Authoritarian Theories

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Authoritarian Theories


antidemocratic currents of political thought based on the belief in the validity of authoritarian, totalitarian regimes in which the dictates of one person or of an elite within the state are omnipotent, state power is totally unchecked, the individual and the people are without political rights, and the democratic procedure of free choice is absent. The term is connected with the concept of authoritarianism, which entered general usage in the 20th century and which is used to designate political theories and practices inimical to democracy.

All authoritarian theories are characterized by the antidemocratic treatment of such elements and institutions of political life as the form of government, the political regime, the mutual relations of the government and its subjects, and individual rights and freedoms. The glorification of the supreme ruler and the ruling elite and references to the natural supremacy of the “betters” and the “strong,” on the one hand, and to the inability of the masses to decide public and state affairs and to use freedom wisely are also characteristic of authoritarian theories.

Authoritarian theories can be traced throughout the history of political thought in class society. Examples from the ancient world include Heraclitus’ thesis on the necessity of the “betters” ruling over the masses and the arguments of Thrasymachus and Callicles for the right of the “strongest” over the weak. In modern times the theories justifying absolutism have an authoritarian character. For example, the English philosopher Hobbes (1588–1679), using the alternative of universal anarchy as a threat, argued for the unlimited power of the state in relation to its subjects. The state power of monarchs, according to Hobbes, is monolithic, uncontrolled, and stands above the law while subjects are slaves serving the state. In German political philosophy of the 18th and 19th centuries authoritarian ideas were widely used as an apology for the Prussian state system and the cult of power.

The policies of monopolistic capitalism, the strengthening of political reaction that is characteristic of the period of imperialism and especially of the general crisis of capitalism, and the narrowing of the social base of political power of the bourgeoisie led to the revival of authoritarian theories and culminated in the ideology and practice of fascism. The latest bourgeois theories of the rule of the “strong man” are tinged with authoritarianism.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.