During the past three years the Joint Committee on Latin American Studies has supported a working group on the state and public policy whose goal is to advance understanding of the new era of political authoritarianism that has recently emerged in several of the most industrially advanced nations of Latin America. The working group is coordinated by a North American political scientist, David Collier of Indiana University, and a Peruvian sociologist, Julio Cotler of the Institute of Peruvian Studies. This international, multidisciplinary group has explored the implications of the new authoritarianism for the construction of theory about the relationship between industrial modernization and political change.1

The background

In 1964, Brazil had a military coup. Two years later, the military leadership also seized power in Argentina. These coups inaugurated periods of rule by the military as an institution, during which the armed forces sought to promote accelerated industrial growth based on massive new foreign investment. They also eliminated or drastically controlled elections of all kinds; introduced important new restrictions in labor unions; and imposed economic austerity programs which included wage controls that reduced the real income of the urban “popular sector”—i.e., the working class and the lower middle class. These austerity programs were widely interpreted as an important part of the effort to create an investment climate presumed attractive to potential foreign investors. Since austerity programs had often been vigorously opposed by the popular sector, in part through such channels as labor organizations and elections, the controls over these forms of political expression appeared to be essential to the effort to sustain the new economic policies and to achieve economic growth.

“It also called into question the hypothesis of modernization theory.”

The resurgence of military rule in these two major, industrially advanced countries, which contain roughly 65 percent of the population of South America and produce roughly 75 percent of the region’s industrial output,2 occurred in the context of the erosion of earlier expectations of the first two decades of the post–World War II era that greater economic and social equality and a more democratic form of politics would emerge in Latin America.3 It also called into question the hypothesis of modernization theory that sustained industrialization is associated with the emergence of democracy and equality4 and stimulated a fundamental reassessment of this relationship within the Latin American context.5 In place of this earlier hypothesis, a new set of hypotheses emerged which suggested that in late developing nations more advanced levels of industrialization may coincide with the collapse of democracy and an increase in inequality.

The events of the 1970s in Latin America have greatly increased the plausibility of these new hypotheses. Military-authoritarian rule has persisted in Brazil, and it reappeared in Argentina in 1976. In 1973, well-institutionalized democratic regimes collapsed in two other economically advanced Latin American nations—Chile and Uruguay—and were also replaced by military regimes. In Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay both the level of violence employed in suppressing political parties, trade unions, and labor protest and the decline in the real income of the popular sector went far beyond that experienced in Brazil and Argentina in their initial authoritarian periods in the 1960s. In Brazil the degree of repression had also become notably more intense beginning roughly in 1969. These new developments stimulated scholars to push further the rethinking of the relationship between industrial modernization and political change that had begun a decade earlier.6


In the course of this rethinking, a new term came into use. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay were ruled by the military as an institution, rather than exclusively by individual military rulers. In addition, the military adopted a technocratic, bureaucratic approach to policy making (as opposed to a more “political” approach through which policies are shaped by economic and political demands from different sectors of society, expressed through such channels as elections, legislatures, and labor unions). This approach to policy making in these regimes has led scholars to join the adjective “bureaucratic” with the term “authoritarian” and to call these systems “bureaucratic-authoritarian.”7 This label has come to be an important addition to broad typologies of national political regimes.8

In order to place the distinctive characteristics of bureaucratic-authoritarianism in comparative perspective, it is convenient to focus on three features of this type of regime that correspond to three underlying dimensions for comparing authoritarian regimes derived from the writings of Juan J. Linz.9 Bureaucratic-authoritarianism is characterized by (1) the prevalence of a technocratic mentality, as opposed to any more elaborated form of ideology; (2) a related willingness to work within the framework of an apathetic acceptance of the regime by the mass of the population and a corresponding lack of interest on the part of the ruling elite in mobilizing mass support; and (3) the use of repression to achieve a “limitation of pluralism” and thereby control opposition to the regime.

