Mass Purges: Top-Down Accountability in Autocracy
35 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2016 Last revised: 3 Feb 2019
Date Written: January 31, 2019
This paper proposes a novel theoretical framework to study the features of 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 show that the set of purged agents is well delineated in mild purges, whereas no performance indicator is a guarantee of safety in violent purges. The proportion of purged agents is non-monotonic in the intensity of violence. For the autocrat, increasing the intensity of violence always raises performance, but improves selection of subordinates only if violence is low to begin with. Hence, even absent de jure checks, the autocrat is de facto constrained by her subordinates' strategic behavior. We use historical (i.a., the Soviet purges, the Cultural Revolution) and recent (the Erdogan purge) events to illustrate our key theoretical findings.
Keywords: Accountability, Effort, Selection, Violence
JEL Classification: D73, D74, D80
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation