The Symbiosis of Autocrats and Institutions: A Comprehensive Study


Gandhi & Przeworski (2007) examines the reason behind the survival of autocratic institutions. The authors point that autocratic rulers often relies on political institutions to solicit the cooperation of outsiders and to deter internal rebellion. It is therefore uncommon to find partisan legislatures in autocratic governments, giving autocrats a chance of survival. These partisan political institutions are equally benefiting from the ripple effects of autocratic governments they support. The authors argue that by broadening the basis of support for autocrats, the political institutions lengthen their tenures. The authors systematically analyses authoritarian rulers during the 1946-1996 periods and find compelling evidence to suggest that the political institutions supporting these rulers are the main reason for the survival of autocrats. Schmidt (2015), on the other hand, examines the measures of democracy and autocracy. According to Schmidt (2015), it is not a simple undertaking to come up with a precise measure of democracy and autocracy. The author states that several attempts have been made to come up with measures of democracy and autocracy, but none is perfect. The author maintains that in as much as democracy has improved in most parts of the world, however, there is still marked autocracy in Asia and parts of Africa.

Wigell (2008) attempts to map hybrid regimes. According to the author, in the wake of the third global wave of democratization, wide ranges of new political regimes have emerged. In spite of the steps towards democratic politics, it is clear that many of these political regimes in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the former communist world profoundly differ from each other and from the established western democracies. The difference is the fact that these nations combine democratic principles and autocratic principles. Wigell (2008) therefore sets out to tackle the conceptual challenges involved with the mapping of political regimes and explains why it is not possible to express these regimes as either democracies or autocracies. Lijphary (2012) states that there are many ways through which democracy can be organized and run. The author argues that modern democracies exhibit a variety of formal governmental institutions, like legislature and judiciary, but clear pattern and regularities appear when these institutions are examined. 

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Analysis of “Authoritarian Institutions and the Survival of Autocrats”

Gandhi & Przeworski (2007) provides good insight into why autocratic governments and institutions survive. The author directly points to the fact that autocratic governments and authoritarian institutions are in a symbiotic relationship and often need each other for their survival. However, one question that the author fails to address is the genesis of autocratic governments and institutions. In most instances, former democratic countries have slipped to hybrid states or full autocratic states. Answering the manner and the means of transition from democracy to autocracy could also be an important step in understanding why autocratic governments survive. In most parts of Africa and Latin America, autocracy develops as a result of an attempt to overthrow the existing government. Therefore, this is an important research area that should be dug into to understand why rules who were formerly democratic increasingly and systematically rule with heavy hands upon suspecting the plans to overthrow their governments. Psychologically, democratic rules can turn to autocrats due to paranoia that either the opposition or the military faction is interested in usurping them, thus these leaders will resolve to use political institutions in non-democratic ways as a way of strengthening their hold on power. This therefore marks the vicious chain of autocracy and the creation of authoritarian institutions.

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  1. Arend Lijphart. (2012). Patterns of Democracy. Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries.
  2. Jennifer Gandhi & Adam Przeworski. (2007). Authoritarian Institutions and the Survival of Autocrats.
  3. Manfred G. Schmidt. (2015). Measuring democracy and autocracy.
  4. Mikael Wigell. (2008). Mapping ‘Hybrid Regimes’: Regime Types and Concepts in Comparative Politics. 
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