Authoritarian survival, resilience, and the selectorate theory

Mary Gallagher, Jonathan K. Hanson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter

22 Scopus citations


In this chapter, we delve into two of the key questions that Dimitrov (Chapter 1) argues are central to a theory of communist resilience. First, what is the basis of the rule of communist regimes, and how does it change over time? Second, why do some regimes collapse while others survive? As a framework for this analysis, we draw upon the selectorate theory as set forward in the Logic of Political Survival (LPS) by Bueno de Mesquita et al. and later amended by Bueno de Mesquita and Smith. This theory is presented as a parsimonious explanation for the survival of rulers, authoritarian and otherwise, based on key characteristics of a country’s institutions for selecting a ruler. As such, it is a useful point of reference for evaluating many of the arguments raised in this volume. If the theory’s predictions are accurate, a more narrow theory of communist resilience is unnecessary. We find, however, that the theory cannot explain the divergent outcomes of communist regimes. The crux of the matter is that the selectorate theory predicts that outcomes in communist countries should resemble the outcome in North Korea: highly repressive rule by a narrow elite, unaccountable to the mass of citizens and offering little improvement in general welfare. The theory is thus unable to provide an adequate explanation for authoritarian rulers who mix political repression and growth-generating public goods, producing resilient authoritarian regimes buttressed by robust economic performance. Two of the five surviving communist regimes, China and Vietnam, fit this description, and the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party appears intent upon pursuing a similar strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWhy Communism did not Collapse
Subtitle of host publicationUnderstanding Authoritarian Regime Resilience in Asia and Europe
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781139565028
ISBN (Print)9781107035539
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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