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“Keep Your Enemies Close: Why Do Dictators Purge or Retain Disloyal Elites?” by Ed Goldring

August 19, 2020 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am

Author: Ed Goldring (HKUST)

Abstract: Why do dictators purge or retain disloyal elites? Existing explanations of purges principally rely on coup threats; we must also, however, account for threats from popular revolutions and foreign states. A dictator is likely to purge a disloyal elite who increases the coup threat, but retention becomes more likely when one of these alternative threats is heightened and the disloyal elite can help the dictator mitigate the threat. I find support for this argument through process-tracing elite purges in Park Chung-hee’s South Korea, and with supplementary data from a most-different country context of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. The argument is consistent with studies on alternative authoritarian survival tactics that also explain variations in autocrats’ behaviors based on the broader autocratic threat environment of coups, revolutions, and foreign states. The article speaks directly to literature on authoritarian survival, and also contains insights about democratic backsliding and grand strategy towards autocracies.

Discussants: Andrew Boutton (UCF) and Stan Hok-Wui Wong (HKPU).

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