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Beyond Authoritarianism: The Conceptualization of Hybrid Regimes


This paper appraises the state of the field on hybrid regimes by depicting the tensions and blurred boundaries of democracy and authoritarianism “with adjectives.” An alternative conceptualization and ordering of regimes are subsequently introduced using a configurative approach. Rather than place regimes on a linear continuum from authoritarianism to democracy, it highlights the multi-dimensional arrangements possible for the construction of regime types. The configurative approach also provides an analytically useful way to measure and integrate hybrid regimes into our classificatory schemes. As a result, it helps alleviate the conceptual confusion in the literature and contributes to a discussion of hybrid regimes beyond the framework of authoritarianism. The paper concludes by presenting a list of all hybrid regimes in the world between 1990 and 2009 identified with this method.

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  1. 1.

    Terry Lynn Karl (1995) introduced the term “hybrid regime” to refer to a state that contains both democratic and authoritarian forms of rule. This paper uses the concept of “hybrid regime” to highlight the multiple ways in which regime attributes can be configured. The term also serves as a general frame of reference to discuss work dealing with regimes that cannot be easily classified as full instances of authoritarianism or democracy. Thus, the notion of “hybrid regime” will be applied to work that may not explicitly use or acknowledge the term.

  2. 2.

    A political regime refers to “the particular set of procedures and structural arrangements that govern a country….[and] establishes both the formal and informal rules of a political game” (Remmer 1985: 65).

  3. 3.

    Another approach of regime classification differs substantially from the first two by giving hybrid regimes neither a democratic nor an authoritarian label. Examples of this approach include concepts such as “hybrid regime,” “managed pluralism,” and “liberalized autocracy.” See Karl (1995), Balzer (2003), and Brumberg (1995). It is interesting to note that Balzer and Brumberg’s concepts refer to uncompetitive multiparty regimes and Karl’s to competitive multiparty regimes. Also, while Morlino (2009) uses the term democracy in her conceptualization of a hybrid regime, she argues uniquely that the prior regime type of a hybrid regime is essential to its classification.

  4. 4.

    A diminished subtype is a concept that does not meet the full definitional requirements of a root concept as it lacks “one or more of its defining attributes” (Collier and Levitsky 1997: 438).

  5. 5.

    The most basic way to compare and analyze concepts is to focus on their intension and extension. The intension of a concept refers to its defining attributes, while the extension of a concept indicates the breadth of empirical cases to which it applies. As we increase the intension of a concept (number of attributes), we decrease its extension (number of empirical cases) (Goertz: 10).

  6. 6.

    Other similarly broad categories include terms such as “weak democracy” and “partial democracy.” See Carothers (2002: 10).

  7. 7.

    Semi-democracies are: “those countries where the effective power of elected officials is so limited, or political party competition is so restricted, or the freedom and fairness of election so compromised that electoral outcomes, while competitive, still deviate significantly from popular preferences; and/or civil and political liberties are so limited that some political orientations and interests are unable to organize and express themselves” (Diamond et al. 1988: xvii).

  8. 8.

    Ottaway’s (2003) concept of “semi-authoritarianism” is similarly broad.

  9. 9.

    This variation is not only limited to these three states. A comparison of country lists reveals the following potential examples: Burkina Faso, Comoros, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, and Tunisia. See Schedler (2002: 47); Diamond (2002: 34–35); Levitsky and Way (2006: 213). These differences have not disappeared over time. For example, Levitsky and Way (2010) specifically mention Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan as cases of electoral authoritarianism, but not competitive authoritarianism. Levitsky and Way (2010: 16) explicitly state that their conceptualization of competitive authoritarianism is more restrictive than Schedler’s.

  10. 10.

