In public discourse across multiple nations (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), debates regarding the necessity of strong-arm governance remain ongoing. Typically, within these discussions, a “strong-arm” refers to an authoritarian figure capable of restoring order and guiding the nation toward prosperity and stability.
The editorial team at Factcheck.kz opted to investigate whether the benefits of a strong-armed authority for society truly outweigh those of democratic governance.
What does it mean to rule using strong-arm tactics?
As outlined by political analyst Artyom Zemtsov, the concept of a strong-arm governing entails a preference for a leader who takes resolute and independent actions across political, economic, and various other spheres. It involves societal acceptance of consolidating power within a singular authority, viewing this arrangement as a collective benefit. To put it differently, the strong-arm tactics within the public mindset signifies an authoritarian framework for the state.
Categorizing political regimes as either democratic or authoritarian is a somewhat arbitrary distinction. Within each specific nation, elements of various regimes can be identified in the functioning and interplay of key institutions. This includes the level of media independence, the extent of authority held by law enforcement entities, and the effectiveness of the separation of powers. In accordance with sociologist Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy,” present in any framework — be it democratic or authoritarian — is a tendency to concentrate power in the hands of a small group. A robust mechanism of checks and balances, alongside the regular transition of authority in democratic setups, aims to mitigate the impact of this principle, yet the tendency persists across regimes. Consequently, when classifying a nation under a specific regime, the discourse generally revolves around a spectrum rather than distinct categories. The position of a country on this spectrum, as indicated by diverse democracy indices, hinges on the factors deemed pivotal, such as equitable elections, the presence and efficacy of checks and balances, freedom of expression, human rights adherence, economic liberties, and the like.
The Economist Democracy Index categorizes regimes as full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes.
The BTI (Bertelsmann Transformation Index) analyzes the global processes of democratization and transition to a market economy. The index highlights democracy in consolidation, defective democracy, highly defective democracy, moderate autocracy, and hard-line autocracy.
Freedom House’s Global Freedom Index ranks countries’ political and civil rights and categorizes them as free, partially free, and not free.
The difference in the methodologies of the above indices leads to slightly different outcomes. For instance, while the BTI index categorizes Kyrgyzstan as an extremely defective democracy, the EIU index designates it as an authoritarian regime, and Freedom House places it within the “not free” category.
Democracy, authoritarianism, totalitarianism
Before delving into the comparison of these modes, it is necessary to establish clear definitions for the concepts we will be working with.
Democracy is best comprehended as a process of democratization.Heiki Patomaki, Teivo Teivainen. A Possible World: Democratic Transformation of Global Institutions
Broadly speaking, democracy can be defined as a framework where the legitimacy of government derives from the collective will of the populace. Within a democratic structure, every citizen possesses an equal voting right and is unfettered in exercising this privilege to influence the state’s policies. In contemporary times, democracy takes on a representative shape wherein citizens do not directly engage in political decision-making but instead designate their representatives through electoral processes. This structure retains its “democratic” essence as it upholds two pivotal principles: universal equality (one person, one vote) and the entitlement of every individual to a certain level of personal autonomy (including freedoms like conscience and speech). It is crucial to emphasize that a system of “majority rule,” where the concerns and rights of the minority are entirely disregarded, cannot be deemed as democratic. Within a democratic framework, the consideration of matters involves accounting for the interests of diverse segments of the population, and decisions are arrived at through consensus-building, aiming to identify shared perspectives.
This represents the form of a “pure,” “ideal” democracy that numerous nations aspire to achieve. However, as indicated by political scholars (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), such a manifestation is largely absent currently, similar to the absence of a universally applicable democracy model.
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons of the British Parliament November 11, 1947.
All democracies, however, must contain to some extent the elements listed by the UN Commission on Human Rights:
- Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- Freedom of association.
- Freedom of expression and opinion.
- Access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law.
- The holding of periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage and by secret ballot as the expression of the will of the people.
- A pluralistic system of political parties and organizations.
- The separation of powers.
- The independence of the judiciary.
- Transparency and accountability in public administration.
- Free, independent, and pluralistic media.
