• Offered by Department of Political and Social Change
  • ANU College ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
  • Course subject Political Science
  • Areas of interest Political Communication, Political Sciences, Political Economy
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Fengming Lu
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in Second Semester 2024
    See Future Offerings

Much of human history took place under authoritarian rule. Even today, many authoritarian governments play important roles on the world stage. This course is designed to examine various important aspects in authoritarian regimes: their differences with democracies, why they emerge and break down, how they deal with challenges of leadership change, what institutions they adopt, why some dictatorships fail to create economic growth but some can, and the theories that explain these outcomes. During the course, we will use contemporary events, historical case studies, and statistical data to examine real-world cases. The goals of this course are to introduce students to the systematic study of authoritarian politics; to deepen their understanding of political changes, dynamics, and developments in non-democracies; and ultimately to help them critically assess theories about authoritarian politics and to engage in independent analysis of dictatorships in their academic or professional careers.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Critically evaluate key theories about authoritarian politics;
  2. Analyze and compare evidence-based research from political science, economics, and history on authoritarian regimes;
  3. Express a high level of mastery of authoritarian politics in written and oral forms;
  4. Engage in critical theoretical and evidence-based discussion on authoritarian politics from a comparative perspective;
  5. Be able to apply contending comparative theories on authoritarianism to historical and contemporary cases.

Other Information

We live in an era with strong authoritarian and illiberal headwinds. This course not only examines these trends, but also provides a theoretical framework for understanding differences in authoritarian regimes both across history and across regions of the world.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Class Participation (10) [LO 3,4,5]
  2. Oral Presentation of a Self-selected Piece of Reading (10) [LO 1,2,3]
  3. Short Essay (Book review related to authoritarian politics) (20) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
  4. Oral Presentation: a case study about key political institutions in an authoritarian regime (20) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
  5. Long Research Essay (A Research Paper) (40) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


Workload is approximately 120 hours consisting of 12 x 3 hour seminars; 4 hours weekly reading and preparation for seminars; 4 hours weekly reading and preparation for research essays. There are two oral presentations, one mid-term short essay, and one final long essay.

Inherent Requirements

Not applicable

Prescribed Texts

Svolik, Milan W. 2012. The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Preliminary Reading

Przeworski, Adam, Michael E. Alvarez, Jose Antonio Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Acemoglu, Daron and James A. Robinson. 2005. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, Alastair Smith, Randolph M. Siverson, and James D. Morrow. 2003. The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Brooker, Paul. 2000. Non-democratic Regimes: Theory, Government, and Politics. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Kuran, Timur. 1991. Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989. World Politics, 44:7–48. 

Gandhi, Jennifer. 2008. Political Institutions under Dictatorship. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

North, Douglass C. and Weingast, Barry R. 1989. Constitutions and commitment: The evolution of institutions governing public choice in seventeenth-century england. Journal of Economic History, 49(4):803–832.

Olson, Mancur. 1993. Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development. American Political Science Review, 87:567–576. 

Levitsky, Steven and Lucan Way. 2010. Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Larry Diamond, “Thinking about Hybrid Regimes,” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, no. 2 (April 2002), pp. 21-35.

Geddes, Barbara. 1999. What do we know about democratization after twenty years?. Annual review of political science2(1), 115-144.

Magaloni, Beatriz. 2008. Voting for Autocracy: Hegemonic Party Survival and its Demise in Mexico. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Malesky, Edmund, and Paul Schuler. 2010. “Nodding or Needling: Analyzing Delegate Responsiveness in an Authoritarian Parliament.” American Political Science Review 104 (3): 1–21.

Chenggang Xu. 2011. “The Fundamental Institutions of China’s Reforms and Development,” The Journal of Economic Literature, 49:4, 1076-1151

Assumed Knowledge

Knowledge of quantitative data analysis is recommended but not required. 


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2024 $4440
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2024 $6360
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

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The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

Second Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
8578 22 Jul 2024 29 Jul 2024 31 Aug 2024 25 Oct 2024 In Person View

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