Matilde Tofte Thorsen

Only In It for Power and Wealth? Investigating Dictators’ Motives

This dissertation theorizes on and empirically investigates the main motivational factors that shape the behavior of rulers of authoritarian regimes. The point of departure is the widespread assumption in research on comparative authoritarianism that dictators are driven mainly by a desire to maximize power and wealth. The dissertation challenges this and argues and shows that many dictators are also ideologically motivated, which in turn has consequences for how autocrats behave and thus for important societal outcomes. It empirically investigates how widespread ideological motivation is among authoritarian rulers, what explains this motivation, and what its consequences are, through a variety of methods (both quantitative and qualitative). These analyses include three in-depth case studies, a medium-N analysis of twenty randomly chosen cases with focus on the prevalence and correlates of ideological motivation, and a large-N study based on the author’s original Obituary Registry of Dictators Dataset (ORDD) to uncover patterns related to ideology. The empirical evidence shows that ideologically motivated dictators are widespread. Greater commitment to ideology is correlated with the dictators’ socioeconomic background, education levels, age as well as with a challenging road to power, e.g., being a former guerrilla fighter. Finally, ideologically motivated dictators, regardless of their ideologies, are more likely to enhance development in their countries, less likely to repress their people violently and to experience civil war (except dictators who hold strongly exclusionary ideologies). The dissertation significantly enhances our understanding of and ability to explain the political dynamics in dictatorships.

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