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Authoritarianism is a characterized by an emphasis on hierarchy[1] and the rejection of liberty, equality, and political plurality. The use of a strong central authority, reductions in the rule of law, separation of powers, and democratic voting[2] are required to preserve this political status. Political scientists have created many typologies describing variations of authoritarian forms of government.[2] Authoritarian regimes may be either autocratic or oligarchic in nature and may be based upon the rule of a party or the military.[3][4]

Rudolph Rummel in his 1976 book Understanding Conflict and War, Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix distinguished totalitarianism from authoritarianism as distinct rejections of Liberalism. While the term totalitarianism had a slightly different meaning prior to Rummel's work prior political philosophers such as Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer traced the roots of this ideology back to Jean Jacques Rousseau. The thread of totalitarian thought follows consistently from Rousseau, to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, to Karl Marx, to Antonio Gramsci ending in the common form of totalitarianism seen in the world today largely developed by Herbert Marcuse. This is contrasted with authoritarianism which is a distinct tradition and hierarchy focussed ideology. A common oversimplification of this is that authoritarianism is the rejection of liberalism from the political right while totalitarianism is rejection of liberalism from the political left. This is encapsulated in the Three Telos Model.


  1. Kemmelmeier, Markus; Burnstein, Eugene; Krumov, Krum; Genkova, Petia; Kanagawa, Chie; Hirshberg, Matthew S.; Erb, Hans-Peter; Wieczorkowska, Grazyna; Noels, Kimberly A. (2003). "Individualism, Collectivism, and Authoritarianism in Seven Societies". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. SAGE Publications. 34 (3): 304–322. doi:10.1177/0022022103034003005. ISSN 0022-0221.
  2. a b Furio Cerutti (2017). Conceptualizing Politics: An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Routledge. p. 17. Political scientists have outlined elaborated typologies of authoritarianism, from which it is not easy to draw a generally accepted definition; it seems that its main features are the non-acceptance of conflict and plurality as normal elements of politics, the will to preserve the status quo and prevent change by keeping all political dynamics under close control by a strong central power, and lastly, the erosion of the rule of law, the division of powers, and democratic voting procedures.
  3. Natasha M. Ezrow & Erica Frantz (2011). Dictators and Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders. Continuum. p. 17.
  4. Lai, Brian; Slater, Dan (2006). "Institutions of the Offensive: Domestic Sources of Dispute Initiation in Authoritarian Regimes, 1950-1992". American Journal of Political Science. 50 (1): 113–126. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00173.x. JSTOR 3694260.