Summary of Essentials of Comparative Politics by O'Neil written in 2013 donated to WorldSupporter
In order to understand what comparative politics is, the definition of politics must also be made clear. Politics exist wherever an organization does, sometimes even if the organization is not formally constructed. Thus, any relations within organization that involve a struggle for power are referred to as politics. In the political science realm, the type of politics being observed is that conducted in political institutions -- such as sub-national, national or supra-national governments -- where the power exerted is over the general public. Power is defined as the ability to influence others.
Comparative politics uses these two concepts and adds in a third: comparison. Simply put, it is the comparative study of politics and political power. The politics of different political institutions are compared so as to help us understand the dynamics behind political power, test our hypotheses concerning political power and verify our assumptions. For instance, why are some governments stable while others are not? Why do some governments stubbornly remain non-democratic?
This last question is in fact a central topic, and the debate over going to war in Iraq revolved around it. Comparative politics suggests several approaches for investigating this question, springing from two basic reasoning tools. Inductive reasoning refers to the process by which a hypothesis is obtained following the study of a case. Deductive reasoning, on the other hand, has the opposite directionality, whereby hypotheses are generated and then tested with cases. Although both methods have their validity, both are also quite complicated and have their shortcomings, due to the nature of political science.
First, as is the case with political science, variables cannot be controlled for, as they are based on an analysis of the real world where all variables, causes and effects are intermingled in a complex web that is difficult, if not impossible, to untangle. Second, as there are around 200 countries, each with varying characteristics and intricacies that make comparison difficult, sample sizes are often deemed inadequate for accurate results. Consider the fact that in the natural sciences, for instance, a large number of similar cases -- at least hundreds and most often thousands -- are contrasted to yield the most accurate results. 200 countries with varying cultures, regimes, economic outputs, inputs and other characteristics make such systematic study difficult. This brings us to the third problem, as how each characteristic of a country is measured depends often on the method used to access it. In some countries, access to archives is nigh on impossible, and in others different methods of analysis (assuming the records can be obtained) yield very different results. Furthermore, individual scientists are highly unlikely to do the comparative field research themselves, and usually tend to use data and databases compiled by others. The methodological contrasts between how each dataset was compiled makes comparison more complex. Fourth and last, issues of bias play a role in complicating study of the field. This bias revolves specifically around the selection of cases -- given their highly limited number -- as language barriers, political barriers or plain personal interest motivate the selection of one case over the other despite the fact that the one discarded may be more appropriate. Due to all the problems above, the relationship between variables of study is most often concluded to correlational (if that) rather than causational, as causation is too difficult to determine.
Although the above may cause skepticism about the validity of political science as a whole, the fact that it, along with comparative politics, makes for difficult study is also what engendered a push towards an increasingly scientific approach in these fields. This has, however, also sparked a debate concerning its nature as a real science. Comparative politics, as conducted by, among others, Niccolò Machievelli, Karl Marx and Max Weber was an odd blend of ideology and academic inquiry, and by the twentieth century, although a formal field, approximated a sort of Euro-centric journalism rather than a comparative study of states and political institutions. As comparative politics modernized, especially after the two world wars and during the rise of the Cold War, systematic study became a reality to cope with the complexity of the field, but the idealistic grain that was there in the past remained: capitalism and democracy were upheld as the goal. This idealism is written down in modernization theory, a theoretical field of comparative politics, whereby it is stated that societal development will lead ultimately to a political organization akin to that of a capitalist democracy with similar values and characteristics. According to this line of reasoning, Western countries were the most advanced and third world countries needed to be guided along this path and diversions caused by alternative political systems (such as communism) needed to be averted. Thus, field research for comparative study, funded by Western governments and private grants, became the norm. Collected data was then processed with statistical methods and computer technology, along with a shift away from legislations and constitutions towards individual behavior. This is known as the behavioral revolution. Political behavior and incentives became the center of study and through such study it was hoped that theories could be obtained and generalized that would explain political motivation across countries. Although modernization theory and behavioralism are quite different, as the former hypothesizes about a country’s development and the latter provides a method of approach to politics, they are both a manifestation of the increasing scientization of the field of comparative politics.
This was not, however, without drawbacks, as critics argued that the scientific obsession had misled political scientists away from knowledge, but rather incentivized methodological complexity and technical jargon that detracted from the validity of the discipline. Additionally, critics also pointed at its ideological nature, complaining that comparativists were attempting to direct a Westernized type of modernization rather than attempting to comprehend the world.
The various approaches, criticisms and worldviews described in previous paragraphs led to a segmentation of political science as well as comparative politics. There is little to no consensus regarding the direction of the field, and uncertainty regarding which analytical and statistical methods are most fruitful prevails. This has generated various debates. The advocates of the quantitative approach -- that using statistical, mathematical and econometric models -- argue that the behavioral revolution still has some way to go. On the other hand, advocates of the qualitative approach -- that using long-term and extensive analysis of specific areas of the world -- prefer a more journalistic and descriptive method. Another disagreement revolves around a basic assumption underlying human nature. Some scholars believe that human beings are rational, and thus behave in ways that can be comprehended. To such scholars, rational choice and game theory are useful to analyze the dynamics behind politics. These frameworks hopefully make it possible to explain and predict political behavior. Qualitative scientists question this perspective, as they believe that human behavior cannot be predicted and is fundamentally erratic.