    Generally, Diamond’s regimes have the following definitions (for more nuanced definitions see Diamond (2002: 29–33): Closed Authoritarian regimes do not hold multiparty elections; Hegemonic Electoral Authoritarian regimes hold uncompetitive multiparty elections that are not free or fair; Competitive Authoritarian Regimes hold competitive, albeit unfair or un-free multiparty elections; Electoral Democracy holds free and fair multiparty elections although civil liberties are not fully protected and enforced; Liberal Democracies hold free and fair multiparty elections and broadly protect civil liberties. We exclude his residual category of ambiguous regimes.

  11. 11.

    On the point of fragmented knowledge, see Brownlee (2007: 27).

  12. 12.

    Collier and Levitsky (1997: 449) write that the most general and overarching level of a concept is the meta-level, followed by the root and then the subtype. For example, the concept “blue” is at the root level, whereas “color” is at the meta-level. A possible subtype of “blue” is “navy blue.”

  13. 13.

    Linz (2000: 159) defines authoritarianism as a regime with limited levels of pluralism, a mentality rather than ideology, weak political mobilization, and a relatively unrestrained leadership.

  14. 14.

    By center of power, we mean an individual, faction or institution, such as a party, with a distinguishable political platform and resource base. Centers of power can be distinguished from one another based on Lijphart’s (1999) seven key issue dimensions that structure partisan conflict: socioeconomics, religion, culture and ethnicity, the urban and rural divide, degree of regime support, foreign policy, and materialist and post-materialist values. While it is clear that most countries in the world will have multiple centers of power, we argue that it is essential to ask whether these centers of power compete against each other in the electoral arena. This builds upon Sartori’s cogent argument that intraparty elite competition in a single party system is not a functional equivalent of a multiparty system. Sartori (1976: 49) maintains that citizen involvement via interparty competition is essential to multiparty systems because it forces them to “vie with each other with an eye to the voters—and this entails far-reaching consequences.”

  15. 15.

    Schedler (2009: 303–304) argues that alternations in power do not necessarily indicate a democratic regime, rather there can be thee different types of alternations. Levitsky and Way (2010: 23–24) also assert that many electoral turnovers in the post-cold war period did not inspire a democratic transition. Instead “the removal of autocratic incumbents brought little institutional change, and successor parties did not govern democratically. Such cases are too numerous to be ignored or treated as exceptions.”

  16. 16.

    Intrusive tutelary institutions also affect whether a regime is classified as an electoral regime. Some, such as the military in Turkey, may veto policies or ban parties but are not active in day-to-day governance. This situation contrasts with the extensive governing authority of other tutelary institutions, such as King Mohammed VI of Morocco. Based on this distinction, regimes that have multiparty elections and even turnover, such as Morocco, are non-electoral regimes, whereas those such as Turkey are electoral.

  17. 17.

    For a thorough discussion of this point, see Greene (2007: 16).

  18. 18.

    The case of a highly satisfied populace complicates the use of turnover as an indicator. Here turnover as an indicator falters and this situation has been well documented by Przeworski et al. (2000). With any type of measurement there will be error, and we, like Przeworski et al., have decided to err on calling potentially competitive regimes non-competitive.

  19. 19.

    While not explicitly stated as such, competitive party systems are considered democratic. Systems that are uncompetitive are considered nondemocratic.

  20. 20.

    Schedler (2002: 39) discusses the chain of democratic choice, which is based on the idea that “democratic elections are mechanisms of social choice under conditions of freedom and equality.” The chain of democratic choice includes seven essential elements or links (39–41): (1) Empowerment: elections select the highest decision-makers who are unconstrained by tutelary power. (2) Freedom of supply: citizens must be free to associate. (3) Freedom of demand: alternative sources of information must be available. (4) Inclusion: elections are based on universal suffrage. (5) Insulation: citizens must be able to express their votes freely. (6) Integrity: election results are counted fairly. (7) Irreversibility: in accordance with constitutional rules, the winners of elections must be able to take office as well as govern until the conclusion of their term.

  21. 21.

