The concept of authoritarianism has been used mainly to refer to a type of authority whose power is exercised within diffuse legal, institutional, or de facto boundaries that easily leads to arbitrary acts against groups and individuals. Those who are in power are not accountable to constituencies and public policy does not derive from social consent.

Within sociology and political science, particularly within comparative politics, authoritarianism has been understood as a modern type of political regime. This notion has had an important conceptual development since the 1970s, which clarified some ambiguities within political analyses that tended to mix up this type of regime with fascism and other forms of totalitarianism. The concept of authoritarianism has included a range of regimes, from personal dictatorships such as Franco’s in Spain in the 1930s, hegemonic party regimes like the Mexican regime founded after the 1910 revolution, and the military governments of South America established during the 1960s and 1970s. The context in which this type of regime was founded was generally a protracted situation of instability such as a revolution (Mexico), a civil war (Spain), a democratic crisis (Chile), and deterioration of the economy and political polarization (Argentina). Most countries where an authoritarian regime was founded had neither a liberal democratic rule nor an opportunity to develop a state of law, and the construction of the nation was mediated not primarily by the concept of the citizen but rather by the notion of ”the people.”

Authoritarianisms are political systems with limited, not responsible, political pluralism; without elaborate ideology, but with distinctive mentalities; without extensive or intensive political mobilization, except at some points in their development; and in which a leader or occasionally a small group exercises power within formally ill-defined, but actually quite predictable, limits.



  1. Collier, D. (ed.) (1979) The New Authoritarianism in Latin America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  2. Linz, J. (1964) A theory of authoritarian regime: the case of Spain. In: Allardt, E. & Littunen, Y. (eds.) (1964) Cleavages, Ideologies, and Party Systems: Transactions of the Westermarck Society, Helsinki, vol. 10, pp. 291-341.


Esperanza Palma