Beyond strong and weak: rethinking postdictatorship civil societies Articles uri icon

publication date

  • September 2014

start page

  • 432

end page

  • 503


  • 2


  • 120

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0002-9602

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1537-5390


  • What is the impact of dictatorships on postdictatorial civil societies? Bottom-up theories suggest that totalitarian dictatorships destroy civil society while authoritarian ones allow for its development. Top-down theories of civil society suggest that totalitarianism can create civil societies while authoritarianism is unlikely to. This article argues that both these perspectives suffer from a one-dimensional understanding of civil society that conflates strength and autonomy. Accordingly we distinguish these two dimensions and argue that totalitarian dictatorships tend to create organizationally strong but heteronomous civil societies, while authoritarian ones tend to create relatively autonomous but organizationally weak civil societies. We then test this conceptualization by closely examining the historical connection between dictatorship and civil society development in Italy (a posttotalitarian case) and Spain da postauthoritarian one). Our article concludes by reflecting on the implications of our argument for democratic theory, civil society theory, and theories of regime variation.


  • Sociology


  • comparative perspective; political community; democracy; spain; organizations; tocqueville; membership; parties; systems; reforms