A middle ground has been sought. Quantitative scholars recognize the value of qualitative approaches, as numerical data does not always provide the full picture, nor does numerical data necessarily make it scientific, nor is qualitative data necessarily lacking rigor. On the other end of the spectrum, qualitative scholars are more often utilizing statistics and improving their methodology so that their research may provide a stepping stone for others rather than just providing unique descriptions. Thus, a combination of both the qualitative and quantitative approaches can help serve and create new models, whereby statistics, formal models and narratives are fused. As the field converges, emphasis is placed on a normative concern, that the study of politics must also be guided by the purpose of helping to improve the world, as that contributes to a meaningful study of political science and comparative politics.
As mentioned earlier, a key concept being studied in comparative politics is political institutions. These are organizations that are valued for their own sake. Institutions are so numerous that they are inevitably a part of people’s lives, and as such, due to the large amount of individual interests involved in them, are difficult to remove and/or change. For instance, democracy is an institution in quite a few countries, and is, beyond that, central to the lives of those living there. In some other countries, democracy has little presence, and inhabitants of such countries find that democracy has a much less central role in their lives. Instead, religion or cultural norms may hold greater sway over them. As such, it is inane to state that there is a specific set of institutions that can exert influence over everyone. A key aspect of comparative politics involves acknowledging not the similarities, but the differences.
Institutions are not material, although their proceedings may take place in material places. They survive by being central to the lives of people, and are shaped by the worldviews and values of those people. A threat to these institutions constitutes a threat to the people associated with it, and if damaged, changed or shattered, the people will work hard to reconstruct it as they were. This is often called the “stickiness” of institutions, because it is so difficult to get to point B from point A. This can be an advantage, as it can help secure institutions that are good for society, but it can also be a disadvantage, as it often means that even necessary change is resisted. This isn’t to say that institutions do not change, but they are inherently difficult to change.
Political institutions are numerous and many countries share the same basic ones. For example, all aspects of the law have an institution to match: creation and modification of the law (legislature), enforcement of the law (police), application of the law (courts), and so on. These institutions do not only persevere because they force compliance. This may be partly true, but research shows that a significant part of compliance with taxation involves the belief by those paying the taxes that it is a legitimate method to obtain funding for programs that are deemed necessary for society. Another way to corroborate this would be to look at countries where taxation is not institutionalized. In those places, taxes are seen as illegitimate and few people pay.
Given that institutions are the playing field of politics, this makes them a good lens through which to look at political behavior. Institutions are not only the cause of politics, but also are shaped by it. It is in part because of this that there is so much variation in institutions around the world. This textbook aims to provide a critical outlook on these institutions, showing common characteristics between them all the while being aware of their differences. In so doing, a more nuanced, complex and accurate sense of politics across countries can be gained.
Before delving into subsequent chapters, let us briefly cover a debate central to politics, namely the ultimate aim of politics and institutional arrangement. This is, briefly put, the struggle for freedom and equality. Not only are individual freedom and collective equality central to politics, but so is how these two concepts are to be reconciled. In order to reconcile them, it is first necessary to understand what they signify. Freedom refers to the ability of a person to act independently in an unrestricted manner. Equality refers to a shared material standard of individuals. Part of the debate around these two ideals revolves around the question as to whether they are mutually exclusive or not. For example, greater taxation and redistribution by governments may increase equality yet reduce personal freedom. Conversely, lesser control by governments may increase personal freedom yet enable inequality. The United States of America has a very high ratio of personal freedom to economic equality. In the Soviet Union the reverse was true. Is either acceptable? Is it necessarily the case that gains in one ideal represent losses in the other? No. Many would argue that freedom and equality, to a great extent, also strengthen each other. Individuals with material security are likelier to pursue their political rights, and individuals with political rights are much better placed to secure material stability. As previously stated, the debate concerning the balance of individual freedom and collective equality is central to politics. Other, similar and similarly important debates will be covered in this textbook.
If the purpose of institutions lies in giving us a lens through which to look at politics, then the purpose of politics is to harmonize individual freedom and collective equality. We will come back to this in subsequent chapters. The broader perspective most useful for comparative politics is skepticism, not of others alone, but also of our own beliefs and assumptions in light of conflicting evidence.
A primary political institution is the state. Throughout this chapter we will cover what the state is, what institutions a state is composed of and how states use their power to tackle the balance between freedom and equality. Furthermore, the origins of states will also be discussed, as they are a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. This beckons the question: why did states appear? Having covered this, we will look at some potential tools for comparison between states, and explore related questions.
Understanding the state
A key aspect of a state is sovereignty, which can be defined as the authority to govern independently. Thus, a state must be the chief authority over everything in its territory. For this to be possible, the state needs to have power, which does not only come in the form of exerted influence, but also physical power, using enforcement mechanisms such as the police or the army to neutralize internal and external threats. The state is thus the conjunction of these institutions and aims to hold the greater part of force within its territory.
States are, however, more complex than merely force-exerting entities. The political machine that states are a part of also cracks out laws, regulations, rights, guarantees, policies, etc. and anything else deemed necessary to attain fundamental goals with regard to equality and freedom. It is important to make distinctions between the state and other terms used with respect to political organizations.
Regime: a regime is characterized by the fact that it has certain objectives concerning individual freedom, collective equality and the placement of power within the state. A democratic regime would thus prioritize public participation in government alongside certain rights and liberties for all. A nondemocratic regime, on the other hand, would curb the involvement of the public in governance to further increase and centralize power at the hands of officials that are at the head of the state. There are obviously individual variations within these categories, but the basic distinction helps us understand what a regime consists of.
Government: the government is, briefly put, those at the head of the state. If we think of politics as a computer, then the state is the hardware, the regime its software and programming, and the government its programmer and user. As governments are changed, regimes cannot be as quickly. Thus, it often occurs that governments are operating in a regime they would rather modify, and a large part of politics involves the government attempting to morph the regime they inherited into the one they desire. Too sudden a regime change, as attempted by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, could, as happened in this case, bring forth the country’s collapse.
