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Authoritarian governments

Authoritarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know. Erica Frantz, Oxford University Press, 2018. 200 pages.

My expectations for this book probably were a bit off. What I wanted was a kind of theoretical understanding of authoritarianism, or a kind of model from which predictions could be made. This book, though, is more a statistical study of authoritarian governments.

The format of the book is clear enough. The book first sets up a number of categories, such as the types of authoritarian governments. Some examples in this category are: a single strongman leader, a dominant party, or military. The book then poses a series of questions, then answers the questions with statistical frequencies.

For example: How do authoritarian leaders leave power? Answer:

“From 1950 to 2012, there were 473 authoritarian leaders who left power. Regime insiders were responsible for the majority (65 percent) of these exists, with coups and ‘regular’ removals from office each accounting for about a third of all leader exits. Twenty percent of authoritarian leaders died in office, and only 10 percent were kicked out at the hands of the masses.”

So then, after you’ve read many dozens of questions and answers, you become acquainted with the history of authoritarianism. Other than that, I can’t say that I learned anything very profound from this book.

The big question right now, of course, is where the United States stands with Donald Trump. There is nothing about Trump in this book, and there is almost nothing about the United States. The cutoff for the research in the book was 2015 or so, I believe. However, the author, Erica Franz, has written some articles about Trump, and she has been interviewed about Trump. You can find this by Googling for her name plus Trump.

But yes. It would seem clear enough to me that Trump is on a clear course for the “authoritarianization” of American democracy using common authoritarian tactics — seizing additional power wherever and however he can, co-opting institutions to serve his own ends, defying norms, flouting the law, installing unqualified loyalists while demonizing expertise, attacking the media while pushing propaganda, using multiple methods of corrupting elections to prevent a fair vote, lining his own pockets while directing spoils to insiders, and so on.

We should know before long what Trump’s fate is going to be. Personally I think he is doomed, though the next three or four months probably are not going to be easy. Americans — at least those Americans who are on the side of law and democracy — have learned something very important from the past four years, though. That’s that it can happen here, which begs the question: What are we going to do to make sure that it never happens again?


  1. Dan wrote:

    Trump has certainly been the single person responsible for lighting the candle and fanning the flames of right-wing reactionary populism that has nearly proven our feeble Constitution is ill-equipped to handle this type of government. I think, though, that this coming election will surprise everyone. I’m hopeful, and I believe, that Biden will win, and it perhaps won’t be close. And any attempt by Trump to hold-out and remain in power is merely a fear held by liberals, for Trump is a coward and would immediately stand down if threatened with arrest. He is not a true authoritarian. He doesn’t have the support of his whole party or the whole military in order to decline to concede if he loses. He is not a politician. He’s barely a businessman. His ascension into power is a true anomaly.

    On the other hand, his more fervent, rabid, irrational supporters – the Qanon whackjobs, the Proud Boys, and other alt-right terror groups – will very likely instigate and follow through with acts of domestic terrorism, violence, arson, and even murder because they fail to realize that a political system that allows for the Donald Trumps of the world to maintain power is not sustainable in the long-term to allow the real powers-that-be – old money industrialists and capitalist bankers – to maintain their wealth extraction on the backs of the working class. The two political parties are both parties of capital whether they’re seen as right-wing, left-wing, or closer to the center than we’re willing to accept. A civil war of sorts won’t happen because we have such resource abundance, there is nothing to gain by either side for any such war. There will be pockets of violence, protests, and riots no matter the outcome of the election, but I think the rule of law will maintain its hold to ensure the protection of our material economy.

    Saturday, October 3, 2020 at 9:55 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Dan: Your views are very similar to mine.

    Sunday, October 4, 2020 at 12:14 am | Permalink
  3. Dan wrote:

    It’s a shame that the one person who could truly establish a third party happens to be the Republican in office right now.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

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