Authoritarian Law and Order

Authoritarian law and order provides peace and security to the population, but it can be repressive or be just a means of retaining power

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 security: 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 undemocratic regimes.  Dictators are often replaced by a coup d’état, with varying levels of violence.

In some authoritarian systems, though, an unelected council – a “selectorate” – can peacefully replace leaders who fail to meet expectations, as described in an LSE article Making Autocracy Work.  Selectorates don’t have to consult the population, and they may lack transparency, but they are able to keep order during the transition of power.  They can dismiss politicians who abuse their positions, for example, as in the Chinese government’s dismissal of Bo Xilai on 10 April 2012 – which was described in a BBC article, China calls for support amid Bo Xilai fall-out.

Authoritarian law and order is imposed to avoid the risk of having a revolution and to keep an iron grip on power.   Governments might have good reason to be fearful of permitting the conditions for identity politics to emerge, for example, as discussed later (  But sometimes they keep control by abusing their power and totally suppressing individual freedom, as described in the next sub-section (



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/edition04/6315.htm.