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Constraining Dictatorship: From Personalized Rule to Institutionalized Regimes, Anne Meng

Reviewed by Kurt Weyland

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Given the persistence of authoritarianism and its recent advance across the world, scholars have increasingly examined the substantial variation among these autocratic regimes. By further developing the institutionalist approach pioneered by Samuel Huntington, Anne Meng makes an important contribution to this agenda. Whereas recent investigators emphasize the role of parties, elections, and parliaments, Meng in Constraining Dictatorship cuts through this quasi-democratic façade and probes the very core of autocracy, the ruler’s relationship to other top politicians. Whereas the chief executive faces effective constraints, an authoritarian regime is much more likely to survive its founder’s demise. Meng highlights both formal institutions, especially constitutional succession rules and term limits, and informal norms such as filling major cabinet positions with other powerful leaders, rather than having the autocrat command these portfolios personally.

The underlying logic is paradoxical, but Meng develops it systematically through game-theoretic modeling. Leaders who are comparatively weak when taking power can stabilize their rule by ceding resources and influence to other top elites. This commitment to sharing the spoils of office allays the fear of potential rivals t

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