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Capsule Review

Authoritarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

In This Review

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

After decades of retreat, authoritarianism is on the rise. This poses a political challenge to liberal democracies. But it also poses an intellectual challenge to scholars. In this short study, Frantz provides an illuminating guide to today’s authoritarian wave. Authoritarianism, she shows, is a moving target. It can take the form of strongman rulers, as in sub-Saharan Africa; autocratic regimes led by a party or the military, as in Latin America; or hereditary dictators, as in North Korea. Frantz is at her most insightful in her description of the ways in which authoritarian regimes have taken on “pseudo-democratic” characteristics in order to survive. Today, over 80 percent of dictatorships hold elections, for example. How authoritarianism arrives has changed, too. Military or elite coups are out of fashion, replaced by more gradual usurpations of power carried out through rigged elections and biased political rules. Turkey and the Philippines fit this model, with elected populists slowly dismantling the institutions of democracy. Authoritarians have new tools: the co-optation of institutions, the use of patronage networks, and the control of information. It is harder to fight back against this subtle democratic subversion, because a single moment of truth never occurs.

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