In terms of these dimensions, there are important contrasts between bureaucratic-authoritarianism and other types of authoritarianism that have appeared in Latin America. In the cases of “traditional” authoritarianism, as in contemporary Paraguay, one finds a type of autocratic rule in which a single leader, rather than a larger bureaucratic structure, plays a central role. In cases of “populist” authoritarianism, as in contemporary Panama under Torrijos and in the widely-studied period of “Peronism” in Argentina from 1946 to 1955, there is an active effort to mobilize popular support as a source of legitimacy for the government.10 There is considerable variation in the degree of political pluralism permitted under populist authoritarianism, but the use of systematic repression is generally far more limited than it is under bureaucratic-authoritarianism. Contemporary Cuba is an important contrasting case in terms of a series of dimensions, including the crucial role of political mobilization and charismatic leadership, the greater role of ideology, and a far greater reliance on international migration as a means of “limiting pluralism.” The economic model being followed in Cuba is of course also totally different from that in all these other Latin American countries.

Similarities and contrasts with selected European cases may also be noted. Examples of bureaucratic-authoritarianism in Europe include the political systems that emerged in several Eastern European countries between the two world wars and during the Franco period in Spain. Bureaucratic-authoritarianism is, however, quite different from German and Italian fascism, which were characterized by a highly elaborated nationalistic ideology and by high levels of popular mobilization.11

Reformulation of modernization theory

In addition to the elaboration of typologies of authoritarian regimes, research on Latin American authoritarianism has added to the critique of modernization theory. A number of the most important lines of argument advanced by scholars concerned with modernization theory, such as the hypothesized relationship between democracy and industrial modernization, have long been seriously questioned.12 Yet, scholarly debate continues regarding how one can reasonably go about developing useful and appropriate hypotheses concerning the interaction among the political, economic, and social spheres that occurs in the course of industrial modernization. There is also a debate over the specific hypotheses that adequately characterize this interaction.

Research on Latin America has contributed to both parts of this debate. With regard to the first issue, it has criticized the presumed universality of earlier assumptions about political change and has pointed to the need to develop distinctive hypotheses for the analysis of different historical and cultural contexts.13 Such critiques do not reflect an antitheoretical bias, but rather a concern with specifying the characteristics of the particular context one is analyzing in terms of theoretically relevant variables.14 For researchers concerned with contemporary Latin America, one of the most salient characteristics is the relatively late industrialization of this region as compared with most of the North Atlantic countries. This, it is argued, has led to a series of distinctive economic, social, and political problems.15 A related characteristic is the economic dependence of the Latin American region involving a heavy reliance on foreign capital, technology, and managerial expertise in order to promote industrialization. A third characteristic is that this external dependence has largely involved dependence on nations and firms operating in the international capitalist economic system.16

Research on Latin America has also made a theoretical contribution by developing new hypotheses about political changes within this particular setting. These suggest why the interactions among the patterns of economic, social, and political change that have occurred in this context of late, dependent capitalist development have not consistently led to democracy, but rather appear at least in some cases to be linked to the emergence of bureaucratic-authoritarianism. For the sake of convenience, this set of hypotheses may be referred to as “the bureaucratic-authoritarian model.”17

These hypotheses focus particularly on two phases of industrialization that involve the growth of different sectors of industrial production. The first phase is the initial, often relatively rapid expansion of the production of nondurable consumer goods to supply a domestic market previously supplied by goods imported from advanced industrial countries. This “easy” phase of “import substitution” initially appeared to produce impressive economic growth. However, the end of this phase is seen as leading to problems of economic stagnation, severe inflation, balance of payments deficits, and foreign indebtedness. In order to overcome these problems and sustain economic growth, it is argued that policy makers attempted to initiate a second, considerably more difficult phase based on the “deepening” of industrial production to include the intermediate and capital goods used in industry itself.18 To expand these sectors, Latin American governments have relied heavily upon foreign capital, technology, and managerial expertise. To attract external assistance, they have attempted to create a favorable investment climate which has created pressure both to control the wages of the popular sector and to control the political parties and unions that represent that sector’s political and economic interests.

“Bureaucratic-authoritarianism is seen as the political response to this conflict on the part of a new military-technocratic alliance.”

