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The Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes

  • Graeme Gill
Chapter

Abstract

The study of the third wave,1 embodied in the ‘transition literature’, has conceptualized the course of regime change in terms of three phases: regime breakdown, democratic transition, and democratic consolidation. Breakdown involves the deconstruction and possibly disintegration of the old regime, transition is the shift from old structures and processes to new, and consolidation is when those structures and processes have become stabilized and so embedded in the collective consciousness of the society that they gain normative authority. These phases are logically, but not always temporally, distinct; all three phases overlap, even if the forces driving them are not the same. This is clearest in the case of regime breakdown and transition. With domestic political forces the main actors in the third wave of democratization, that process was a zero sum game; democratic forces could not be successful without the withdrawal or collapse of authoritarian power. This does not mean that the two processes, the collapse of authoritarian rule and the establishment of a democratic regime, are the same; the breakdown of authoritarian rule does not inevitably lead to a democratic polity, and historically most cases of authoritarian collapse have spawned further authoritarian regimes.

Keywords

Regime Change Authoritarian Regime Support Base Regime Survival Economic Difficulty 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    To use the language of Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave. Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).Google Scholar
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    For an attempt to schematize the transition in terms similar to this, see Robert H. Dix, ‘The Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes’, Western Political Quarterly 35, 4, 1982, pp. 568–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The probability that a democratic regime would survive four or five consecutive years of negative growth was said to be 57 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. Southern Europe, South America and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p. 79, citing an unpublished study by Fernando Limongi and Adam Przeworski.Google Scholar
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    Stephen Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman, The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1995), pp. 33–36.Google Scholar
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    However, it is doubtful that anything can be read into these earlier bouts of economic difficulty, except perhaps that authoritarian regimes survived them, because all countries experience such periods at times.Google Scholar
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    Haggard and Kaufman, p. 46.Google Scholar
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    On economic crisis and the bureaucratic authoritarian regime, see David Collier (ed.), The New Authoritarianism in Latin America (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1979).Google Scholar
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    For a brief discussion of some approaches to this see Diane Ethier, ‘Introduction: Processes of Transition and Democratic Consolidation: Theoretical Indicators’, Diane Ethier (ed.), Democratic Transition and Consolidation in Southern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia (London, Macmillan, 1990), p. 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    This is the distinction drawn by Perlmutter between autocracy and tyranny, which both refer to rule by a single individual, and authoritarianism which refers to ‘a collective dictatorship, an oligarchy, or a military government.’ Perlmutter, p. 1.Google Scholar
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    In part this was agreed because of fears of the excessive politicization of the military that could result from a more institutional arrangement.Google Scholar
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    Huntington’s ‘reformists’ and’ standpatters’. Huntington, p. 121.Google Scholar
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    Perhaps the military institution, especially when in power, is the best illustration of this sort of structure.Google Scholar
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    On the difference between social and political revolution and their effects, see Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolution. A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1979).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Graeme Gill 2000

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  • Graeme Gill

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