Tag Archives: O’Donnell Thesis



D. Collier

In D. Collier (ed.) The New Authoritarianism

 A Summary

In a Nutshell

Modernisation theory in development literature suggested that socio-economic modernization and democracy go hand in hand, this is why the conversion to authoritarianism in LA proposed such a challenge to academics. More generally the change happened in an era where the expectations of the 50s and 60s that greater economic and social equality would lead to a more democratic form of politics, were eroded. In place of these ideas it was now suggested that in late developing nations, more advanced industrialization may coincide with the collapse of democracy, and an increase in inequality. Indeed it was posited that the social, political and economic tensions generated by the particular type of dependent capitalist industrialization led to the collapse of the populist regimes, and hence as the popular sector as one of political strength. The elimination of the popular sector from politics, and the associated regressive move of income toward the middle and upper classes greatly increased inequality under BA.

The remainder of the chapter summarizes the key points of the O’Donnell thesis:

Political Systems and Change

  • Regime: the structure of politics – repression, representation, freedoms etc.
  • Coalition: class and sectoral composition of dominant political forces.
  • Policies: specific tools for allocating resources.

There are three types of “constellation” for O’Donnell that have different patterns of regime, coalition and policy

  1. Oligarchic: limited political competition. The elite is based upon primary product exports, and policy is geared toward this end (open economy). The system is not yet incorporating or excluding as the popular sector is not yet activated
  2. Populist: incorporating, multi-class coalition of urban-industrial interests including industrial elite and working classes. Economic nationalism is common. The state promotes industrialization based upon consumer goods.
  3. Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism: excluding systems that are non-democratic. Central actors are technocrats, military and civilian. Policy is concerned with advanced industrialization, and representation, elections etc. are eliminated.

The political transformations that move us from one to the other derive from social and political tensions produced by industrialization and by changes in the social structure. There are three particularly relevant factors:

  1. Industrialization: different phases linked to political changes as payoffs accrue to different class groups. Consumer goods production associated with the move from oligarchy to populism. This allows for the incorporation of the working class as wage setting can be generous without import competition, and also beneficial in expanding the domestic market. Thus workers receive important material benefits. Once this phase is complete, there are tensions as opportunities for expansion become more limited. The cost of importing the capital and intermediate goods is driving inflation, a balance of payment deficit, foreign indebtedness etc. Thus a shift to more orthodox policies is needed to create deepening of industry through domestic manufacturing of intermediate and capital goods. However in order to do this technology, managerial experience and capital is needed, and these things are often associated with multinational corporations. The need to attract this type of investment drives the adaptation of the move to orthodoxy.
  2. Activation of the Popular Sector: The popular sector will challenge the move to orthodoxy. There is thus a gap between demands and policies leading to strikes, and political/economic crisis.
  3. Technocratic Rules: Technocrats perceive high levels of popular sector mobilization as an obstacle to economic growth. They are thus bale to form a coup coalition.

The above process was evident in Brazil (1964), Argentina (1966, and 1976), Uruguay and Chile (1973). The case of Mex was once where phases one ISI was completed in an already fairly authoritarian society meaning the transition to advanced industrialization were accompanied by a continuity of political institutions.

The Evolution of Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism

  • Groups that initially supported the coup (entrepreneurs and middle classes) soon find themselves hurt by the orthodox polices. This means the principal class that supports the government is foreign capital. After a while there are increased called for this relationship to expand to include the middle classes.
  • This transition occurs according to the level of threat existent in the pre-coup society. i.e. the greater the threat to capitalism in the pre-coup era, the stronger the technocratic coalition will be, and so they will be better able to maintain order. This is seen in Brazil where the pre-coup crisis was severe and the subsequent regime strong, as compared to Argentina where the crisis was far less serious meaning elite cohesion post-coup was weaker which ultimately led to the regime falling.


  • At a general level the framework focuses on the interaction between crucial features of politics in LA – dominant collation, regime and policy.
  • At a more specific level it focuses on economic problems associated with different levels of industrialization and the perception of threat as a driving force of the evolution of BA.