The expansion of industry initiated in the earlier import-substitution phase was accompanied by changes in social structure at both the mass and the elite level. These changes include (1) the substantial growth of the urban popular sector, which greatly increases its capacity for economic and political demand making and hence its capacity effectively to protest these new controls, and (2) the growing numbers and political importance of technocrats who favor technical solutions to economic and social problems. The technocrats have little tolerance for the economic and political demands of the popular sector because they believe that this type of demand making should not play a role in shaping public policies. It is argued that the interaction between these changes in social structure and the problems of industrialization discussed above produce severe economic and political tensions and may ultimately lead to polarized class conflict. Bureaucratic-authoritarianism is seen as the political response to this conflict on the part of a new military-technocratic alliance.

These arguments about the emergence of bureaucratic-authoritarianism quickly attracted wide scholarly attention.19 This occurred in part because they not only provided a suggestive explanation for an important set of contemporary political events but also because they represented a respecification of the models of political change earlier offered by modernization theorists. In the context of the 1970s, when the central thrust of political research on the Third World had shifted from a concern with analyzing democratization and “Westernization” to a concern with the difficult issues of a national political economy faced by these societies, this respecified model was a most welcome addition to the literature.

The working group

The intellectual point of departure of the working group on the state and public policy was a growing sense of dissatisfaction with a number of elements in this bureaucratic-authoritarian model. The model unquestionably addresses important issues and adopts a valuable approach to explaining political change in the context of late, dependent capitalist development. Yet even in the first phase of the evolution of this literature, in which analyses were focused on Brazil and Argentina, scholars began to raise questions regarding the degree to which bureaucratic-authoritarianism, which was clearly a new phenomenon in relation to the political patterns of the 1950s and early 1960s, in fact represented a “restoration” of a type of authoritarianism that had existed in the 1930s and 1940s. They also questioned the economic arguments employed in explaining its emergence.20

Beginning in the mid-1970s—in the context of the attempt to understand bureaucratic-authoritarianism in Chile and Uruguay, as well as in Brazil and Argentina—scholarly dissatisfaction with this model became even more widespread.21 The political-economic model pursued by these authoritarian governments increasingly appeared to be considerably less consistent and coherent than was initially thought. These four countries were not at comparable levels of industrialization, and the initial hypotheses noted above regarding the role of problems of industrialization in the emergence of bureaucratic-authoritarianism therefore came under increasingly critical scrutiny. It was also not clear that increased inequality was in fact an economic prerequisite for the success of the development policies adopted by these governments. There was an increasing sense of a need to place greater emphasis on political explanations of these economic policies and of the rise of authoritarianism. For instance, it appeared that the structure of the party system and the political strength of the popular sector were important determinants of the degree to which polarized class conflict emerged in each country. In certain countries, the ideological polarization that occurred prior to the appearance of bureaucratic-authoritarianism could not be explained simply as a consequence of the interplay of economic forces.

“The challenge was to extend the analysis beyond the countries where this form of authoritarianism has appeared.”

Finally, bureaucratic-authoritarianism has not appeared in all of the industrially more advanced countries of Latin America.22 In Mexico, a milder form of authoritarianism is based on the rule of a political party, rather than the military. Pluralist regimes persist in Colombia and Venezuela. The military rule experienced in Peru since 1968—both in its initial reformist phase and in its current more conservative phase—is likewise distinct from the more repressive military rule of the south. For the scholar concerned with the hypothesis that there is an inherent association between advanced industrialization and bureaucratic-authoritarianism in Latin America, the challenge was thus to extend the analysis beyond the countries where this form of authoritarianism has appeared—i.e., Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. It was essential to achieve a broader understanding that also encompassed these other relatively advanced countries in which, at least to date, it has not appeared. This larger comparison could yield new insights both into the experience of other countries and into the four cases of bureaucratic-authoritarianism.23 Although certain elements of this larger comparison had begun to appear in studies of Latin American authoritarianism,24 this comparison had not yet been employed in a systematic reassessment of explanations of bureaucratic-authoritarianism.

