Soldiers Not Statesmen: The Norm of Civilian Authority and Contentious Collective Action under Military Rule (With Mashail Malik)

An extensive literature documents how the institutional structures of authoritarian regimes influence effectiveness at co-opting and coercing opposition. However, scholars have largely overlooked how different institutional structures also contribute to patterns of opposition through their association with norms of legitimate authority. This paper argues that authoritarian regimes dominated by the armed forces are more likely to confront contentious collective action because military rule violates a well-established norm that governance should be the domain of civilian officials. We provide empirical evidence for the existence of this norm with data from the World Values Survey, and we utilize multiple sources of collective action data to show that military regimes are more likely than other authoritarian regimes to face protests and mass movements. Furthermore, we leverage different coding schemes for periods of military rule to demonstrate that more frequent protest activity is driven by military regimes that most clearly violate the norm of civilian authority. The paper contributes to understanding of how legitimating norms shape opposition to authoritarian regimes.