Totalitarianism and Authoritarianism

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Political Science



Publication Title

21st Century Political Science: A Reference Handbook


In the 20th century, some of the darker consequences of the industrial and political revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries appeared: industrialized slaughter and mass terror organized by powerful states against their own societies. Events such as the Holocaust, Stalin's terror, and China's Cultural Revolution challenged political scientists to explain how and why states could govern in such ways. Although the century ended with a wave of democratization in many parts of the world, different types of nondemocratic regimes that had been pervasive outside western Europe and North America persisted in smaller but still very significant numbers. In the 21st century, political science must continue to analyze nondemocratic regimes and to ask questions that have challenged the discipline for decades (at the very least since the rise of fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism in the period between the two World Wars):

  • How can we most usefully categorize and distinguish the types of nondemocratic regimes?
  • How do such regimes arise?
  • How do they maintain their grip on power?
  • Under what circumstances can they fall?

This chapter explains some of the challenges to adequately defining and describing different kinds of nondemocratic regimes and introduces theoretical perspectives and approaches to their study. It then explores some more specific empirical questions on the rise, performance, and demise of such regimes in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Last, it offers some suggestions for fruitful directions for further research.


For more information on the published version, visit SAGE's Website.

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