№ 1, 2021
The concept of competitive authoritarianism by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way has become one of the compelling responses to the decline of the transition paradigm that used to hold optimistic expectations about democratization of political regimes that combined elements of democracy and authoritarianism. According to Levitsky and Way’s logic, the presence of an authoritarian component does not allow one to characterize such mixed regimes as democratic, and in this sense, competitive authoritarianism is still authoritarianism. At the same time, it differs from other forms of authoritarian regimes due to the non-illusory ability of the opposition to compete for the executive power.
The concept of competitive authoritarianism has been widely used in the study of political regimes, but the resulting important need for a deeper understanding of its assumptions has given rise to a number of critical evaluations among the researchers. The main criticism of the opponents regards the operationalization of the concept of “competitive authoritarianism”, the historical limitations of its usage, as well as Levitsky and Way’s idea that competitive authoritarian regimes are predetermined to democratize if they maintain broad and close ties with the West that are regarded as some kind of frozen objective reality. The article attempts to bring together the critical arguments that have been expressed in the research literature against the concept of competitive authoritarianism, and thereby contribute to a more balanced reception of this concept in the domestic scientific discourse. According to the author’s conclusion, the main flaws of the concept are related to the interpretation of the reasons for the vulnerability/stability of competitive authoritarian regimes. The focus on the role of the West and the regime’s ability to control the political process ignores a number of other significant factors, including the ability of the opposition to counter the current government with some real alternative, which is especially important in the Russian context, where the absence of such an alternative is one of the key reasons for the exceptional stability of the authoritarian regime.
Main Page ~ Authors ~ Yu. S.Medvedev