in: Political Research Exchange, 1:1, 1-23
This article analyses the language authoritarian leaders use to legitimate their rule. It examines the official speeches of autocrats in hegemonic regimes and compares them to the rhetorical styles of leaders in closed or competitive regimes and democracies. While recent autocracy research has drawn most attention to the phenomenon of competitive authoritarianism, the survival strategies of hegemonic regimes are less explored. Thus, the study focuses on the simulation of pluralism as a key feature of hegemonic regimes. By installing non-competitive multiparty systems which merely pretend pluralism, these regimes maintain a strong grip on power.
The study finds that the leaders of hegemonic regimes use a surprisingly democratic style of language to sustain this façade of pluralism. The dictionary-based quantitative text analysis of 2074 speeches of current leaders in 22 countries illustrates that compared to other autocracies, hegemonic regimes overemphasize the (non-existing) democratic procedures in their country to fake a participatory form of government and gain national and international legitimacy. The subsequent case studies of Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia further reveal the differences in context and motives for autocrats in hegemonic, closed, and competitive regimes to use autocratic or democratic styles of language.