Country: the country simply is the complete entity formed by the state as well as its citizens.
Origins of the state
The modern state originated in Europe for reasons not entirely clear, and came to be from a combination of factors linked to history and geography. It is thought that the disorganized, backward culture that came after the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century spurred a counter-culture of organization to adapt to the highly competitive times. On a geographical level, Europe’s proximity to Asia and the Middle East allowed it to absorb information, innovations, plants and animals that were unavailable to people of Africa or the Americas. China, in many ways a potential competitor for Europe due to its size, remained rigid and inflexible to change, be it economic, political or technological, because of its highly stable nature (in turn caused by lack of competitiveness such as that observed in Europe).
The state only strengthened its dominance since the end of the Dark Ages for three key reasons. First, that states appeared to incite economic development. Second, that states incited technological innovation, as rulers of states sought ways to gain a competitive advantage over others. Third, that states promoted stability, as interaction and exchange allowed people to develop a shared culture and also exhibit their rivalries in an economic rather than military fashion.
The benefit of the rise of states does not, however, occult the cost. While in Europe the rise of states was a rather natural, progressive evolution, elsewhere its spread was rather forced. The way people and institutions organized themselves in Africa, South America and Asia combined much less organically with a European state. Furthermore, their material means were also quite difference. The aggressive arrival of the state in those continents condensed Europe’s hundreds of years of change into one massive political overhaul, spurring significant turmoil that survives to this day, also leaving behind, with decolonization, a legacy of the state.
As has been discussed throughout previous sections, states have rather long, arbitrary and individualized development processes and as a result, differ significantly one from the other. In this section we will get acquainted with some key conceptual tools that will allow us to make useful comparisons between states.
Legitimacy is the value according to which an institution is deemed just, or whose existence is deemed right and proper. According to Max Weber, there are three basic forms of legitimacy: the traditional, the charismatic and the rational-legal. Traditional legitimacy is based on the idea that if a system has prevailed for a long time, it should be accepted given that it has been accepted for a long period of time. Charismatic legitimacy revolves around the power of ideas, and the ability of a “charismatic” person to help the public accept and adopt his ideas for the state. Rational-legal legitimacy is based on a highly institutionalized set of rules and procedures. To a nuanced extent, all three types of legitimacy play a role in the formation of the modern state, although the latter tends to prevail due to the highly bureaucratic nature of our everyday lives.
Centralization and decentralization can occur in many different shapes and sizes. Federalism is a system under which certain powers are relegated to regional, rather than national, governments, which makes it a form of decentralized authority. On the other hand, we call unitary states those that maintain key powers at the national level, leaving little to regional bodies. This is a form of centralized authority. The tendency towards decentralization, which has occurred recently and which will be discussed at length in future chapters, is called devolution.
Power allows us to make the basic distinction between the powerful and the not powerful. In other words, strong states and weak states. The former group is made up of those that are capable of functioning as a state and completing their duties. The latter group, on the other hand, and somewhat intuitively, are those that are not capable of doing so. Weak states are thus poorly institutionalized and rules are poorly enforced. That said, they are enforced and some modicum of functionality exists. States that lack even this bare minimum are called failed states. Examples include, in decreasing order of instability, Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Central African Republic, Guinea, Bangladesh, Burma, Haiti, North Korea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Lebanon, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. Two further characteristics to detect, beyond the weak/strong dichotomy, help deepen the comparison of states: autonomy and capacity. The former is about the state’s ability to wield its power in an independent fashion, whereas the latter is about the state’s ability to wield its power to fulfill basic tasks and duties necessary for the wellbeing of its people.
In this chapter we will discuss important topics and concepts. These are some of the central ones:
∙ The way that individuals connect with their respective societies is defined by ethnicity.
∙ People are united by similar political struggles via national identity.
∙ Conflict can arise from ethnic and national differences, as well as different political ideals.
∙ Political ideologies are views concerning what the aim of politics should be.
∙ Political culture is what is considered the norm for political activity within a society.
Beyond this, this chapter will cover the manner in which individuals find identity and are given identity, as well as when they are part of a group. Furthermore, these identifications processes will be tied to politics and the state, concepts covered in previous chapters. Before proceeding with the chapter, a couple things should be pointed out. Identity, be it rooted in ethnicity, nationality or political ideology, is socially constructed. Institutions are not, however, easily changed as a result. Below, following a brief description of the society, these three “branches” of identification are explained.
Society is an extensive concept that alludes to the complicated manner in which humans organize themselves around shared institutions. As institutions vary across the world, so do societies, because the institutions they espouse are also different. Superficial similarities exist between various societies, yet the way in which each society views the world, others and itself is unique. Comparative politics is thus a rich field, but also a frustrating one, as part of the study involves the seeking of similarities, which are rare.
Ethnic identity revolves around the attribution of certain cultural characteristics to a person. These characteristics, institution-based, can be linguistic, religious, geographic, customary, historical, and so on. These attributes, once institutionalized, give a group of individuals an identity that is handed down every generation. Thus, one is born with some of these attributes (a process called ascription). This means that ethnical identity isn’t chosen, but rather acquired at birth, and remains essentially the same during life. Ethnicity is also a source of solidarity. Thus, some groups with a great degree of solidarity would be more generous towards those within that group, and also display more animosity towards ethnically different groups. This has important implications: more homogenous societies may be more inclined towards redistribution, whereas more heterogeneous ones may be less so.