The goal of the working group has been to consolidate and build upon these dissatisfactions and criticisms. It has also sought to broaden the scholarly debate on the nature and causes of bureaucratic-authoritarianism by bringing together the perspectives of scholars from both the Southern and Northern hemispheres, as well as from different academic disciplines. In addition to the coordinators (a political scientist and a sociologist), the group has thus included another sociologist, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (São Paulo); two economists, Albert O. Hirschman of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, New Jersey) and José Serra of the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning; and three other political scientists, Guillermo O’Donnell of the Center for the Study of the State and Society (Buenos Aires), Robert Kaufman of Rutgers University, and James Kurth of Swarthmore College. All the members of the group had previously contributed to this area of research and felt that these problems with the bureaucratic-authoritarian model would be a useful starting place for building a more complete understanding of Latin American authoritarianism. Members of the group met informally a number of times in 1975 and 1976 and held a formal, two-day meeting in early 1977, at which preliminary papers were presented. These papers have all been substantially revised on the basis of a wide-ranging exchange of comments and criticisms—both at this meeting and in extensive subsequent correspondence among a number of the authors. The original essays that are a product of this collaborative effort have been brought together in a volume tentatively entitled The New Authoritarianism in Latin America, edited by David Collier, to be published in 1979.

Click to expand a summary of the edited volume

Part I of this volume will provide an overview of the issues of social science analysis raised by the recent emergence of authoritarianism in these industrially advanced countries of Latin America. The opening chapter by Collier reviews the basic arguments contained in the bureaucratic-authoritarian model and poses some initial critical questions about these arguments. The chapter by Fernando Henrique Cardoso then initiates the discussion of bureaucratic-authoritarianism by proposing a major conceptual clarification. He opposes the use of this term as a global characterization of the political system, a usage followed in the initial formulation of the bureaucratic-authoritarian model. He stresses the need to distinguish between the core characteristics of bureaucratic-authoritarian regimes and the type of state with which they are associated—in the neo-Marxist sense of the state as the larger system of economic and political “domination,” which in the Latin American context he characterizes as “dependent” and “capitalist.” He argues that the relationship between regime and state is more complex than is implied in the bureaucratic-authoritarian model. One cannot adequately analyze the differences, and similarities, among such important cases as contemporary Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela—all of which he considers dependent capitalist states—unless one distinguishes carefully between regime and state. Cardoso also analyzes the political institutions of bureaucratic-authoritarianism, drawing attention to the variegated features and internal contradictions of these systems. In order to place the experience of the countries of the southern cone of South America in clearer perspective, he points to a series of contrasts, as well as similarities, with the nonmilitary authoritarianism of Mexico, the recent reformist military government in Peru, and the democratic regime in Venezuela.

Part II of the volume will address the problem of explaining the rise of bureaucratic-authoritarianism. In the first chapter in this section, Albert O. Hirschman—an economist—reminds researchers not to stress economic explanations of political phenomena to the point of neglecting political explanations. Placing his discussion within the larger tradition of social thought regarding the political consequences of industrialization, Hirschman critically surveys various economic explanations of the rise of authoritarianism and finds them all inadequate. He argues that different phases of industrialization have important consequences for politics in part because of the expectations they create in the minds of policymakers regarding the likelihood of sustained economic growth. It appears that the relative ease with which the initial expansion of consumer goods production occurred in Latin America generated unrealistic expectations about opportunities for growth, and hence for economic reform, which in turn played a role in the sequence of events that led to bureaucratic-authoritarianism. Hirschman then broadens his analysis of the role of ideas in shaping political change and proposes a new approach to explaining the rise of authoritarianism. He analyzes the way in which political ideas and political action interact in the evolution of the “entrepreneurial” and “reform” functions in society. This perspective, which focuses on what may be called the “political culture of capitalism,”25 is used to provide a partial explanation of the contrast between the recent pluralist experience of Colombia and Venezuela and the authoritarian experience of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay.

