Course delivery

This course is taught by means of two weekly lectures of two hours each and an online component (primarily on the course website on Blackboard). Each lecture period is typically divided into an hour for lecture and an hour for structured discussion activities, usually in groups. There are no separate tutorials; the second hour of each lecture period will normally count as the “tutorial” period.

The lectures provide the theoretical background necessary for identifying, explaining, and evaluating dictatorships and revolutions generally.

The lectures include interactive exercises, including at least one mock trial and a simulation, and reasonable participation is expected.

The discussion activities provide students with the opportunity to examine how the theories introduced in lecture help us understand current events and historical cases. They also enable students to collaborate on the various projects required for the course.

The online component of the course consists of biweekly participation in one or more of the following: a course blog, a course wiki, or online self tests. Participation in any of these online activities ensures that the student will be generally engaged with the material covered in class and able to relate it to current events.

There is a final exam in this course, scheduled during the regular exam period (10 June – 2 July).

Course content

This introduces students to the nature and varieties of modern dictatorship and non-democracy, the causes of their emergence, and the processes that lead to their destruction and replacement. We will examine general theories about dictatorships and revolutions and employ these to understand and explore particular cases of dictatorship and revolution drawn from the politics of a variety of countries, including modern Venezuela, Chile, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Congo, Romania, the former East Germany and Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, and several other countries. Our focus will be on developing concepts and tools that can then be applied to the analysis of dictatorship and revolution in a wide variety of cases.

We will begin by examining the nature and types of non-democratic government, as well as the strategies dictators use to maintain themselves in power, with examples from many parts of the world. We will then discuss how these strategies create incentives for dictators to act for or against the common good, and thus evaluate some historically important arguments for and against various forms of non-democracy. In particular, we will discuss whether dictatorships produce more prosperity than democracies, whether some cultures are prone to dictatorship, and whether some dictatorships make more intelligent decisions than democracies. We will next look at the causes of regime change (both to and from dictatorship) and the process of revolution, and examine the factors that lead to non-dictatorial outcomes in revolution. We end with a consideration of transitional justice after democratization.

Learning objectives

Students passing the course should be able to:
  • Define and identify democracies and non-democracies
    • Articulate clear criteria for distinguishing democracies from non-democracies
    • Identify democracies, dictatorships and other non-democratic regimes in concrete cases
    • Articulate and identify systematic differences among non-democracies
  • Identify the mechanisms by which dictators keep themselves in power
    • Identify the mechanisms that constrain the use of power in non-democracies
  • Critically evaluate the systematic advantages and evils of various forms of non-democracy
    • Critically evaluate some historically important arguments for and against certain non-democratic forms of government.
    • Identify the institutional sources of the evils of the worst kinds of dictatorships
  • Understand the processes leading to the emergence or overthrow of non-democratic regimes
    • Identify and describe the factors that have historically made dictatorships and other forms of non-democracy more or less likely to become established or survive.
    • Explain how these factors operate in concrete cases today.
    • Critically evaluate some general models of regime change.
    • Apply some of these models to explain specific cases or patterns of regime change.
  • Discuss and identify in concrete cases typical processes of revolution and regime change.
    • Critically evaluate the perils and promise of political revolution
    • Critically evaluate some potential responses of newly democratic governments to the crimes of previous non-democratic regimes
    • Critically evaluate the feasibility and desirability, or lack thereof, of revolution as a means of achieving a just social and political order