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The Institutional Turn in Comparative Authoritarianism

  • Thomas Pepinsky

The institutional turn in comparative authoritarianism has generated wide interest. This article reviews three prominent books on authoritarian institutions and their central theoretical propositions about the origins, functions and effects of dominant party institutions on authoritarian rule. Two critical perspectives on political institutions, one based on rationalist theories of institutional design and the other based on a social conflict theory of political economy, suggest that authoritarian institutions are epiphenomenal on more fundamental political, social and/or economic relations. Such approaches have been largely ignored in this recent literature, but each calls into question the theoretical and empirical claims that form the basis of institutionalist approaches to authoritarian rule. A central implication of this article is that authoritarian institutions cannot be studied separately from the concrete problems of redistribution and policy making that motivate regime behavior.

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Department of Government, Cornell University (email An earlier version was presented at the conference How Autocracies Work: Beyond the Electoral Paradigm, University of Michigan. Thanks to Val Bunce, Bill Case, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Allen Hicken, Kevin Morrison, Dick Robison and Garry Rodan for helpful comments and discussion. All errors are my own.

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British Journal of Political Science
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