When used to describe a specific form of government, "democracy" refers to a state in which the citizens share in sovereignty. In a nondemocratic government, in contrast, the leader or leaders are not chosen by the populace and do not have accountability to them. Because the state is ruled by an authority, not the people, such governments are called authoritarian, according to Patrick H. O’Neil’s “Essentials of Comparative Politics.”

Forms of Authoritarian Regimes

The specific type of authoritarian state depends on who wields the power. One common form is totalitarianism, which, O’Neil explains, features a leader or small group of leaders who ruthlessly seek to combine the economy, society and state according to a powerful central ideology. He cites North Korea as a modern-day example of a totalitarian regime. Specific forms of government may include military rule, as in a junta; personal rule, as in a dictatorship; monarchical rule, as in a kingdom; religious rule, or theocracy; and bureaucracy, as in an authoritarian technocracy. It is possible for states to be hybrid forms, or what O’Neil calls, “illiberal,” having the surface forms of a democracy.