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Constraining Dictatorship
From Personalized Rule to Institutionalized Regimes

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Part of Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions

  • Date Published: August 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108792479

$ 39.99 (P)

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About the Authors
  • How do some dictatorships become institutionalized ruled-based systems, while others remain heavily personalist? Once implemented, do executive constraints actually play an effective role in promoting autocratic stability? To understand patterns of regime institutionalization, this book studies the emergence of constitutional term limits and succession procedures, as well as elite power-sharing within presidential cabinets. Anne Meng argues that institutions credibly constrain leaders only when they change the underlying distribution of power between leaders and elites by providing elites with access to the state. She also shows that initially weak leaders who institutionalize are less likely to face coup attempts and are able to remain in office for longer periods than weak leaders who do not. Drawing on an original time-series dataset of 46 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa from 1960 to 2010, formal theory, and case studies, this book ultimately illustrates how some dictatorships evolve from personalist strongman rule to institutionalized regimes.

    • Introduces an original dataset that offers readers new measures of regime institutionalization
    • Offers a clear, thorough application of case studies to the theoretical scholarship on authoritarian regimes
    • Adopts a mixed-methods approach that presents technical material in accessible language
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    • Winner, 2021 William H. Riker Book Award, American Political Science Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Why are some autocracies run by individuals while others appear to be governed by rules and institutions? Why do so few dictatorships succeed in constraining their leaders? What are the foundations of authoritarian stability? To answer these central questions, Anne Meng argues, we need to move beyond the study of the nominal features of authoritarian institutions and focus instead on those that regulate whether and how power is allocated and transferred, especially executive constraints, term limits, and succession rules. Put simply, when institutions constrain leaders, it is not because of their de jure features, but because they shape and shift de facto political power. Anyone interested in authoritarian politics, regime change, and African politics needs to read this book.' Milan Svolik, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Political Science, Yale University

    'What is the role of institutions under authoritarianism? Why do some leaders create strong institutions that can actually constrain their power? In Constraining Dictatorship, Anne Meng addresses these questions through a renewed focus on the executive - power-sharing within cabinets and constitutionalized succession procedures - to investigate how institutions shape the distribution of power within regimes. With a rigorous theory and multiple forms of evidence, she links the causes and consequences of this form of institutionalization, advancing our understanding of the factors that perpetuate authoritarian rule.' Jennifer Gandhi, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Emory University

    'The era of the 'big man' in African politics is over: institutionalized autocracy has largely replaced personalist dictatorship on the continent. Anne Meng’s wonderful contribution explains why, and to what effect. But it does more than just that. Constraining Dictatorship refocuses the literature on authoritarian politics, moving beyond parties and legislatures to the nitty gritty of executive constraints. Anyone interested in autocracy should read this book.' Scott Gehlbach, Professor, Department of Political Science and Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago

    'Meng brilliantly answers a core and enduring question of regime survival in political science and policy alike: why and how do authoritarians institutionalize? Going beyond the mere presence of institutions, Meng shows when they are actually constraining, and to what end. An expert analysis of power, rules, and resources.' Rachel Beatty Riedl, Director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and John S. Knight Professor of International Studies, Cornell University

    ‘Bravo! Meng offers a new theory of credible commitment under dictatorship that does not involve tired handtying or signaling arguments ...’ Victor Menaldo, Comparative Politics

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108792479
    • length: 264 pages
    • dimensions: 150 x 230 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.42kg
    • contains: 32 b/w illus. 34 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Why do leaders institutionalize?
    3. Two illustrative cases
    4. How should institutionalization be measured?
    5. What are the causes of regime institutionalization?
    6. What are the consequences of institutionalization on autocratic durability?
    7. What are the consequences of institutionalization on leadership succession?
    8. Conclusion

  • Author

    Anne Meng, University of Virginia
    Anne Meng is Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics, University of Virginia. Her research centers on authoritarian politics and institutions. Professor Meng's work has been published in the British Journal of Political Science, The Journal of Theoretical Politics, Columbia Law Review, and Studies in Comparative International Development, and has won the 'Best Paper Award' from the Democracy and Autocracy section at APSA.


    Anne Meng,


    • Winner, 2021 William H. Riker Book Award, American Political Science Association

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