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How Is Democracy Distinguished from Authoritarianism?

The growth of populist movements and leaders has created unexpected threats to human rights and freedom that pose severe difficulties for democracies around the world. We must comprehend the roots of the rise in authoritarian leadership if we are to effectively protect democracy. We must first comprehend what an authoritarian government is and how it differs from a democratic one.

In this exhibit, we explore the distinctive features of democracy and authoritarianism that demonstrate how these two forms of government differ, particularly in terms of the impacts these systems have on the people who live in the country and the obligations each system places on its people.

What Is Democracy

The term Democracy is derived from the Greek words “demos,” which means people, and “kratos,” which means power.  A democratic state is where the people have the majority of the power. Fundamental personal liberties including the right to free speech and religion are respected in democracies. Democracies do not strictly regulate publications or the free expression of thoughts in public, but no government permits perfect freedom. In democracies, citizens typically accept judgments rendered by the majority of electors in a fair election. Democracies provide avenues for minorities of all kinds to make their voices heard to combat the “tyranny of the majority” and prevent it from taking hold.

Types of Democracy

There are two types of democracy; Direct and Representative Democracy. A further explanation of both is given below. 

1) Direct Democracy

In a direct democracy, the people are in charge of every decision. They must have elected representatives whose duty is to “represent” their interests because they are accountable for creating the laws regulating society. As male citizens could participate in the decision-making process as a part of an assembly, an example of a direct democracy is ancient Athens. Although no nations are real direct democracies, direct democracy does exist on a lesser scale. Brexit (England’s vote to leave the EU) was a prime example of contemporary direct democracy. More instances can be found in American state referendums, like those that legalize marijuana. 

2) Representative Democracy

Today, practically all democracies are representative democracies. Since the citizens do not enact laws or exercise self-government, these are indirect democracies. Instead, they choose individuals to represent their interests and pass laws. The most prevalent varieties of these democracies are constitutional republics, like the United States, which have presidents and a legislative body, or those with parliaments typically presided over by prime ministers, like those in the United Kingdom and Canada. Others, like India, combine the two and are hybrids that elect presidents and prime ministers.

What Is Authoritarianism

Democracy is the opposite of authoritarianism. In an authoritarian system, the dictator, who holds full power, is the only person in charge. Elections may be held, and authoritarian regimes may interact with their people, but the people have no say in how they are governed. Their leaders refuse to provide their followers with free will. They make decisions regarding what the populace can and cannot have. Therefore, citizens are subjects who must submit, not participants in making decisions about the government. Kings, Generals, other Emperors, a few members of the aristocracy, autocrats, and even presidents or prime ministers, rule over authoritarian regimes.

Characteristics of Authoritarianism

Authoritarian regimes do not respect minority rights, adhere to majority rule, or permit freedoms of speech, the press, or religion. Their leaders frequently originate from one small group, such as senior military officers or a select number of aristocratic families.  The following are the characteristics of the authoritarian regime; 

1) Single Authority, No Separation of Power

There are numerous distinct variations, but the primary characteristic of authoritarian government is that political power revolves around a small group of elites or even a single dictator. In authoritarian systems, there are no checks and balances and the center of authority is unchallenged. There is no separation of powers like there is in the US, where there are three branches of government.

2) Freedom of Speech Is Restricted

In an authoritarian regime, religious freedom and the freedom of speech are restricted. In authoritarian regimes, elections may take place, but because there is little to no press freedom and opposition political parties are typically suppressed, these elections are usually rigged to ensure that the ruler is reelected with a landslide. 

3) Rules Are Enforced on the People

The authoritarian regime establishes the regulations, upholds them, and penalizes those who violate them. By attempting to crush any organized political opposition, they maintain their position of authority. Press freedom is severely restricted, and the only media outlets deemed useful to the administration are propaganda networks. Rival political parties are either outlawed or severely restricted.

Also Read About, Autocratic Leadership: Advantages and Disadvantages

Difference Between Democracy and Authoritarianism

Past or present, no two governments are exactly alike. However, it is feasible to classify various kinds of government and analyze the parallels and differences between political systems. Analyzing the influence of people is an easy technique for classifying governments. The following are the differences between democracy and authoritarianism:

1) Governance

Governance is one of the most fundamental but essential contrasts between the two political systems. Democracy is designed to protect citizens’ rights and powers, enabling them to make laws and elect their representatives in free, transparent, and representative elections.

On the other hand, authoritarianism is a type of government that retains power and enacts laws without the approval of the citizens it governs. Elections, freedom, control, and other such concepts are meaningless in a country under authoritarian rule.

2) Civic Participation

The degree of civic participation that is required and permitted distinguishes democracies from authoritarian nations. Democracies encourage active public participation in politics, and in addition, thrive on it. Democracies promote citizen participation by educating them about public concerns and allowing them to openly voice their opinions on these matters, as well as the choices made by their elected officials. By actively participating in civil society and non-governmental groups, citizens are also given the ability to influence these decisions.

Authoritarian states disapprove of various forms of engagement, as well as participation in general. Dictators use state violence to suppress such resistance because they view public disagreement as a danger to their unchallenged rule in power. In the meantime, decision-making is restricted to the dictator’s preferences as well, allowing them to pass laws and decrees that serve their interests without the necessary checks and balances neither laws to constrain them nor the plurality to take into account to restrain them.

3) Selection of Leaders

The procedure for selecting leaders is one of the most fundamental aspects of a democracy that distinguishes it from authoritarianism. Because democracy is designed to preserve the power of individuals, leaders are selected to accurately represent their interests. Elections that are fair and honest allow voters to collectively express their preferences for leaders through the ballot.