Each society can be split up into various ethnic groups. For instance, in the United States, Australia, and many others, there are people who, beyond calling themselves American and Australian, are indigenous and have their own cultures. No country is ethnically homogenous, and society and ethnicity are rarely, if ever, synonymous. A difficulty revolving around defining groups, however, is that there are no particular attributes or differences that can be used to differentiate one group from another. The Bosnian example had Serbs, Croats and Muslims, who all spoke the same language and had many other similarities. Here the key point of difference was religion. Yet in other ethnic groups, religious views may differ without consequence. Germans are German regardless of whether they are catholic, protestant, atheist, etc..
Unlike ethnicity, nationality is far more consistently defined, and also an inherently political concept. Nationality is the institutional ensemble that unifies individuals via common political aspirations. Chief of these is self-governance and sovereignty. Ethnic and national identity are often linked, the former bringing about the latter. However, this is not always the case, which begs the question whether national identity can exist without ethnicity? There is currently no consensus on this question in the political science field. Both sides of the argument can be understood. If there is no root to national identity, how would solidarity and national pride be built? However, the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada all show that there need not be a dominant ethnic identity for nationalistic pride to set in. National identity and ethnic identity can thus coexist in one individual, with pride for both.
Political identity: citizenship
The final form of identity we will cover here is that of citizenship. Ethnicity, as has been previously discussed, is not inherently political. Citizenship is just the opposite: it is a completely political identity, created by states and taken on (or not) by people. Citizenship is then the relationship one has to the state. Citizens swear allegiance, and are given in return certain rights and obligations. Citizenship may be acquired at birth, but has many characteristics that set it apart from ethnicity or nationality. Depending on the country one is a citizen of, the benefits (health care, education, and so on) and obligations (tax rate, for instance) that come with citizenship vary.
An individual’s pride in his or her state is thus called patriotism. This individual is then deemed patriotic when he or she defends and promotes it. Poorly functioning states have difficulty in getting patriots, although some states that propagandize have a decent following, although the patriots are just that on misinformed grounds. Citizenship does not a patriot make, nor does a strong nationalistic identity or a strong ethnic one.
To conclude, ethnicity, nationality and citizenship are three different institutions that help define groups of people in distinct fashion and have political implications to differing extents. Ethnicity bases itself on social characteristics, nationality on political ones, and citizenship on a certain relationship to the state. We all have a different mix of these identificative sources, each playing different roles in shaping our worldviews.
Ethnic and national conflict
In this section we will review the sources of conflict on both national and ethnic grounds, and strive to understand why some conflicts develop and others don’t. Before doing so, however, let us define these concepts. Ethnic conflict is a struggle between ethnic groups to reach certain political and economic goals. National conflict, on the other hand, involves the struggle between groups aiming at sovereignty. On both cases, violence is often used.
Cases of ethnic and national conflict are prevalent, as are examples with both. Afghanistan has seen ethnic conflict, as did Kenya in 2007. The American Revolution, beginning in 1775, was a case of national conflict. Combinations of both types of conflict can be seen in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
There is no consensus as to why these types of conflicts break out, nor can anyone give a simple answer. A variety of factors come into play and have differing roles in the origin of conflict. Some conflicts may be much more based in economic factors, whereas others may be more societally rooted. However, a useful generalization exists for explaining a lot of the factors that cause conflict into “bottom up” and “top down”. Bottom-up explanations generally revolve around institutional causes, with a focus on socio-economic and political institutions responsible for conflict. This includes the nature of the state itself, and some political scientists use the term “artificial states” to talk about states whose territorial divisions does not match with the spread of ethnic and/or national groups. This is in many cases the legacy that colonialism left behind in Africa, and very likely a root cause of many of the difficulties that African states are now facing and have faced. These difficulties have and can create a cycle of violence that can in the worst cases result in the failure of a state.
How can one resolve this, considering that ethnic divisions and mixes are so common? The few answers that have been given are unclear and controversial. Past conflicts were resolved via assimilation or separation. Either solution is highly imperfect, as the former may be forced, and the latter violent, or imply segregation. Another solution is given in decentralization, but anecdotal evidence is unclear. In the case of Spain in the 1980s and the United Kingdom in the 1990s, this worked. However, Yugoslavia, a highly federal state, still ended up collapsing. The lesson to be learned from this is that power devolution needs to be done in such a manner so as to provide various groups freedom to self-govern but also to make politics national. An electoral system that makes room for regional and ethnic parties rather than national parties will not reconcile people, but rather separate them. Thus, the political system, the institutions in place and the regional layout are all capable of prompting change. This will be reviewed in greater depth in chapter 5 about democratic institutions.
Political attitudes are the views people have that concern the speed and spectrum of change necessary in the balance between freedom and equality. Such attitudes are usually divided into various subdivision, labelled as follows, and usually labelled, in the same order as below, from extreme left to extreme right:
Radicals are people who are of the mind that the current socio-political and economic order needs such a drastic change that a revolution is in order. As such, they view the existing system are dysfunctional and unimprovable, but rather replaceable. Slow change is thus not an option to them.
Liberals also think, like radicals, that there is a lot to improve and are in favor of sweeping change. That said, evolutionary transformation is considered the better option, because such change can come about from the existing system. It is consequently deemed that the current system does not require replacement, merely evolution. Furthermore, liberals are against excessively rapid change, as they are skeptical that such change can be lasting.
Conservatives, on the other hand, see no need for change, or at least question its necessity. Change is not necessarily good, and it could in fact worsen the current situation.
Reactionaries, much like conservatives, resist further change. Nevertheless, the current order is also not deemed functional. As such, they seek to restore past institutions, be they political, social or economic. They are more willing to reach their goals with violence.