As previously mentioned, it’s rare for a democratic nation to possess all these attributes to their fullest extent. Nevertheless, even a partial adherence and application of these rights and principles enables democracies to maintain their democratic nature, curbing (though not entirely preventing) the potential for unbounded power concentration in the hands of an individual or a small faction. In essence, the foundational traits of democracies not only set them apart from autocracies but also serve as safeguards against their transformation into such.
Authoritarianism* denotes a political system where political authority is possessed and wielded by a distinct individual, class, party, elite assembly, and so on. In authoritarian governance, leaders are not elected by the populace and lack accountability to them. consequently, the actions of authorities within such systems frequently operate outside the confines of laws or their strict adherence, as a matter of practice. The scope of freedom of expression and the independence of citizens is confined primarily to areas unrelated to politics. Citizens are barred from participating in state governance, and the establishment of the political elite occurs through top-down appointments and co-optation, rather than through competitive electoral competition. Political institutions, particularly representative bodies of authority, play a diminished or marginal role in contrast to democracies, and the effectiveness of the system of checks and balances is limited. Although authoritarian regimes might permit a degree of diversity, genuine political opposition is either constrained or absent. In authoritarian regimes, governance relies heavily on propaganda and suppression, thus giving significant prominence to power structures and state-controlled media within these systems. Autonomous media platforms and journalists encounter censorship and intimidation. Simultaneously, authoritarian administrations demonstrate limited concern for citizens’ personal lives and seldom curtail non-political engagement. Similar to democracies, authoritarian paradigms exhibit a wide array of variations, encompassing differences in the extent of repression, the efficacy of institutions, and the duration of their existence. Some authoritarian regimes may have the appearance of being democratic, while others give the impression of being totalitarian. Yet, a more thorough analysis of these nations’ functioning reveals that democratic or totalitarian aspects emerge as distinct components that punctuate the underlying fabric of authoritarianism.
…authority, no matter in what form, always is meant to restrict or limit freedom, but never to abolish it. Totalitarian domination, however, aims at abolishing freedom, even at eliminating human spontaneity in general, and by no means at a restriction of freedom no matter how tyrannical.Hannah Arendt, political philosopher, historian
Despite their apparent resemblance — both involving the concentration of absolute authority in the hands of one or a few — the primary distinction between authoritarianism and totalitarianism lies in the absence of a rigid, all-encompassing ideology and a lack of interest in the private lives of the populace. The authoritarian regime displays little concern for citizens’ political involvement and, often through the use of propaganda, fosters passivity while promoting a desire to uphold the existing state of affairs. Totalitarianism, on the other hand, erases the distinctions between the state and the individual, banking on ideology and the widespread indoctrination of citizens. It is marked by extensive mass repression, involving terror, and necessitates the political and ideological mobilization of the populace. As per the World Population Review, as of now, only four countries fall under the category of totalitarian states: North Korea, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Eritrea.
Unlike authoritarian regimes of the past, modern authoritarian systems are inclined to emulate democratic characteristics and lean toward reduced reliance on repression. According to political scholars Jennifer Gandhi and Adam Przeworski, these regimes adopt such measures to mitigate internal challenges and to garner support from democratic nations. However, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a professor of political science at New York University, points out a potential risk in this approach. He suggests that encouraging authoritarian counterparts might provide advantages to democratic leaders:
The fundamental job of democratic leaders is to implement policies that will benefit constituents at home, not in another country. Because a dictatorial leader needs to appease cronies, democratic leaders often find they can simply pay dictators to do what they want. It’s a win-win for the dictator, who needs cash, and for the democrat, who needs policies that satisfy voters back home.Bruce Bueno de Mesquita for the BBC
* In some sources (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) the concepts of “authoritarianism”, autocracy, “dictatorship” and even “totalitarianism”/”totalitarian” are identified and used as synonyms. It is important to highlight that while concepts like “authoritarianism” and “dictatorship” share numerous similarities and frequently overlap, they are not synonymous. Dictatorship entails unrestrained authority, predominantly enforced through armed violence, which is a fundamental distinction. Hence, it is also valid to categorize totalitarian regimes as dictatorships. The concepts of “authoritarianism” and “autocracy” are not synonymous since the latter implies the absolute sole power of one person. In an authoritarian regime, leadership may not be confined solely to an individual; it can extend to include a political party or even a military faction (junta). Henceforth, when referring to dictators, we will be alluding to authoritarian leaders, and we will no longer differentiate between the terms “authoritarianism” and “autocracy,” as the former encompasses a broader concept encompassing the dynamics of state-society interaction. Currently, totalitarian regimes are present in a limited number of nations. Thus we will not individually address them in our analysis.
