The new dictators: why personalism rules


The propensity of personalist dictatorships to dismantle institutions and sideline competent individuals out of fear of threats to their power bodes poorly for democracy, according to analysts Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Erica Frantz, and Joseph Wright. Instead of transitioning to democracy, the collapse of personalist regimes tends to give way to new dictatorships (as in the Democratic Republic of Congo post-Mobutu) or failed states (as in Somalia since Siad Barre), they write for Foreign Affairs:

Data show that personalism is on the rise worldwide. And although the trend has been widespread, it has been most pronounced in authoritarian settings. Data show that personalist dictatorships—or those regimes where power is highly concentrated in the hands of a single individual—have increased notably since the end of the Cold War. In 1988, personalist regimes comprised 23 percent of all dictatorships. Today, 40 percent of all autocracies are ruled by strongmen.

Rising global turmoil and insecurity—political forecasts suggest that the world is likely to become increasingly turbulent over the next 10 to 20 years, given increasing levels of violence, economic disparity, and polarization—indicate that the trend toward personalism is likely to persist, they contend:

Instability could elicit a widespread backlash against the core democratic values of freedom of expression and individual empowerment if a greater share of citizens worldwide comes to see strong leaders as a better option than volatility and chaos. In fact, research suggests that as individual fears of societal change and external threats grow, so too does the preference for strong, decisive leaders who are willing to use force to maintain order.


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