Mass Purges: Top-Down Accountability in Autocracy
38 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2016 Last revised: 8 Nov 2017
Date Written: November 7, 2017
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: Suggested Citation