The Dictator’s Paradox
The “Dictator’s Paradox” or dilemma refers to the information asymmetry existing between a leader and their subordinates, as well as between those in power and the general populace. The essence of the paradox is that the authoritarian leader and his subordinates have problems with the exchange of information: the dictator remains unaware of the thoughts (plans) of their subordinates, while the subordinates lack insight into the dictator’s perspectives. Simultaneously, as repression intensifies to consolidate power, the dictator’s likelihood of obtaining accurate information diminishes. Subordinates, driven by the fear of repercussions, will attempt to convey the information that the autocrat desires to hear. An authoritarian leader might offer assurances of non-harm and strive to keep subordinates content, yet these subordinates lack mechanisms to compel the autocrat to uphold such a pact.
The implications of the Dictator’s Paradox reach beyond merely the leader’s immediate interactions and extend to their connection with the general populace. In the absence of working mechanisms for obtaining feedback from the population (for example, fair elections and the opportunity to go to rallies and protests), the authoritarian leader does not know how popular he himself and his policies are among citizens, and what current problems exist. This information gap hinders decision making and leads to inefficient management.
Because of the multitude of variables and interrelated factors shaping the circumstances within a particular nation, our comparison does not focus on individual democratic and authoritarian countries or corresponding periods within each country (such as North and South Korea or Spain under Franco and in the present day), but rather centers on overarching modes. We will evaluate these modes based on six primary criteria: economic development, corruption, citizens’ health and life expectancy, adeptness in addressing crises, crime levels, and political stability.
Today there is no consensus about which regime — democracy or authoritarianism — is more successful in leading the country to economic growth and prosperity. The examples of Singapore, Taiwan (before the democratic transition of the late 80s and early 90s), South Korea (before democratization began in 1987), and China show how effective undemocratic regimes can be in the economy.
However, studies show (1, 2, 3) that the examples of these East Asian countries are the exception rather than the rule. And the very trend towards economic growth despite the lack of democracy and high levels of corruption is called the East Asian paradox.
Overall, there is no basis to presume that economic growth is an inherent assurance within authoritarian regimes. While economic indicators such as GDP per capita might exhibit impressive progress at a certain juncture, experts concur that the economic surges witnessed in autocracies are typically short-lived and contingent upon the actions and proficiency of specific leaders. The primary benefit of autocrats lies in their capacity to enact pragmatic, unilateral decisions independent of citizens’ rights and preferences. They can reallocate resources and channel them towards their objectives, disregarding the immediate needs of the populace. This enables the implementation of pivotal reforms within a remarkably brief span. An instance of this is the swift industrialization witnessed in the USSR and China. In contrast, democratic leaders frequently find themselves obligated to consider diverse groups’ perspectives, manage financial allocations, and potentially jeopardize their political standing in the event of failure.
Nobel Prize winner in economics Gary Becker noted that at one time the economic success of autocracies can be much higher than that of democratic countries, but it is less stable, and in moments of crisis, the economy of autocracies experiences much more severe declines. Observations made by the German Institute for Sustainable Development confirm that, on average, democracies do not outperform autocracies in economic development, but they do not lag behind either. However, in non-economic indicators (child mortality, life expectancy, level of education, etc.), the growth in the well-being of democracies is more stable and higher.
Level of corruption
According to economist Sergei Guriev, in general, the level of corruption is higher under non-democratic regimes. The higher the level of political competition and the older the democracy, the lower the corruption. Nonetheless, it isn’t readily apparent which factor takes precedence: the absence of democracy or corruption.
