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Social hierarchies in democracies and authoritarianism: The balance between power asymmetries and principal-agent chains

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  • Björn Toelstede

Abstract

Social hierarchies exist in democracies as well as in authoritarian societies. However, their nature is different. Democratic hierarchies are built bottom-up through election while autocratic hierarchies are built top-down through domination. Both, however, have power asymmetries between the weaker citizens and the stronger politicians, which are amplified the stronger the hierarchies are. This manuscript introduces a model that combines pro-/anti-social behavior with different degrees of hierarchies. It is argued that this model has the power to categorize countries according to these criteria and indicate when and how societies move between democracy and authoritarianism. Importantly, I illustrate that the balance between power asymmetries and principal-agent chains is key for understanding when and why democracies sometimes transcend into authoritarianism.

Suggested Citation

  • Björn Toelstede, 2020. "Social hierarchies in democracies and authoritarianism: The balance between power asymmetries and principal-agent chains," Rationality and Society, , vol. 32(3), pages 334-366, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:ratsoc:v:32:y:2020:i:3:p:334-366
    DOI: 10.1177/1043463120904051
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