Such procedures are made useless or obsolete in an authoritarian state. The idea of an election runs opposed to the goal of dictators to maintain their hold on power. As a result, authoritarian nations frequently abolish elections completely, robbing citizens of their right to choose. In more detrimental instances, tyrants participate in elections, but dishonestly. The staged elections merely serve to justify the dictator’s ongoing control by rigging the system.

4) Fundamental Liberties

A democratic administration differs from an authoritarian one in that it upholds fundamental liberties. Cultural, religious, racial, and other minority groups have equal access to the democratic system to express their interests. To the best of its ability, the government upholds and defends the fundamental rights and liberties of its people. 

The opposite of freedom of thought and behavior is authoritarianism, which grants authority total control. The ruler disregards or even infringes upon the fundamental liberties and rights of its people; they are not treated with respect. Religious freedom and other civil liberties are not recognized in authoritarian regimes.

Can A Democracy be Authoritarian?

Democratic authoritarian regimes are present around the globe. These systems of government are referred to as “liberal democracy” and “competitive authoritarianism.” In essence, these regimes’ top officials won elections before using less than democratic methods to expand their control.  In these “pseudo-democracies,” voters are permitted, but after the dominant party takes office, elections are not fairly held. To prevent protest, they restrict the civil liberties of the citizens over whom they rule. If a constitution is in effect, the illiberal democracy will disregard it or create legislation that undermines it. A free press is frequently prohibited in illiberal democracies. 

In this democratic authoritarian regime, judicial systems are not entirely independent. They lack public colleges where students can select their courses without interference from the government. These nations are not distinguished as being free or not. Although they may be moving toward totalitarian control, the ruling class is frequently not sufficiently established to prevent a return to democracy in the future.

Turkey, Poland, Russia, Venezuela, and Hungary are examples of these “authoritarian democracies”. These illiberal democracies’ rulers frequently defend themselves with the armor of populism They run as populists, win the election, and then use system manipulation to make it nearly impossible for any challengers to their authority.

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Why Is Authoritarianism on the Rise?

People experience a sense of insecurity, menace, and fear during times of destabilization and crisis, such as those brought on by the 2008 global economic collapse or the Covid issue. Large segments of the population are frequently threatened by violence, variety, or the immigration of foreigners, and they are drawn to leaders who pledge to protect them from these dangers. Election results frequently favor candidates who pledge to tighten border controls and keep out those with alternative perspectives. They make promises to return the nation to former times, when life was easier and better, and people were not concerned about outsiders crossing their boundaries. There are instances of this pattern in nations ranging from the United States to all of Europe.

Additionally, the pandemic has accelerated the transition to authoritarianism in many nations. A few political figures have justified their crackdowns on the rights to free speech, the press, and peaceful dissent by blaming the pandemic. They assert that they are taking these actions to safeguard the populace from a medical emergency, but what they want is to stifle political dissent and strengthen their grip on power.

Poland is a good example of a government attempting to abuse its authority and repress liberties during the pandemic. The TVN news network has been the news network that has been the target of criticism of the ruling conservative Law and Justice party, hence the country’s parliament approved a media bill to harm that network. The law was ultimately vetoed by Polish President Andrzej Duda, but only after multiple sizable protests broke out across the nation because it was perceived as an attempt to restrict journalistic freedom.

Learn Democracy and Authoritarianism With the Best Diplomats

What kind of society do you want to live in? is the only thing that matters when comparing democracy with authoritarianism. The architecture of a society affects how power is acquired and used, which in turn affects how inhabitants can live in freedom, dignity, and harmony. Best Diplomats provides an excellent platform to learn about the types of government so one can acquire the required knowledge while stepping into politics and public policy. They are organizing multiple conferences in different countries for the emerging youth to participate and polish their skills. you can also be a part of this. 

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Learn Democracy and Authoritarianism With the Best Diplomats


Concludingly, democracy is designed to maintain the authority and rights of citizens, allowing them to decide on legislation and elect their representatives. As the foundation for individual liberties and rights, the rule of law is one of the most essential characteristics of democracy. Voting, demonstrating, lobbying, and other formal rights of the citizenry can be used to affect political decision-making. Authoritarianism, on the other hand, is incompatible with concepts like liberty, rights, freedom, free will, and equality. A single person or a small group of oligarchs who control the government and have unrestricted authority over the people they rule are said to practice authoritarianism.


Can an authoritarian regime exist within a democracy?

The rule of a party or the military may be the foundation of an autocratic or oligarchic regime. Sometimes described as “hybrid regimes,” “hybrid democracies,” or “competitive authoritarian states,” these nations cross the line between democracy and authoritarianism.

What are the major hurdles to democracy?

An unreliable voting process is a major problem in a democracy.  Antisocial elements are a major factor in elections. Voting for a certain person or political party is often forced or bribed. Rigging is a widespread practice during elections. Misuse of authority and other issues that threaten democracy include inequality, bias, and the abuse of power.

What distinguishes democratic from authoritarian forms of government?

All decisions are made by autocratic leaders. They do not consult with or delegate decision-making to their staff. They impose the choice after it has been made and demand compliance. Democratic leaders actively participate in decision-making, but they also consult others.

What other names are used to describe an authoritarian regime?

An individual who practices authoritarian leadership, often referred to as autocratic leadership, has complete decision-making authority and complete authority over his subordinates.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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