However, the direction of the causal relationship remains uncertain. Corruption might be more prevalent in non-democratic regimes due to restricted political competition, diminished accountability of authorities, and an increased inclination to engage in embezzlement. Conversely, a reverse causal connection can also be identified: heightened corruption provides the ruling class with greater incentives to resist the shift towards democracy, diminishing the likelihood of democratization and the transition from a non-democratic to a democratic regime. Hence, comprehending the direction of the causal relationship is challenging, and it is highly probable that achieving such understanding is elusive.Sergei Guriev, economist
The research cited within the writings of Matthew Stevenson, a professor at Harvard University, supports Sergei Guriev’s assertions. Thus far, establishing a direct correlation between democracy levels and corruption remains elusive — the process of democratization does not necessarily yield an instant reduction in the corruption perception level (CPL). Instead, the duration of the democratic regime exerts an influence. Stevenson highlights that the corruption perception level (CPL) tends to be higher in new democracies compared to non-democratic systems. Other economists believe that this might not solely be attributed to the age of the regime itself, but potentially stems from other attributes inherent in young democracies. For instance, these regimes tend to be more presidential than parliamentary, making decisions through majority votes that may not account for proportional representation. Additionally, the presence of nascent institutions provides more opportunities for misuse. It’s plausible that a shift in the corruption level might only materialize when a country evolves into a liberal democracy, marked by well-established democratic institutions and a sufficiently educated and advanced civil society.
Another intriguing inquiry for researchers is the relationship between corruption, economic growth, and regime type. A study featured in the Cambridge Journal of Institutional Economics indicates that corruption is frequently linked to economic growth in autocratic systems. The most striking example is observed in the nations encompassing the aforementioned “East Asian paradox,” where high corruption was combined with high economic growth.
This impact observed in autocracies is attributed by researchers to the enduring nature of power, which grants politicians in such systems an extended planning horizon. Due to the extended duration of their “tenure,” those holding authority in autocracies display a vested interest in cultivating businesses and ventures that can fund political patronage. Conversely, entrepreneurs within autocracies are inclined to engage in agreements with government officials, harboring the assurance that politicians will be capable of fulfilling their commitments over an extended period. As indicated by the analysis from Cambridge, this model of state-business interactions elucidates the reason why autocracies in Africa and Latin America encounter challenges in achieving growth when corruption levels are elevated. The position of political leaders in these countries is so unstable that they cannot be sure of the duration of their powers. Consequently, such autocrats tend to focus on obtaining short-term personal benefits and are not interested in the prosperity of the business from which they receive “kickbacks”.
It’s important to observe, however, that any conclusions regarding the reciprocal impact of democracy level and corruption level should be approached with prudence and a measure of skepticism. To begin with, the accurate measurement of corruption is unattainable due to the multitude of factors that necessitate consideration, and the data itself can be tainted: corruption perception indices, as their name suggests, stem from citizens’ surveys, potentially mirroring subjective viewpoints rather than an accurate depiction of the actual conditions within the country. Although corruption is often linked to practices like bribery, mismanagement, and favoritism, it can assume various less apparent and occasionally lawful forms, such as lobbying and political favoritism. The presence of these subtler forms might not be readily evident to the general populace and thus might not be adequately captured by the Corruption Perceptions Index. Additionally, citizens in various regimes possess varying levels of access to information, implying that in autocratic systems, the citizenry may not accurately represent the true state of affairs, as instances of corruption may remain unreported in the media.
Health and life expectancy of citizens
Based on the statistics compiled by Our World in Data, a direct correlation can be observed between the standard of living of a population and the level of governance: democratic nations tend to exhibit higher average life expectancies compared to authoritarian countries.
Experts from Stanford University and the US Council on Foreign Relations studied data from 170 countries from 1980 to 2016 and concluded that death rates from specific causes (cardiovascular disease, cancer, HIV, tuberculosis, and other diseases) decreased as democratization increased. Researchers attribute higher levels of health to the fact that, on average, democracies have higher healthcare spending even in crisis years, and lower corruption. These factors, in turn, are associated with free elections and transparent accountability to voters.
