6.3.1   Authoritarian Government

An authoritarian system, for the purposes of this book, is defined as one which deprives people of a peaceful opportunity to choose a different government.  Governance is carried out by public servants appointed by, and working for, a central authority.  There are several such scenarios, as described in the following sub-sections:

·     Partially authoritarian systems have vestigial democracy (  Russia is a prime example, where opposition has been quelled and the government controls the press and the legal system.

·     Totalitarian one-party States ( are governed in accordance with an ideology.  China, under the control of the Communist Party, and Iran, a theocracy, are examples.

·     Dictators acquire power by force (, often to exploit a country's resources, as has repeatedly been the case in Africa. 

·     Absolute monarchies, where a hereditary monarch directly controls the government ( are now rare.  Saudi Arabia might be regarded as an example.

Some authoritarian governments can claim to have benefited their populations overall – China has lifted many millions out of poverty for example – but many have left people grindingly poor whilst the ruling class lives in luxury.  They cannot be removed by holding elections, and they suppress some aspects of free speech, but they might nonetheless benefit the population overall.  Authoritarian political legitimacy is determined by the following factors: 

·     An authoritarian government offers law and order (, although that government might not be able to effect a peaceful handover of power to its successors.

·     Its ability to maintain control involves suppressing political dissent (, which in many cases has been done with unnecessary brutality.  The Utilitarian justification for authoritarianism is that political agitations by the few should not be allowed to endanger the peace and security of the many.

·     Even though it doesn’t need votes as such, it has an incentive to keep the population satisfied if it wants to stay in power (  Its survival depends upon remaining acceptable to the population.

·     By definition, the people will not be directly involved in choosing a leader but there is scope for negotiation on some topics (

(This is an archive of a page intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  The latest versions are at book contents).