The chapter by Jose Serra provides a critique of the hypothesis that the attempt to achieve the deepening of industrial production played a central role in the rise of bureaucratic-authoritarianism. Focusing primarily on Brazil, but also drawing on the Chilean and Mexican cases, Serra finds little support for this hypothesis. His close analysis of Brazil is of particular importance to this volume because the special conjunction in Brazil of economic and political crisis, followed by harsh authoritarianism, regressive economic policies, and successful economic growth has made Brazil in a sense the “paradigmatic case” for the bureaucratic-authoritarian model. Other countries, by contrast, are only partial approximations. In Argentina, the coherence of authoritarian rule has been limited; in Chile and Uruguay, the idea of the deepening of industrialization is largely irrelevant because of the small scale of their economies; and Mexico involves a rather different pattern, based on nonmilitary authoritarianism which did not result from the “triggering” political crisis experienced in the other cases and which is based on quite a different political coalition. Hence, by calling into question the hypothesized “economic connection” for the country that presumably fits the bureaucratic-authoritarian’ model most closely, Serra makes a particularly convincing case for the need to reformulate the model.

The chapter by Robert Kaufman provides a detailed review of the fit between the bureaucratic-authoritarian model and the recent experiences of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Mexico. After presenting an extended critique of the “deepening” hypothesis that is parallel to that of Hirschman and Serra, Kaufman broadens the model to include an analysis of the implications-for the evolution of political coalitions and political regimes—of five different development strategies that might be adopted in order to promote economic growth in these societies. These include, in addition to the deepening of industrialization, the alternative strategies of promoting consumer durables, industrial exports, and primary product exports, and the expansion of the domestic market for consumer goods. Within this modified framework, Kaufman finds that the transitions among different phases of industrialization have narrowed the range of policy alternatives open to Latin American societies in a way that contributed to the emergence of bureaucratic-authoritarianism. He thus finds an important fit between the underlying argument contained in the bureaucratic-authoritarian model and the experience of these five countries.

The final chapter in Part II, by Julio Cotler, argues that the scholars who developed the bureaucratic-authoritarian model have not devoted sufficient attention to the way in which the experience of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay is distinctive in relation to that of many other countries in Latin America. Focusing particularly on Peru, but noting important parallels in the experience of Mexico, he argues that the presence of large indigenous populations greatly increased the complexity of issues of state building and national integration that arose to some degree in all of these countries earlier in this century. He argues that the distinctive issues confronted in the earlier periods of “national populism” experienced in Peru have led to distinct patterns of change in the more recent authoritarian period. He calls for a more differentiated understanding of the distinct patterns of national political evolution found in Peru and Mexico, as opposed to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

The final section of the volume probes the likely direction of future evolution of bureaucratic-authoritarianism, as well as appropriate directions for further research. The opening chapter by Guillermo O’Donnell provides new insights into the severe internal contradictions that characterize this form of authoritarianism. He argues that political society is conventionally held together by two underlying forces—domination and consensus—and that bureaucratic-authoritarianism involves an emphasis on domination to the virtual exclusion of consensus. This is due in part to the heavy emphasis placed by these governments on maintaining economic and political conditions that are attractive to foreign investors and international lending agencies. This encourages the neglect of traditional symbols often used to generate internal consensus such as economic nationalism and patriotism—both particularly relevant to the popular sector. In addition, the attempt to destroy the political parties and labor organizations that previously served to mediate the relationship between the state and society undermines the structures of representation that are another fundamental channel through which consensus is conventionally achieved. O’Donnell notes that this rejection of consensus in favor of domination leads to severe tensions and contradictions and he suggests that these tensions can ultimately be resolved only through the creation of a new political formula that permits some form of democratization.

The chapter by James Kurth broadens the discussion by exploring the relationship between the problems of industrialization emphasized in the bureaucratic-authoritarian model and the concerns of research on industrialization and political change in Europe. Kurth first places the argument about Latin American industrialization within the larger framework of research on the timing of industrialization that has grown out of the work of Alexander Gerschenkron.26 This literature argues that the patterns of economic, social, and political change that accompany industrialization are not the same in all countries, but differ in important—and to some degree predictable—ways according to the degree to which industrialization occurs “early” or “late” in relation to the first historical cases of industrialization in Western Europe. Kurth then analyzes the politics of industrialization in a number of European countries, using an approach that combines these arguments about the timing of industrialization with the approach of the bureaucratic-authoritarian model that emphasizes different sectors of industry (e.g., consumer goods versus intermediate and capital goods). He shows that by analyzing simultaneously differences between “early,” “late,” and “late-late” industrializers (involving Western, Eastern, and Southern Europe, respectively) and differences among distinct sectors of industry (involving textile, steel, and automobile industrialization), one can discover striking regularities in the politics of European industrialization. Kurth concludes his chapter by showing how the patterns that emerged in his analysis of Europe can suggest new insights into some of the Latin American countries considered in other chapters in this volume. Kurth’s analysis thus illustrates some of the improvements in theory that can derive from applying arguments about Latin American authoritarianism to other regions. Yet he makes it clear that one cannot rely on a mechanical extension of these arguments. Rather, it is essential to specify with great care a series of theoretically relevant characteristics in each context one analyzes in order to apply the theory to that context in an appropriate way.