It’s crucial to highlight that while scientists endeavor to examine factors that are independent of GDP and external material support in their analyses, the BTI charts reveal a discernible connection between a nation’s economic prosperity, healthcare expenditure, and the health metrics of its population. Consequently, it becomes challenging to definitively attribute the influence to the regime type rather than the economic affluence of the country.
To assess the effectiveness of two different systems in handling crises, we analyzed the outcomes achieved by autocracy and democracy in dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. While addressing the pandemic necessitated quick reactions and the utilization of available resources, effectively tackling climate change demands meticulous long-term strategizing.
COVID-19 pandemic response
The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the varying degrees of effectiveness in managing severe crises among different governing systems. Assessments of governmental efficiency commenced with the onset of lockdown measures in March 2020. It quickly became evident that the type of governing system takes a secondary role in determining how a government addresses a moral dilemma akin to the “trolley problem” during the decision to implement a “circuit-breaker” (1, 2) to curtail economic activity or to ease (1, 2) restrictions significantly, potentially endangering citizens’ lives. The crucial factor is the willingness of citizens to adhere to these restrictive measures. Intuitively, one might assume that autocratic regimes could enforce restrictions effectively through their repressive machinery. However, the case of Iran illustrates that the mere threat of punishment does not necessarily result in improved compliance with anti-COVID measures.
According to the Carnegie Endowment report in March 2020, successfulness of measures introduced by the government depended mainly upon a degree of belief to the authorities, and there is no remarkable correlation between citizens’ belief and level of democracy. China and Singapore ranked the second and the fifth respectively among 27 countries in the rating of belief composed by Edelman company while the USA and Italy ranked 21 and 25. Believing authorities’ activities, citizens were willingly complying to keep quarantine, to wear face masks and pass coronavirus tests. This provided fast and effective appliance of restrictive measures. As a result, China’s citizens got tired of sequence of quarantines and necessity to pass PCR-tests, and started massive protests; but this had happened in the end of 2022 – when pandemic were finishing a year later of protests in Italy, which broken out against the background of quarantine reinforcement at the height of pandemic (giving that restrictive measures in the country were complying partway).
Another one factor affecting different marches of pandemic in different countries – efficiency and speed of admission of sequential decisions. In this respect, among democratic countries, the USA had presented in a bad light, which could hardly conquer a discord between the two sides of the aisle on ways to fight COVID-19.
Unfortunately, it is not feasible to directly compare the metrics of virus transmission and COVID-19-related fatalities between authoritarian and democratic nations. One primary reason is that during the pandemic, the official data and the actual estimated levels of mortality exhibited disparities even within democratic countries. Additionally, while data manipulation in favor of authorities is a trait often characteristic with authoritarian regimes, it is worth noting that this phenomenon can also be observed in democratic settings.
The second, more significant factor, is the inherent complexity in accurately determining the true count of fatalities directly attributed to the coronavirus.
Fight against climate change
In the report of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the reasons for autocracies and democracies to succeed in the fight against climate change are thoroughly considered.
The main advantages of autocracies in this issue are the irremovability of authorities and a wide range of powers of political leaders. As the autocrats are not restricted by a period of ruling, they have an opportunity to take sequential decisions and long-term measures to solve climatic problems. Absoluteness of autocrats allows them to put into operation any programs, to set any prohibitions and restrictions, and to invest any budgets without taking into account the opinions of all the parties concerned.
The advantage of democracy is availability of information on climate problems, and a freedom to express yourself and maturity of civic society, which allows “green” organizations impacting public opinion, and, therefore a political agenda (1, 2). However, eco-activists and investigators of democracies consider that is not enough to change things with global warming significantly.
In addition, decision making in democratic regimes may take a long time, as it requires not only to adhere to the letter of law, but also to take into account the interests of different groups and parties, to think through the costs and the efficiency. To solve climatic problems, such a protraction may lead to the measures that are already insufficient by the moment of implementation. Simultaneously, relatively short terms of ruling and high political price of unpopular decisions make democratic politicians take performative steps aimed at short-term benefit.