The previous section covered political attitudes, and throughout, the reader must have suspected that each of those four attitudes is quite different in countries with differing systems and regimes, and that thus, comparisons are difficult to draw. In effect, liberals in one country may be conservative in the other, and vice versa. In order to break past this, scholars speak of political ideologies. These are views concerning what the aim of politics should be. Instead of worrying about the way in which goals are attained, as is the case with political attitudes, political ideologies worry about the goal itself. There are currently five ideologies that are most commonly used.
Liberalism emphasizes individual freedom above other values. Thus, the aim of politics is to enable the highest degree of freedom possible, requiring a small government that can easily be verified and kept in check by the people. Liberals view the government as an enabler of freedom, and nothing more, only punishing those who hurt others. From this ideology arose, in part, modern day democracy (a.k.a. liberal democracy). It has to be noted, however, that liberals are aware of the existence of people who, without aid, will not fare well, but this is considered to be a trade-off that is for the greater good. Note that liberalism is not the same as a political ideology as it is as a political attitude.
Communism believes, unlike liberalism, that individual freedom must be sacrificed for the greater good. Communists believe that in a free market struggle over resources, there will be a dominant minority that the majority will lose out on. Thus, the government is needed to even the distribution of resources and prevent inequality. Liberal democracy, to communists, ends up precisely as a rule by the rich, or what they call “bourgeois democracy”, because only the wealthy are represented. The Soviet Union and China are both countries in which communist ideology was put in place. For communists, this is called “the people’s democracy”, despite the lack of freedom. As such, democracy is also a difficult concept to pigeonhole, which we will cover in chapter 5.
Social democracy (or socialism) can be considered somewhat of a blend between the two previous ideologies. It accepts the relatively important role of the market in daily life, but also accepts the necessity of government regulation to maintain a certain degree of economic equality. Thus, individual liberty and equality are both balanced to less extreme extents than they are in both communism and liberalism.
Fascism is against individual freedom and equality. It consists of a mindset that encourages the categorization of people as inferior and superior. The superior deserve greater power and wealth, and the inferior deserve little. Democracy is rejected (regardless of definition) in this system. Although there are currently no such regimes, the Nazi regime in Germany was the most notorious one to exist. Political parties promoting these ideologies do, however, exist.
Anarchism, unlike the previous ideologies, does not agree with even the idea of a state. Anarchists have, like communists, the notion that private property is synonymous with inequality, but question the validity of the state as an enforcing mechanism for equality. Instead, they believe that both ideals, freedom and equality, can be achieved without a state. People would then be free to work together as equals. This is the only ideology that has not taken place anywhere in the world, as the world is comprised entirely of states.
One question remains concerning the political implications following the manners in which societies find identification, and it is this one. If ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, political attitudes and political ideologies set the stage for political battle, what is it exactly that prompts the variety in outcome that exists today? One key explanation lies in the concept called political culture. Culture, in general, refers to the key institutions that aid in the identification of a society. It could be seen as a rule-book, a way of life that differs for each society. Political culture subsequently refers to the rules that a society accepts in the political realm.
One may be skeptical about the idea that each society has its own special political views that distinguish it from others, especially since what has been covered thus far has been the heterogeneous spread of opinions within countries. As a result, some scholars in the field are in agreement with this position, arguing that political culture is not a valuable concept. People are, according to these scholars, inherently rational, and their response to certain political behaviors can be predicted. Scholars on another end of the spectrum, though, hold that political views and values are molded by cultural institutions, and bystanders may fail to properly grasp the political processes in a country if they fail to grasp that country’s culture.
More broadly speaking, some political scientists have maintained that political culture plays a big role in political difference across countries. For instance, trust between governors and governees (a.k.a. social capital) has been implied to be rooted in a cultural predisposition (or lack thereof) to trust. The problem with attributing every difference to culture, however, is that it makes research impossible and claims unsubstantiatable. A balance consequently needs to be sought between understanding culture and being able to negate it for research purposes. But how long does culture last, political or otherwise? Much like tradition, there is change over time. Many scholars believe that the democratization, modernization and globalization of the world will bring about a cultural melding that will promote the values of freedom, equality and democracy. The skeptics hold that as a result of globalization, there will be a backlash and cultures will close in on themselves, attempting to keep others out. In this view, the attacks of 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are evidence of this “clash of civilizations”, term coined by Samuel Huntington. This will be further discussed in the last chapter.
Societies are intricate and complicated. Although we have looked at many of the elements that help shape it (ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, political attitudes, political culture and ideology), there is still a great deal of complexity when it comes to making comparisons or drawing conclusions from comparative study. However, the tools given above hopefully do get us closer to doing so, with more consideration for the complexity of the field than before.
Different portions of society have different objectives. Broadly speaking, societal groups differ in how much value they put on individuals’ freedom versus their equality. The tension between freedom and equality plays out in large part through a country’s economic and political institutions. Interrelationships between economics and politics, and how they influence the equality-freedom balance in society is the subject of political economy.
This chapter overviews political economy by discussing the role played by the government in a country’s economic life under different political-economic systems, as well as the outcomes they lead to. In the process, it introduces measurement of these outcomes. Lastly, the chapter summarizes the evolution of political-economic systems and looks toward the future.
To understand the interaction between politics and economics, it is essential to appreciate the importance of key institutions through which this interaction takes place.
