Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by the rejection of political plurality, the use of a strong central power to preserve the political status quo, and reductions in the rule of law, separation of powers, and democratic voting. Political scientists have created many typologies describing variations of authoritarian forms of government. Authoritarian regimes may be either autocratic or oligarchic in nature and may be based upon the rule of a party or the military.
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In an influential 1964 work, the political scientist Juan Linz defined authoritarianism as possessing four qualities:
- Limited political pluralism, realized with constraints on the legislature, political parties and interest groups.
- Political legitimacy based upon appeals to emotion and identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat "easily recognizable societal problems, such as underdevelopment or insurgency."
- Minimal political mobilization, and suppression of anti-regime activities.
- Ill-defined executive powers, often vague and shifting, which extends the power of the executive.
Minimally defined, an authoritarian government lacks free and competitive direct elections to legislatures, free and competitive direct or indirect elections for executives, or both. Broadly defined, authoritarian states include countries that lack civil liberties such as freedom of religion, or countries in which the government and the opposition do not alternate in power at least once following free elections. Authoritarian states might contain nominally democratic institutions such as political parties, legislatures and elections which are managed to entrench authoritarian rule and can feature fraudulent, non-competitive elections. Since 1946, the share of authoritarian states in the international political system increased until the mid-1970s, but declined from then until the year 2000.