According to Daniel Lindvall, the sociologist from the Uppsala University, large oil and gas companies affect decision making in democracies. Corporations promote their interests in governments; moreover they use democratic tools to do this. The demonstrative example is a multimillion legal claim which was filed by a British oil company against Italy government after the country’s authorities prohibited the development of oil deposit in their aquatory.
Because of active interference of the oil and gas industry into the legislative process, such democratic countries as the USA, Australia and Canada are significantly inferior to even several autocracies in the world index of ecological efficiency. This was presented in the report on the climate change problem of International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). In a period from 2000 to 2016, fuel companies of the USA spent 2 million dollars lobbying their interests in environmental legislation. In such conditions, “green” organizations cannot be competitive in presentation of their interest in the government.
Moreover, according to the IDEA report, the necessity to stand up to climate change may lay down at stake a democracy’s existence itself. Because of low efficiency of taking potent measures, the more people tilt toward “eco-authoritarianism”, when decision making centers may implement necessary ecological programs without spending a time for discussions within political parties and without looking back to citizens’ will.
Investigating the interconnection between a crime rate and a political regime, sociologists, as a rule, consider a rate of violence crimes, particularly a number of willful murders and a level of danger/safety perceivable by the population of a particular country. In the research investigated by us, an interesting trend line has appeared: the rate of willful murders and the level of perceived danger are higher in countries with intermediate types of democracy than in “proper” democracies and in authoritarian countries.
Brookings Institution researchers explain that such scores appear when stable democracies have more developed institutions which allow solving conflicts more effectively and to decrease social and economic tension in a society, and to return convicts into society after their prison term is finished. Simultaneously, established democratic values encourage non-violent behavior and prevent willful murders.
The successful one is not a rigidity of penalty but its unavoidability. However, this is there, where the police attend to its business but not stalking critics and displeased citizens with authorities.Lev Gudkov, sociologist, philosopher. Source “Novaya Gazeta“
Autocratic regimes, in its turn, more often control the rate of violence crimes with the help of tougher measures of punishment and higher control. However, investigations of interconnection between punishment toughness and crime rate show that a threatening punishment itself does not decrease a number of crimes if the two factors are not complied: unavoidability of punishment and equality against the law. Moreover, adding greater punitive measures without an effective retrieval and resocialization system may not only not decrease but increase a number of crimes, as it raises a possibility of backslides. Huge fines, life sentences and death penalties for violence crimes also may lead to the victims themselves refusing to commence an action, if a criminal is a relative or family’s friend. Therefore, adding the death penalty for indecent assault in India led to victims not appealing to police under pressure of a family and relatives of a criminal 94.6% of cases (in 8 cases of 10 a criminal and a victim are acquaintances).
We may allow that the low rate of violence crimes in authoritarian countries is specified not by repressive politics, but by data inaccuracy and greater corruption level which allow criminals to avoid criminal prosecution; this may be a reason that the crimes are not in the range of vision of citizens and sociologists. This may explain higher statistics of crimes in intermediate types of regimes: democratic institutions still cannot provide the preventative measures for crimes, but the reporting system is becoming more transparent in comparison with authoritarian regimes, changing the statistics not in favor of intermediate democracies.
In the beginning of this article we said that ambition for a strong-arm of authority was connected with an idea that authoritarian regimes were able to provide stability. According to Andrey Korotayev, professor of Higher School of Economics, and Jack Goldstone, American politologist, this idea was partly corresponding with reality, as an authority in such regimes is very centralized, and wide powers of repressions allow suppressing any opposition. Especially, this concerns raw materials of authoritarian countries which may allow maintaining powerful force structures. However, after 1991, later on the third wave of democratization, statistically, stability of established authoritarian regimes in comparison with established democracies is notably decreasing. According to the research of Korotayev and his colleagues, it occurred due to the three reasons:
- Demographic transfer leads to the disappearance of the so-called ”youth bulge“ — when young people in the age of 15-25 notably outnumber the older generation. Great number of youth in a society is directly connected with radical protests, that’s why as the population of democratic countries had become older, the level of protest activity was decreasing accordingly.
- Switch from industrial economics to postindustrial one and withdrawal of manufacturing enterprises to developing countries. As protests and strikes of employees were a significant source of political turbulence in democracies, decline in manufacturing in these countries led to statistical decline of protests.