Markets tend to appear as a result of the needs of buyers and sellers to transact with one another. A market allocates resources, such as goods or services, based on their supply and demand. These resource allocations and prices at which they take place send important signals to current and potential buyers and sellers. For example, in order to turn a profit, a seller of a product needs to produce at a cost below the market price. Competition among sellers to produce cheaper and better products spurs innovation and benefits buyers. The government can influence the functioning of markets, however. For example, it can impact the market for labor by setting a minimum wage, or the market for drugs by making certain drugs illegal. On the other hand, illegal markets are likely to spring up in response to circumvent such regulations. Thus the government should carefully weigh the pros and cons of any market interference.
Property refers to anything over which an individual can claim ownership. Clothes, buildings, companies, patents, are all examples of property. It is important that the government define and enforce property rights: a system for ascertaining ownership of property and resolving property disputes. Even property-rich countries can fail to have strong property rights, which tends to stunt their development.
Property rights do not extend to public goods: these are goods and services that the government makes available to the population, such as public roads, national defense, and primary education. These cannot be owned by any one individual, and they benefit society as a whole. As such, public goods contribute to equality, whereas private goods contribute to individual freedom. What constitutes a public good may differ from country to country. For example, health care is provided by the state in Canada but not in the United States. In communist economies companies are generally public goods, as well.
The supply of public goods is funded by the government’s social expenditure. Another term for the provision of public goods is “welfare”, and for some, this term connotes the transfer of wealth away from the hardest-working members of society. Opponents of welfare argue that it results in disincentives to work hard, and undermines historical support structures such as family and the local community. Although the benefits of some forms of public welfare indeed accrue to the most vulnerable members of society such as the unemployed and the elderly, the fruits of other forms of social expenditure, such as national health care or defense, are consumed more widely. Still others, such as public highways, universities, or cultural institutions, may even be disproportionately utilized by the better-off. Overall, in modern welfare states, one may often argue that the primary beneficiaries of the taxes levied on the middle and upper classes are largely themselves, rather than the poor.
The major source of finance for social expenditure is taxation. The extent of social expenditure is thus a key determinant of taxation. For example, in 2005, tax receipts varied from over 50% of gross domestic product in the extensive welfare states of Sweden and Denmark, to only 27.4% in the United States, to 19.9% in Mexico. The mix of taxes on individuals, business, and transactions is also different
across countries. The extent of taxation and the manner in which it is imposed have a direct impact on a country’s economic growth and are thus an important preoccupation for its government.
Money is a means through which economic transactions take place. Historically, it emerged together with political systems, as governments would create and manage money in the economy. For much of human history, money was backed by scarce physical matter, such as gold or silver. In the last century, however, this link was broken: currencies such as dollars or euros are accepted because they are backed by the government, not because they are denominated in a predetermined quantity of a physical resource.
In modern political-economic systems, the institution charged with the management of money in a country is the central bank. A central bank’s key policy tool is its control over a country’s interest rate, which it exercises by setting rates at which other banks can borrow money from the central bank. The interest rates which banks throughout the country make available to individuals and businesses typically reflect the rate at which they can borrow from the central bank. When interest rates increase, borrowing and spending become less attractive, and saving becomes more so, with the result that the quantity of money participating in economic transactions decreases, and economic growth slows. A decrease in interest rates has the reverse effect. In managing the supply of money, central banks seek to keep inflation, i.e. the rate of change in prices, at reasonable levels. The faster the quantity of money is increasing, the faster the prices of goods and services increase. Conversely, if money is too expensive to borrow and its supply is shrinking, prices can start dropping, leading to deflation, as happened for example in Japan between 1998 and 2007. Dropping prices make it harder for businesses to make a profit, potentially leading to a slowdown in economic activity, lower employment, and thus even less spending and more deflation. Inflation brings different challenges. While modest inflation is benign, high inflation can significantly undermine the economic well-being of workers and especially pensioners. To the extent that they press for and obtain increases in salaries and social expenditure as a result, the quantity of money (and therefore inflation) increases still further. This can lead to a vicious cycle resulting in hyperinflation. Hyperinflation is formally defined as two consecutive months with inflation exceeding 50 percent. This tends to happen when the government prints more and more money to finance its expenditures. Rapid erosion in the value of money undermines its credibility for use in economic transactions and as such leads to economic and political crisis. An example is Zimbabwe in 2008, with annual inflation level estimated between 100,000% and 1,000,000%, and one Zimbabwean dollar being worth roughly 0.0000001 U.S. cents. Concern over governments using money to advance their short-term political goals has led many countries to give the heads of their central banks guaranteed job tenures, allowing central banks enjoy a measure of freedom from political influence.
Regulation – the set of rules issued by the government – is another influence on a country’s economic activity. Regulations generally seek to impede processes that the government views as undesirable, and facilitate those seen as beneficial. Some regulations are more economic in nature, such as restrictions on the prices of goods or services, and on who is permitted to produces these. Others are more social in nature, such as those pertaining to public safety and the environment. Of course, economic and social impacts are often interrelated. For example, environmental regulation is likely to impact companies’ operations, and even which companies operate in a given market.
Economic transactions take place not only within a country but also between counties, resulting in trade. Governments seek to exercise varying measures of control over trade through several tools. Tariffs impose taxes on products entering the country, while quotas limit the quantities of such products. In addition, nontariff regulatory barriers (whose stated goal may be to protect the country’s consumers through regulating the content, presentation or distribution of the imported product) are in fact likely to have an effect similar to that of quotas and tariffs. Governments imposing trade barriers
may view them as a way to generate revenue and to protect local producers. Opponents of trade barriers argue that they artificially insulate local producers from competition and local consumers from access to cheaper goods, undermining the country’s ability to benefit from its comparative advantage vis-à-vis other countries in producing some goods relative to others.
