1. Modern authoritarianism, a form of government (forms of government), is multifaceted. As a broad term, authoritarianism refers to arbitrary governmental authority. The common feature of authoritarian states is the enforcement of obedience to a central authority at the expense of personal freedoms, rule of law and other constitutional values and principles (Oxford English Dictionary; Linz (2001) 57; Ginsburg and Simpser).
2. In other words, authoritarianism can be characterized by chronic shortcomings: narrowed political pluralism, absent or inadequate democratic institutions, denied or unenforceable fundamental rights, lack or shortfall of constitutional checks and balances, and oppression of non-governmental-organizations.
3. As a normative concept, authoritarianism is one of the opposites of both liberal democracy and constitutional democracy, two perspectives from which the same entity can be approached (Kis (2003) ix–x). In this context, the term liberal democracy puts the emphasis on a set of values and principles (liberty, equality, autonomy, collective self-governance, equal participatory rights in political decision making; liberalism), whereas authoritarianism prefers either rival values (such as official ideology, or traditional norms of a certain religion) or pragmatic decision making (the bureaucratic mentality of military systems). Concerning institutional preferences, constitutional democracy typically indicates that as a legal norm, the constitution enjoys the highest rank both procedurally and substantially, free and fair elections are held periodically, elected representatives make laws, governmental powers are constrained, and judicial institutions enforce bills of rights. In authoritarian systems, however, the executive is favoured typically with unconstrained and indefinite competences, either by constitutional text or in an unwritten way.
4. From a broader perspective, as regards contemporary institutional systems, there is a distinction between democracy and autocracy; and within the latter a difference can be drawn between authoritarian and totalitarian systems (Linz (1975); Linz (2000); totalitarianism). While identifying a totalitarian system (Arendt 565) seems straightforward (a ruler with total power, coercion imposed through violence, strong mobilizing ideology, people are fully subservient to the state, single-party regime, and militarism), authoritarianism, as a weaker form of autocracy, is difficult to separate from incorrect forms or practices of democracy (Borejsza and Ziemer). Authoritarians historically murdered or violently suppressed opponents, imprisoned journalists, suspended legislation, and abolished courts. Although contemporary authoritarians have not given up the complete mechanism of their ancestors, authoritarianism has been undergoing a modification. Many of the authoritarian incumbents are elected leaders who adopt constitutions and laws that apparently correspond to legal systems in democratic countries. This is why anti-democratic tendencies are more difficult to discover and assess properly (Varol).
5. In reaction to unsettling constitutional developments, with the decline of global freedom and re-emergence of authoritarianism in many regions, a new wave of transitology studies have emerged, examining not only transformations toward but also away from liberal democracy. Scholars encounter difficulties when attempting to label emerging authoritarian systems and their counterparts. The systems apparently still belong to constitutional democracies, but it might be said that these kinds of quasi-democracies are majoritarian rather than consensual, populist instead of elitist, nationalist as opposed to cosmopolitan, or religious rather than neutral. There are many expressions in use: hybrid systems (Karl), mixed systems (Bunce and Wolchik), defective democracies (Merkel; Merkel et al), semi-authoritarianism (Olcott and Ottaway; Ottaway), competitive authoritarianism (Levitsky and Way (2002); (2010)), electoral authoritarianism (Schedler), stealth authoritarianism (Varol), abusive constitutionalism (Landau), and authoritarian constitutionalism (Somek; Tushnet).
6. As an alternative interpretation, authoritarian, but not totalitarian, constitutional systems are also labelled as ‘illiberal democracies’ or ‘liberal autocracies’. Regimes of the former type are legitimized by regular and semi-competitive elections, but power-holders systematically violate the constitutional rights of the people they represent: the executive curtails freedom of the press, individual liberties and institutional guarantees of constitutional principles (Zakaria). ‘Liberal autocracy’, in varied ways, openly rejects free and fair elections but allows some room for enjoyment of privacy and property rights.
7. The decay of liberal democracy and the rise of authoritarianism are often associated with populism spreading across the globe. Contrary to conventional wisdom, populism—as political concept and worldwide tendency—is not only anti-elitist or anti-liberal but also anti-democratic. Rejecting political pluralism, deliberative procedures of democracy and institutional checks, populist leaders claim exclusive moral representation of the people. If a populist achieves the desired aim, a strong executive power unhindered by legal constraints, the system will end up an authoritarian state (Müller).