    A third approach less common in the political regime literature constructs concepts with a “fuzzy logic” perspective. Here the distinction between dichotomous and continuous concepts is less pronounced than the one developed in the current regime classification literature. The distinction we place between dichotomous and graded approaches does not preclude a fuzzy logic approach. Our goal is to emphasize the importance of differences in kind rather than degree in a language appropriate for and commonly understood by the political regime field. See Goertz (2006) for a discussion of the fuzzy logic approach to concept building.

  22. 22.

    While Brownlee (2009a, b) uses Geddes’ approach for the classification of closed regimes, his conceptualization and measurement of hybrid regimes are based upon a continuum with thresholds view.

  23. 23.

    Likewise, while Storm’s (2008) configurative approach of the elements of democracy is innovative, her method risks undermining the importance of nondemocratic regime types. This is because all regimes are conceptually classified as diminished subtypes of democracy to varying degrees. Rather than missing a single element as is typical of the diminished approach, regimes may lack multiple elements that may combine in a number of ways.

  24. 24.

    For example, Hadenius and Teorell (2007: 145) note that Geddes’ classification does not incorporate competitive non-dominant party regimes. Geddes (1999) classifies regimes within the non-electoral category.

  25. 25.

    For example, while Wigell (2008) incorporates a two-dimensional approach for the conceptualization of hybrid regimes, his framework does not clearly depict the relationship between his new types and those previously created by the field. In addition, it is unclear how Wigell’s conceptual schema can be measured empirically.

  26. 26.

    Wolfgang Merkel (2004) uses similar dimensions in the study of democracy. He theorizes that “liberal democracy consists of five partial regimes: a democratic electoral regime, political rights of participation, civil rights, horizontal accountability, and the guarantee that the effective power to govern lies in the hands of democratically elected representatives” (36).

  27. 27.

    On this latter point, we were inspired by Henry Hale’s (2005) insightful discussion of cyclical changes in presidential patronal regimes.

  28. 28.

    For an example, see Howard (2003). An example on democratization is O'Donnell and Schmitter (1986) discussion of dictablanda.

  29. 29.

    Some examples include Karl (1990), Schmitter and Karl (1996), Levitsky and Way (2002), and Schedler (2002).

  30. 30.

    The illiberal regime category approximates Zakaria’s (1997) concept of “illiberal democracy.”

  31. 31.

    Goertz’s (2008: 109) analysis of the variance of Polity and Freedom House at the middle range of their scales leads him to conclude: “In particular, the gray zone needs to be examined independently of the two extremes” (109).

  32. 32.

    Note that a dichotomous measurement of a regime dimension is distinct and separate from the topic of a dichotomous understanding of a regime concept itself, as the former only deals with a single property concept (a regime attribute) and the latter with an object concept (a regime type).

  33. 33.

    While an illiberal hybrid regime is essentially competitive authoritarianism as conceptualized by Levitsky and Way, we differ in measurement by excluding dominant party systems (Greene 2007). A dominant party system is one in which a single party or the same coalition of parties has ruled a country over four electoral cycles or twenty years. We exclude dominant party systems even if they win by bare majorities because they represent a single center of power that dominates the electoral arena. Elections should not be considered competitive until the incumbent actually loses power, thus allowing another center of power to rule the country.

  34. 34.

    “Republican” and “theocratic”’ refer to Islamist commitments, while “right” and “left” refer to economic preferences.


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The authors would like to thank Marc Morjé Howard for all of his support and advice throughout the duration of the project. They also thank Juan Linz, Steven Levitsky, Gary Goertz, Richard Snyder, Jason Brownlee, Svend-Erik Skaaning, and Luis Felipe Mantilla for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of the paper. The suggestions from two anonymous reviewers were also greatly appreciated. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association where it received the Honorable Mention, Sage Paper Award in the Qualitative Methods Section.

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Gilbert, L., Mohseni, P. Beyond Authoritarianism: The Conceptualization of Hybrid Regimes. St Comp Int Dev 46, 270 (2011).

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  • Authoritarianism
  • Hybrid regimes
  • Regime classification
  • Concept building and measurement