The political and economic institutions of a country and their interconnections, as well as the policies and outcomes they generate, amount to that country’s political-economic system. Political-economic systems differ in how they strike a balance between the spheres of activity that are left to the government as opposed to the market, and between freedom and equality. Generally, political-economic systems are categorized into liberalism, social democracy, communism, and mercantilism. Some political-economic systems can be matched to a particular ideology. However, the actual implementation of an ideology is bound to differ from its theoretical counterpart. For example, many communists argued that the Soviet system was a corruption of the communist ideal they envisioned. In addition, some political ideologies do not have an extant real-world counterpart: fascism became extinct in the 1940s, while anarchy never took off in the first place. We discuss the surviving systems individually below.
Liberalism places a strong emphasis on markets and individual freedoms, while seeking to restrict the role of the government. Liberals argue that a policy of laissez-faire, i.e. allowing the economy to operate with minimal interference – also known as capitalism – is the best path toward prosperity. Historically, many of the tenets of liberalism were especially forcefully advocated in the British Isles, notably by the 18th century Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, and to this day liberal thought is firmly entrenched in the UK and its former colonies such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Other countries are more recent subscribers to liberal thought, e.g. Poland and other former Soviet bloc countries. Proponents of liberalism hold that economic freedom leads to political freedom, with free markets being a precondition for genuine democracy. Opponents of liberalism point out the existence of countries such as Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, where economic liberalism coexists with limited political freedoms.
In contrast to liberalism, communism strives for economic equality by maximally extending the reach of the state in the economic sphere. Communists argue that property rights and market forces lead to the concentration of economic and therefore political power in the hands of the few, while much of the population ends up being exploited. Karl Marx and other communist writers argued that such unequal distribution of wealth and power would inevitably lead to a revolution wherein the communist party would seize power in order to institute the communist system. Such a system is characterized by the state taking full control of the economy with the stated goal of benefitting the entire population. Economic decisions under communism are guided by central planning rather than by market, unemployment is non-existent, imports are limited to products that cannot be produced domestically, government revenues come from its control over the economy rather than through a system of taxes, and property rights (except with respect to personal items) are non-existent. Firms face little competition either externally (since trade is limited) or internally (since other firms in the country have the same owner – the state). Communists reason that such a system ensures maximum equality, whereas critics respond that it gives the state – and hence those in power – overwhelming control over peoples’ personal and professional lives, and as such makes democracy unattainable. They also point out that the suppression of market forces in favor of a centralized bureaucracy distorts people’s and companies’ incentives, and so makes the economic system inefficient.
Social democracy stakes out intermediate ground between liberalism and communism. On the one hand, unlike communism, it allows the existence of markets and private property. On the other hand, it puts an emphasis on striving towards greater equality than would be the case under unfettered capitalism. As a result, the reach of the state is wider in a social democracy than in a liberal one: there is greater public ownership of businesses, greater social expenditure, greater regulation (although there can still be substantial variation among social democracies in the extent to which features are present). In addition, social democracies may exhibit neocorporatism, whereby organizations representing producers and workers are recognized by the state and participate in negotiations on such issues as wage agreements and employee benefits. Social democracy is especially common among Western European countries such as France and Germany. Liberal critics emphasize economic inefficiencies stemming from the large size of the public sector and dulled incentives under a social democracy relative to a purer market system. Partisans of social democracy, on the other hand, say that it improves on liberalism by making inequality less extreme, and on communism by allowing private economic activity.
Mercantilism is less concerned with either freedom or equality than it is with developing the economic might of the nation in order to increase its political power internationally. It is effectively an expression of nationalist policy, and as such predates the three systems described above, going back several centuries to the origin of modern European economies. In more recent times, the economic emergence of Japan and South Korea in the post-World War II period, and of China since the 1980s, have been attributed to these countries’ reliance on mercantilism. Industrial policy is of key importance to a mercantilist state, with the state favoring (and sometimes partially or fully owning) industries that are believed to be crucial to increasing the country’s economic power. This is complemented by protectionist measures, such as the use of trade barriers to shield certain industries from competition. On the social expenditure front, however, mercantilism is often closer to liberalism than to social democracy, keeping welfare benefits low. While supporters of mercantilism credit it with the transformation of a number of poor countries into economic heavyweights, detractors argue that the system is fraught with inefficiencies and corruption as a result of the state’s extensive involvement with business decision-making.
Quantifying outcomes of Political-Economic Systems
Since different political-economic systems have different objectives, they are expected to lead to different outcomes. The section discusses several metrics used to compare these outcomes.
Wealth is typically measured as gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. GDP captures the value of goods and services a country produces in a year. In order to make GDP per capita more comparable from one country to another, it is often reported at purchasing power parity (PPP), that is, after adjusting for the cost of living. For example, in the United States in 2007, GDP per capita was $45,800. Because U.S. prices are used as a benchmark for PPP calculations, its GDP at PPP was also $45,800. For Sweden, the 2007 unadjusted GDP per capita in U.S. dollars was $48,584, but because living costs are substantially higher in Sweden than in the U.S., Sweden’s GDP was only $36,500 after PPP adjustment. For China, with its low costs of living, PPP adjustment brought 2007 GDP per capita up from $2,485 to $5,300. Even after PPP adjustment, however, GDP per capita has limitations. For example, by focusing on economic transactions, it increases as a result of rebuilding after natural disasters, even though people are no better off in the wake of the disaster. And conversely, burdens such as high pollution and positive developments such as improvements in life expectancy are not reflected in GDP per capita.
