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Variants of autocracy and its strategies of legitimation

Research field:Extremism Research
Research field:Vergleichende Autokratieforschung (Project completed)
Coordination:PD Dr. habil. Steffen Kailitz


The project investigates the strategies of legitimation of autocracies in a systematic way from very different perspectives. This approach promises a significant gain in knowledge as to the functioning of autocracies. Sought are answers to the following closely interlinked questions:

  1. What legitimation strategies do autocracies pursue?
  2. What is the relationship between legitimacy on the one hand and repression and co-optation on the other — the two other key instruments autocrats employ to stabilise their power?
  3. What is the relationship between the legitimation patterns of autocracies and their durability?
  4. What is the relationship between the legitimation patterns of autocracies and their political performance in the field of social policy, for example?

Kailitz’s study employs the classification of political regimes according to form of legitimation of power he had developed in the preceding project on ‘Autocracies and their Durability’, a classification system that has since established itself on both national and international levels. In this system he distinguishes between liberal democracies and six variants of autocracy: monarchy, ideocracy, military autocracy, personalistic autocracy, single-party autocracy and electoral autocracy. Last but not least, the project is updating the data set for regime classification to the period between 1946 and 2017. The old version will continue to be available on request from the project administrator, and will be superseded by the new data set once it is published. Request must provide a concise description of the form of the intended use.

The project has included the publication in 2017, with Stefan Wurster, of the special issue of the Zeitschrift für VergleichendePolitikwissenschaft entitled ‘Legitimation Strategies of Autocracies’. This special issue contains a review by Kailitz and Wurster of legitimation strategies in autocracies, final conclusions and an analysis of the relationship between social development and autocratic legitimation strategies (by Kailitz together with Dag Tannenberg and Stefan Wurster). In 2017 the International Political Science Review featured an article co-authored by Daniel Stockemer: ‘Regime Legitimation, Elite Cohesion and the Durability of Autocratic Regime Types’. Kailitz is currently working together with Daniel Stockemer (University of Ottawa) on the complex relationship between the legitimation of political regimes, their degrees of modernisation and their durability. Methodologically, the project makes particular use of statistical correlation analyses, in addition to comparative qualitative observations.