The final chapter by David Collier attempts to synthesize some of the criticism and insights presented in the other chapters in the volume. Collier particularly stresses three issues. First, with regard to the problem of explaining bureaucratic-authoritarianism, the analyses in the volume clearly challenge the “deepening” hypothesis and point to the need to broaden the economic argument. Yet the underlying idea of the bureaucratic-authoritarian model-that different phases of industrialization have important implications for politics—appears to be supported. However, apart from changes in industry, other factors are so important that they may well be additional necessary conditions for the appearance of bureaucratic-authoritarianism. Along with internal political characteristics, Collier particularly stresses the importance of the reaction to the Cuban revolution, changes in the international economic system, and intervention by the United States.27

Second, it is essential to consolidate the intellectual gains derived from the basic methodological approach of the volume: that of extending the argument to additional countries as a means of gaining fresh insights both into these new cases and into the original cases of bureaucratic-authoritarianism. Collier presents a preliminary unified version of the argument in order to illustrate how one might begin to integrate the economic and political explanations of bureaucratic-authoritarianism in an analysis that includes eight Latin American countries. Collier suggests that extending the argument to other world regions can yield similar intellectual gains, stressing particularly the ways in which Kurth’s chapter serves as a model for such extensions of the analysis.

Third, apart from contributing to social science theory, efforts to understand bureaucratic-authoritarianism may also have practical implications. Several authors in the volume emphasize that the importance of analyzing bureaucratic-authoritarianism derives in part from the possibility that a more complete understanding of the economic, social, and political problems that gave rise to this authoritarianism can contribute to the discovery of better solutions to these same problems. This practical implication may be relevant for other world regions as well as for Latin America. Political leaders from other Third World nations often look with concern at recent events in the industrially advanced countries of South America, out of an awareness that these events may have important implications for the political evolution of their own societies. Attempts to extend the analysis to these other regions could similarly contribute to a process of political learning through which it might be possible to avoid the harsh forms of authoritarianism that have recently appeared in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay.

International collaboration

Along with the preparation of this edited volume, a central goal of the working group has been to encourage scholarly communication and collaboration among social scientists in Latin America and the United States. Research on Latin America has recently gone through a period of major intellectual ferment, in part as a result of the creative interaction between the often contrasting perspectives of scholars from the two hemispheres. The working group has sought to encourage this interaction.

In addition to the formal and informal meetings described above, the working group has supported scholarly visits by Latin American members of the group to the United States and by US members to Latin America. It has also supported an exchange of economic and social data among the members and the preparation at Indiana University of a computerized working bibliography that has been circulated to members of the group and to other interested scholars. The edited volume will include an extensive bibliography, drawn from this larger working bibliography, which will be cross-referenced across sixteen subject and country headings. The goal of the bibliography project coincides with the larger purpose of the working group: to make it easier for scholars in Latin America and the United States to scrutinize a shared body of data and a shared literature in order to build a more adequate understanding of Latin American authoritarianism.

I wish to thank Albert O. Hirschman, Ruth Berins Collier, David L. Sills, and Louis Wolf Goodman for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

David Collier is Robson Professor in the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. His work focuses on comparative politics, Latin America, and qualitative/multi-method research.

This essay originally appeared in Items Vol. 31/32, No. 4/1 in the spring of 1978. Visit our archives to view the original as it first appeared in the print editions of Items.

Posted on December 6, 2016