can be peacefully replaced by an unelected council – a “selectorate” – if they fail to meet expectations, as described in an LSE article Making Autocracy Work.  Selectorates don’t have to consult the population and may lack transparency.  They can dismiss politicians who abuse their position, for example, as in the Chinese government’s dismissal of Bo Xilai on 10 April 2012; this was described in a BBC article, China calls for support amid Bo Xilai fall-out.

Authoritarian governments try to maintain law and order, to avoid the risk of having a revolution and to keep a firm grip on power.   They might be fearful of permitting the conditions for identity politics to emerge, as discussed later (6.7.4.2).  Sometimes they keep control by suppressing individual freedom, as described in the next sub-section (6.3.1.6).