Authoritarian Roads Not Taken: Institutional Trajectories and Authoritarian Constitutionalism in Interwar Eastern Europe
41 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2021
Date Written: June 23, 2021
Contemporary authoritarian regimes are more alike than they have been in decades, with most conforming to a constitutional structure that imitates liberal democracies, although many seek to innovate beyond this framework. This paper explores a prior era of authoritarian constitutional innovation, the twenty years of postwar independence among the states of Interwar Eastern Europe. This paper attempts a systematic conceptual categorization among Interwar-era authoritarian regimes in the Baltic states, East-Central Europe, and the Balkans over the period 1919-1939, identifying models akin to modern electoral authoritarianism as well as more unusual schemas conceptualized here as ‘authoritarian constitutionalism.’ Instead of asking why Eastern European states fell away from democracy during the interbellum, this paper asks what forms of authoritarianism took hold in a period when authoritarian institutional creativity was at an historic high. Leveraging data on regime, political system, and institutional configurations across all Eastern European authoritarian regimes, the paper groups institutional patterns and tracks their evolution over the Interwar era, introducing the concept of ‘authoritarian constitutionalism,’ a form of institutionalized authoritarian rule often left as a residual category or marked by ideological signifiers, to better explain the congruence of political and constitutional order across regional cases. Dynamics of authoritarian institutional experimentation are further illustrated with vignette case studies of the electoral authoritarian regime in Poland and the authoritarian constitutionalist regime of Konstantin Päts’ Estonia.
Keywords: Authoritarianism, Legislatures, Corporatism, Constitutionalism, Interwar Europe,
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