Authoritarianism is a government structure which offers a strong, centralized power and limited political freedoms for the general population. Any rights that are given to the individual are subordinate to what the state’s demands happen to be at any given time. This structure also requires no legal or constitutional accountability for any actions taken, as the rule of law can shift according to the needs of the government.
The regimes which use an authoritarian government can be autocratic, or they can choose to spread out the power through multiple institutions and officials. According to Juan Linz, there are four specific qualities that must be present for there to be an authoritarian structure ruling over society.
- There must be limited political pluralism so that constraints are on groups and political institutions.
- Legitimacy for the government is based on emotion to ensure that the regime can counter enemies of the people, insurgency, and under-development.
- There is minimal social mobilization because of suppression and constraints placed on the general public.
- Executive powers are vast, vague, and shifting while remaining informally defined.
It is possible for leaders to have authoritarian traits without actually having this form of government. The wave of populism that began in 2016 worked to put a number of political figures in power around the world, including the Trump Administration, who display these traits in some format frequently.
These are the advantages and disadvantages of authoritarian government structures to consider.
List of the Advantages of Authoritarian Government
1. It has the capacity to produce consistent results nationwide.
Authoritarian leaders work hard to create solutions that benefit everyone in their working group because any success that happens is credited to them. There are no leadership voids that take place because this leader can move the government structures to where they need to be. The directions that are given by the person in charge can then be implemented to create measurable results over time.
An authoritarian government can thrive when it has the chance to provide task assignments, create certain deadlines, and provide control through consistent application across the country. Even if some the actions are fear-based or potentially unnecessary, leaders who are seen taking action will often be praised for their efforts.
2. It saves time during the decision-making process.
Authoritarian governments work from a centralized system where there is one person or a legislative group responsible for the decisions that get made. Because there are fewer steps involved in the process of creating laws or distributing resources, you will find faster movement and implementation of ideas available using this structure. These leaders do not need to consult with other people to make their decisions, which is exceptionally useful in moments when emergency situations arise.
By removing much of the bureaucracy, authoritarian governments seek to eliminate a lot of the waste that can occur in other governing systems.
3. It places the pressure of making a choice on the shoulders of the leader.
The world can be a very stressful place for a variety of reasons. When pressure begins to mount on the general population, then the authoritarian government can come to the rescue of society. This structure works to put people into the best possible positions where their strengths can become an asset to the government. If you want to hold a job and this is the government option in your country, then there is an excellent chance that you will have employment.
Unlike socialist or Communist structures that can mandate employment because of community needs, authoritarian governments allow you to see the risks involved with each task. They put people into positions where the most consistent results become possible. You are more likely to find specialized positions with this option compared to other governing styles.
4. It creates results which are more consistent.
Authoritarian leaders create specific instructions for the government and society to follow, and then creates a structure which ensures the processes are implemented correctly. This leadership style operates through a clearly defined chain-of-command that creates effective data movement that begins from the centralized structure of the government. Although the quality of the result depends on the experience of the leader, it is possible for this method to achieve results without personal knowledge of a specific task because the governing officials have the power to appoint someone into place.
5. It creates more clarity within the government hierarchy.
An authoritarian government creates a clear leadership structure where there is one specific person or group in charge of everything. It is not like the American government where there are three separate branches that create a series of checks-and-balances that are used to maintain consistency. It is the responsibility of the leader to create balance in society instead.
This structure reduces the opportunities that other politicians may have in taking over the government for their personal purposes. Advisors will often provide suggestions to the leader when there are decisions that must be made, but it will always be the leader(s) who have the final say in what happens with this system of government.
6. It works to reduce economic equality throughout society.
In an authoritarian government, the only households which tend to see their wealth grow from their employment or actions are those who hold high-level government positions. Many governments using this structure will work to restrict the net worth for most parties even when private ownership exists. That outcome occurs because the goal is to make sure that all parties receives similar access to everything they need in life. Instead of experiencing the growing inequality of the top 1% of income earners as you do in the United States today, you would see consistent levels of taxation and opportunity at all levels, progressing higher based on income.
7. It reduces the amount of duplication that occurs in the supply chain.
The authoritarian government strives to become as efficient as possible when distributing or producing goods and services for consumption. It creates an advantage in this situation because the government creates a centralized control over everything that is offered to consumers. Even if there is a free market system in place, this system of governing places pressure on industries and specific businesses to create the results that they want.
Reuters reported in March 2019 that President Donald Trump tweeted that he wanted the CEO of General Motors to do something to reopen the manufacturing facility in Lordstown, Ohio, that was idled due to changing business circumstances. “I am not happy that it is closed when everything else in our Country is BOOMING,” Trump said. By placing pressure on specific people, this government seek to reduce duplication without creating a completely centralized economy.
8. It stops the threat of a business obtaining a monopoly.
The goal of an authoritarian government is to create a public, centralized power. It is not unusual for this structure to work with a mixed economy to ensure that there are still private ownership opportunities. What you will see with this advantage is the imposition of pricing restrictions on specific commodities and services. Instead of declaring that specific goods and services be sold at a dictated price, this government structure allows subsidies to reduce the cost to consumers while providing an income resource for producers. Since taxpayers help to fund these programs, the costs are simply directed through different budget lines to create results.
9. It provides an increase in productivity.
Authoritarian governments can help to push manufacturing and agricultural activities to new levels thanks to this unique approach. It works to create a clear process for everyone to follow from the centralized mechanisms of the governing process. Leaders can provide specific rules that quickly filter to their subordinates, declaring how to complete specific tasks according to the internal best practices developed. Then the government requires through legislation that all parties follow these rules under the threat of fines or worse, which then boosts productivity until the fear of reprisal wears off.
