9.6.3 Authoritarian Intransigence

Authoritarian intransigence can make the population discontented, in which case negotiation is needed to resolve the issues.

There is a potentially serious risk to an authoritarian government which has refused to negotiate meaningfully.  In the absence of a democratic system’s safety valve, which is that the population will be able to dismiss the government at the next election, a popular uprising becomes a distinct possibility.  Needless to say, this is very dangerous for both the government and the population – as can be illustrated by two examples:

●  China experienced repeated rebellions in the 19th century, most notably by the Taiping Rebellion which killed more than 20 million people. Such traumas continue to affect Chinese government attitudes, as described in a recent BBC article: Five ways China’s past has shaped its present.

●  As noted by the BBC, in Syria: The story of the conflict:

“More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives [when the article was published, in March 2016] in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war.”

As discussed previously (, authoritarian governments have various ways of increasing their acceptability and avoiding popular resentment.  Most importantly, negotiation can be a remedy for authoritarian intransigence – without changing to a democratic political system.  The Chinese government would feel threatened by any attempt to introduce democracy, because of the likelihood of instability, but that does not mean that it should avoid negotiation on specific issues.  A similar logic applied in Syria, where an unwise government crackdown led to violence spreading – as highlighted in several posts on this website.

Overall improvements in acceptability, though, might not prevent the situation where some people feel themselves to be oppressed by their government.  If they are unable to obtain redress within the country’s legal system, it is desirable that they are able to appeal on the basis of international human rights (  External legal help, although it means overruling national law, is safer for both sides than people starting an armed rebellion against the government because they feel that they have nothing to lose.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/963.htm.