Mass Purges: Top-Down Accountability in Autocracy

38 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2016 Last revised: 8 Nov 2017

See all articles by Pablo Montagnes

Pablo Montagnes

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies

Stephane Wolton

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government

Date Written: November 7, 2017

Abstract

This paper proposes a novel theoretical framework to study mass purges in authoritarian regimes. We contend that mass purges are an instrument of top-down accountability meant to motivate and screen a multitude of agents (e.g., single-party members, state bureaucrats). We establish that the nature of purges depends on the intensity of violence. Mild purges are discriminate (the set of purged agents is well delineated), whereas violent purges are semi-indiscriminate (all subordinates risk being purged). The breadth of the purge, in turn, is non-monotonic in violence. We further uncover that the autocrat faces a trade-off between fear and love as greater intensity of violence increases performance, but worsens selection. Even absent de jure checks, the autocrat is de facto constrained in her actions by her subordinates' strategic behavior. We use our theoretical findings to reassess historical (i.a., the Soviet purges, the Cultural Revolution) and recent (the Erdogan purge) events.

Keywords: Top-Down Accountability, Many-To-One, Violence, Fear, Love

JEL Classification: D73, D74, D80

Suggested Citation

Montagnes, Pablo and Wolton, Stephane, Mass Purges: Top-Down Accountability in Autocracy (November 7, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2810511 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2810511

Pablo Montagnes

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Stephane Wolton (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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