- Soviet Dissolution. The event affected not only the former soviet republics, but also all countries of socialist coalition. Absence of political, economic and military support drastically shuttered internal stability of regimes which relied on Soviets, for example, Cuba, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, etc. Simultaneously with that, along with the end of the cold war, the USA had lost an incentive to maintain stability in authoritarian pro-American regimes, which also led to political crises.
Furthermore, it’s important to highlight that numerous countries within the post-Soviet bloc transitioned from being intermediate democracies to becoming relatively stable authoritarian regimes with a strong emphasis on personal leadership as the third millennium commenced.
Generally, political processes in democracies may seem “careless” with constant resistance of different concerned parties, freedom of speech and open protests from citizens’ side in the case they are disaffected with a policy pursued. However, specifically this voluntary demonstration of political will jointly with stable institutions and supremacy of law allow democracy “blowing off” a social tense, and simultaneously a flexibility and stability in crisis situations. So, elections and alteration of power let delegation authority happen peacefully and in the legitimized way. Freedom of speech and availability of information let democratic leaders tenderly control problems which concern citizens, and react to them prior to a public discontent will hit the roof. These tools may serve not perfectly, but self-control peculiar to democracies provides its stability.
However, according to Korotayev and Goldstone, all this concerns stable democracies, while countries in intermediate state and hybrid regimes show the lowest level of stability in comparison with other regimes. Associate Professor of Political Science at Arkansas State University, Rollin Touselem, relates it to weakness of politicians, populism and rapid economic development, which goes ahead the development of political institutions. When politicians cannot accommodate citizens’ claims and perform appropriate reforms, radically-minded groups may use public discontent to seize power.
Generally, as Korotayev and his colleagues noted, types of instability in established authoritarian regimes and democracies are different: military coups, acts of terror and civil wars are characteristic for the first ones, for the second ones – massive protests and strikes.
For the last few years, organizations like Freedom House, IDEA and the UN note a crisis of democracy and the growth of authoritarian cheer in the world. A research published by international group of scientists in 2019 in Psychological Science magazine showed that economic inequality strengthens the sensation of gold shell – a disorganization of society, social instability, overall demoralization and loss of focus points, which as a result provokes a desire to acquire a strong leader able to “put a place in order” even to the disadvantage of democratic values.
The pandemic, rapid growth of inflation and cost of life, the war in Ukraine, threat of nuclear war, climatic catastrophes and crumbling democratic institutions — these are the main crises which the world have faced in recent times. It is no wonder that looking for stability, people are looking for support, and authoritarian propaganda proposes it presenting itself as an effective alternative to weakening democracies. However, it is worth remembering that democracies of any format save a space for alternative opinion and mechanisms of affection on decisions being made, though no one regime itself does not guarantee prosperity for its citizens. During the periods when politicians had stopped being effective, grassroots initiatives, NCO and activists stand the foreground.
Democracy does not serve as a guaranteed cure for political ambitions, as even within democratic systems, politicians might prioritize their own continuity in office over the welfare of citizens. Nevertheless, the objective of authoritarian regimes remains constant: to retain power regardless of the achieved level of prosperity and stability.
The bad behaviour of dictators is not an inherent pathology of the people, or the bad luck of having psychopathic leaders. It’s because the political structure induces those behaviours.Bruce Bueno de Mesquita for ВВС
While it’s true that authoritarian leaders can guide a nation towards economic success, instances like Singapore represent aspirational rather than common scenarios due to the “survival bias.” Not every autocrat exploits their country and suppresses opposing voices. However, the peril of authoritarianism lies in citizens surrendering control over political circumstances. If, for any reason, the emulation of totalitarianism becomes more advantageous for those in power than emulating democracy, the population will be left without the means to exert influence. Steven Pinker, professor of evolutionary psychology at Harvard University, notes that “bad democracy can be worse than a humane dictatorship”, and it is difficult to argue with him. Nonetheless, even an imperfect democracy provides its citizens with a chance to instigate certain alterations within the system, a luxury absent in a dictatorship.