State Power and Staying Power: Infrastructural Mechanisms and Authoritarian Durability

Dan Slater
Sofia Fenner
December 01, 2011

The contemporary literature on authoritarian durability focuses more on democratic-looking institutions such as parties, elections and parliaments than the institution in which authoritarian regimes are most importantly embedded: the state itself. This article argues that state power is the most powerful weapon in the authoritarian arsenal. After clarifying the regime-state distinction and explaining why regime durability involves more than just duration, we discuss four “infrastructural mechanisms” through which authoritarian regimes stabilize and sustain their rule: (1) coercing rivals, (2) extracting revenues, (3) registering citizens and (4) cultivating dependence. Since state apparatuses are the institutions best geared for performing these tasks, their effectiveness underpins authoritarian durability in a way that no other institution can duplicate. And since state power is shaped by long-term historical forces, future studies should adopt the kind of historical perspective more often seen in leading studies of postcolonial economic development than of authoritarian durability.