An introduction to themes and prescribed content (ATL)

This page aims to introduce students to the concept of authoritarian states and to think about the themes and prescribed content that they will need to consider in their study of authoritarian states. The activities are designed to be used as an introduction to this topic.

Theme One: The Emergence of authoritarian states

This topic involves studying the reasons why authoritarian leaders/states emerged and the methods that were used to establish their power. Students need to be able to compare factors that led to the emergence of authoritarian states from different regions looking specifically at economic, social, political factors as well as the impact of war; they also need to be able to analyse and compare the methods used to consolidate power.

Task One

ATL: Research and thinking skills

Read the following definition of an authoritarian state:

An authoritarian state is one where the ruling party or the individual ruler is not accountable to the people and cannot be removed from power by an election. Individual freedom is seen as less important than the power or authority of the state. Often an authoritarian state is a one party state and/or a dictatorship

1. In pairs discuss the characteristics of an authoritarian state. What restrictions on personal freedoms would you expect to see?

2. In pairs research where there are authoritarian states in the world today.

You can get some ideas from these articles:

Task Two

ATL: Research and thinking skills

It is important that you can write about the different thematic causes of why authoritarian states emerge. The different themes that you will need to consider that influence the rise to power of an authoritarian leader in this topic are:

  • economic factors   
  • social divisions in the country
  • weakness of a political system
  • impact of war

The thematic points that you need to consider in the establishment of power are:

  • persuasion/coercion
  • the role of the leader
  • ideology
  • use of force
  • propaganda

Choose one of the states that you identified in Task One. In pairs research how this leader/government got power and how it consolidated its power. Use the themes above to organise your information; make these themes your headings and comment briefly what role each played (or if it was of no significance).

Theme Two:  Consolidation and maintenance of power

This theme involves investigating how authoritarian states consolidated and then maintained their power. Students need to consider factors such as use of legal means, use of force, the role of leadership and the impact of propaganda as well as treatment of opposition groups and the impact of foreign policy.

Task One

ATL: Research and thinking skills

Continue to research the authoritarian state you picked in Task One above.

Identify the means by which power was consolidated and how power is currently maintained. Consider the impact of each of the following:

  • Laws that have been passed to establish control; were they established through legal means?
  • The use of force to establish control: was it established through a coup d'état or eliminating key people/groups?
  • The impact of leadership: was there a popular leader who persuaded the people to give him/her power?
  • The use of propaganda: did this play a role in convincing people of the country of the need for authoritarian rule?
  • Opposition groups: how extensive were these? How were they dealt with?
  • Relations with and/or hostility to other countries; how has this helped in the consolidation and maintenance of power?

    Theme Three: Aims and results of policies

    Students have to examine economic, political, cultural and social policies - the aims and the results of these policies. They also have to examine the extent of authoritarian control.

    Task One

    ATL: Thinking skills

    For every authoritarian state that you study, you will need to look at policies under the following themes: economic, political, cultural and social

    In pairs identify which theme each of the following refers to:

    • Polices about women
    • Policies on agricultural
    • Policies affecting the structure of government
    • Policies concerning the church
    • Policies on architecture
    • Policies affecting industry
    • Policies concerning education
    • Expectations on what artists should produce
    • The rules of the constitution
    • Rules concerning political parties

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