In This Review

Dictators and Their Secret Police: Coercive Institutions and State Violence
Dictators and Their Secret Police: Coercive Institutions and State Violence
By Sheena Chestnut Greitens
240 pp, Cambridge University Press, 2016
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The “third wave” of democratization in the 1980s and 1990s was followed by what some have called “the authoritarian resurgence,” leading scholars to renew their attention to the workings of repressive regimes. But few have studied one of the most important institutions in any authoritarian system: the political police. Greitens’ original and well-researched analysis uses case studies—Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos, and South Korea under Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan—to explore the different ways that dictators organize this coercive apparatus. She finds that they tend to fragment it into multiple competing organizations when they want to guard against coups, but they integrate and streamline it when they are worried about popular resistance. She also finds that better-organized and more penetrative coercive systems tend to use less violence than fragmented ones, since they do a better job of spying on citizens and deterring dissent.