List of the Disadvantages of Authoritarian Government
1. Authoritarian governments want to stay in power indefinitely.
The goal of an authoritarian government is the same as any other form of dictatorship that exists in the world today. It has the top priority of keeping the leadership in charge of governing while they work to build policies that reflect what they want to see for the overall economy. These actions are often done with good intentions, but the end result usually causes someone to be hurt by the changes made.
It is not unusual for the various changes made in each community to be politically motivated as well. Even if the benefits of change would only apply to a small minority of the population, authoritarians will invest resources to make such an effort if it will reinforce their position with their support base.
2. Authoritarian governments invite rebellion in society.
There is a reason why corporate managers who are seen as being authoritarian are routinely viewed by their staff as being controlling, bossy, and micromanagers. This dictatorial style creates rebellion when it comes from the government because there is little that the general population can do to stop the changes from happening. It is not unusual for the legislation passed by this centralized government structure to tell people how to live, what to think, and how to work.
An authoritarian government can then decide that any failures in the implementation of policy are the fault of the average person, holding everyone else responsible for the outcomes achieved. This form of governing is quick to take credit when things go great, but it is fast to shift the blame if something goes wrong.
3. Authoritarian governments often rule emotionally instead of logically.
There is a time and place for emotion in government, just as there is a need to be logical with decision-making skills as well. Humans are almost incapable of making any decision without the presence of emotion. The problem with an authoritarian government is that there are high levels of insecurity put on display by the leadership core. Any perceived insult brings the weight of the government down on individuals who may have nothing to do with the situation.
When the leadership of an authoritarian government starts making decisions based on their gut instinct instead of the facts which are around them, then it becomes easier to initiate unwanted conflicts with others. If those circumstances are allowed to fester, this disadvantage could eventually lead to war.
4. Authoritarian governments can impair societal morale.
The average person tends to work more productively and with higher quality when they understand that their contributions make a positive impact. An authoritarian government can be a beneficial resource to have if the efforts of the leadership communicate the importance of what a person does to earn a living. If the opposite occurs, then it can cause the rest of society to turn against that person.
President Trump frequently rails against the press being “enemies of the people.” He has sometimes qualified that remark as referring to media personalities who purposely spread what he calls “fake news.” The reality of these comments hits home for local news journalists who have items thrown at their vans, hateful words left on their social media page, and worse. It even applies to blog writers, marketing copywriters, and anyone else that someone sees as being a journalist or “elitist” in some fashion.
An authoritarian government does an excellent job at rallying their support base to keep their support levels high. This effort always comes at the cost of dividing society in some way.
5. Authoritarian governments often rule without feedback.
When there is a significant decision to be made in a community, most governments rely on a system of public feedback to determine if the choice is one worth making. You will see this on display with zoning changes, license issuing, and community planning projects all of the time. When there is an authoritarian government in place, then you will see this disadvantage occur frequently.
Authoritarians don’t like to receive feedback, nor do they want to offer it. At a March 11 public comment period in Seattle, Richard Schwartz went before the City Council, asking them to pay attention to what he had to say. He was limited to 2 minutes per council rules. After making the comment Councilwoman Debora Juarez interrupted him and said, “Sir, you’re on a two-minute timer here – so let’s go.” Because of this lack of feedback, it is very easy for those in the government to become disconnected from those who are not part of it.
6. Authoritarian governments create higher levels of societal churn.
When people feel like they are giving everything that they can to better their country, economy, and society, then they will continue to look for new challenges. They will use their drive to keep seeking out their next dream. Authoritarian governments can get in the way of this process by legislating limits on what people can do with their lives. When there is no way to push forward and the hierarchy of the government prevents an opportunity to build new hope, then the amount of churn that happens can be quite extensive.
Churn in the business world means that employees decide to quit their job to find employment somewhere else – even at a lower pay rate if necessary. When it applies to society, this issue causes people to eventually leave as well. They get tired of trying to fight for their homeland, so they decide to live somewhere new.
7. Authoritarian governments rely on the experience of their leadership.
The authoritarian government is highly dependent upon the knowledge and expertise of its leader or group to make things happen on a nationwide scale. This means the leader(s) are indispensable to the future that those in charge want to provide for the rest of society. If something should happen to that individual or group which changes their access levels in the government, then it will not function as efficiently as it would otherwise.
It is very easy for an authoritarian government to develop tunnel vision when a country begins to fall behind the standards that the rest of the world can achieve. If there is not enough experience in the hands of the leader to offset that issue, then society can see a steep decline in their way of life because they are listening to their leadership instead of the global data that is available for review.
8. Authoritarian governments try to create equality in inadequate ways.
For a society to be truly equal, each person must have the same opportunity to achieve success by having a starting point that is the same as every other individual. When an authoritarian government attempts to create more equality, it will typically favor the groups who support their presence before any other. If you find yourself in a minority demographic, then your rights might be sacrificed for the “good of the many.” Even though the purpose might have good intentions here at times, one cannot be defined as successful if they treat others as being inferior.
A Final Thought on Authoritarian Governments
Authoritarian governments on their own are not “good” or “bad” by design. Their structure works to help those in charge distribute resources, encourage growth, and provide access when needed to provide assistance to the many. The only problem with this approach is that it often comes at the expense of the minority groups in that society. It is much easier to create conflict by pitting the majority who feels ignored with those who receive “special” benefits as a way to stay in power compared to other dictatorial methods.
The problem that you will discover in these authoritarian government pros and cons is that even with all of the potential benefits which are possible, innovation struggles in this structure. Because everything flows from a central structure to the rest of society, it takes more effort to communicate expectations. There isn’t a guarantee that the best practices developed in one region will apply to others.
An authoritarian government assumes that all demographics are essentially the same, which is why it will eventually struggle to find success.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.