The human development index (HDI), on the other hand, does look beyond simple monetary measures. In addition to GDP, it considers literacy, life expectancy, and educational enrollment, among others. HDI, thus, is a broader measure of a country’s well-being. In 2008, Iceland had the highest HDI in the world, and war-torn Sierra Leone, the lowest. Among the top ten countries ranked by HDI were social democracies (e.g. Sweden), liberal countries (e.g. Australia) and mercantilist ones (e.g. Japan). Overall, HDI indicators have been trending upward since 1980.
Another means to assess a nation’s well-being is to measure its happiness by surveying the population directly. The use of happiness as a measure of political-economic progress is motivated by the fact that the pursuit of happiness is generally agreed to be a key force in human behavior. However, several things need to be taken into consideration when interpreting measures of happiness. First, happiness is largely a relative concept: happiness increases when an objective is reached, but that increase tends to dissipate afterwards. Second, some researchers have argued that once a certain level of material comfort is reached, happiness stops increasing. Recent evidence, however, indicates that even in well-off societies happiness increases with income. There is also compelling evidence that greater inequality in a country is associated with lower overall happiness.
A common measure of inequality in a population is the so-called Gini index, wherein full equality corresponds to a value of zero, and full inequality to a value of 100. As one would expect, communist and social democratic societies tend to have lower values of the Gini index than do liberal and mercantilist ones. For example, as China moved from communism toward mercantilism, its Gini index increased from a level similar to Germany’s (29) to a level similar to that of the United States (47). However, there are substantial variations in the Gini index even across countries with the same political-economic system, while Latin American and African countries have especially high inequality regardless of the political-economic system.
Inequality should not be confused with poverty, i.e. the proportion of population whose income is below some minimal level. Growth in incomes is likely to reduce poverty, but it may well increase inequality at the same time. For example, a 10% increase in incomes across the board would lift some people out of poverty, but it would also increase the spread in incomes between the poor and the well-off by the same 10%, leading to greater inequality. Looking at inequality and poverty together gives a more complete and more nuanced picture than either one in isolation. In fact, since the 1980s, inequality between countries has decreased, whereas inequality within countries has increased. Over the same period, poverty has decreased, with the exception of Africa.
A Historical Perspective on Political-Economic Systems
The four political-economic systems we have discussed have all played important roles over the course of history. Early capitalism has largely been associated with mercantilism which over time gave place to liberalism, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world. The first half of the twentieth century saw the rise of fascism and communism. While World War II put an end to fascism, communism did not begin to disappear until the late 1980s. At the same time, Europe moved more and more toward social democracy, while mercantilism made a comeback, albeit a temporary one, in a number of poorer countries such as India. Overall, at the start of the new millennium it had seemed that social democracy and liberalism had become the dominant systems, and of the two, liberalism was destined to win out. Indeed, economic liberalization increased significantly between 1980 and 2005.
Yet in spite of this increased liberalization, even paragons of liberalism such as the United States, not to mention social democracies, continue to have significant social expenditures. Even more importantly, the severe global financial crisis that commenced in 2008 has prompted many to question liberalism as a viable system. These critics argue that the crisis was a direct outcome of liberal economic policies, and of weakened regulation in particular. Further, the response to the crisis has involved extensive economic intervention by governments around the globe, including taking over ownership of financial institutions, bailing out some industries, and introducing new regulation. It appears likely that momentum will be with mercantilism and social democracy for some time – at the expense of liberalism.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to predict with certainty what the future will hold, as society faces new problems and opportunities, and puts forward new ideas in response. The political-economic systems we have studied have developed over the course only a few centuries – a very short period in historical terms. The only certainty about the future is that big changes lie ahead.
In this chapter we will discuss democratic regimes and key topics and concepts concerning them. Among these are:
∙ Democracy is the exercise of political power that is participative, competitive and free.
∙ Numerous and contradictory explanations for democracy’s rise exist.
∙ There is a lot of variability between democracies with regard to the manner in which executive, legislative and judicial powers are exercised through institutions and how these institutions are set up and managed.
∙ Democracies are usually parliamentary, presidential or semi-presidential.
∙ Electoral systems within democracies tend to employ either the plurality system, the majority system or the proportional system.
Having set these themes out, let us begin.
What is democracy?
Democracy, as noted in chapter three, implies a focus on equality, not individual freedom, to communists. On the other hand, capitalist countries would much rather focus on individual freedom and less so on equality. Thus, the criteria used to describe what a democracy is depending on political ideology. So let us look at the word’s etymology. Democracy comes from the Greek demos and kratia, meaning, respectively, “the common people” and “power”. Thus, at a basic level, democracy is the rule of the people over the people and for the people. The people can then use this power in a direct manner or in an indirect one, through participation, competition and freedoms. As such, democracy can be defined as the exercise of political power that is participative, competitive and free. That said, the definition given could be considered biased, as it places more weight on liberty than on equality, thus identifying more with the liberal’s definition of the word than the communist’s. Thus, many scholars would apply the above definition to the more specific term liberal democracy. Let us emphasize, also, that this textbook is not attempting to say or imply that democracy or any of its forms is unique and superior to all other forms of political organization and arrangement. Rather, we are merely trying to understand democracy as a set of institutions that are grounded in liberalism.
Where does democracy come from?
Historically, elements of democracy have been present throughout the world for thousands of years, but the some of the key institutions that gave birth to those we know today in a liberal democracy were present in ancient Greece and Rome. Greek democracies are important for this reason as they are responsible for planting the idea of the people’s participation. On a local level, ancient Greek democracy permitted the common folk (except women, children and slaves) to take part in governmental affairs. The Roman Empire had a different system, one of republicanism, which espouses the separation of powers and indirect public participation via elected representatives and officials. Thus, while the Greek had created a direct form of democracy, the Romans had created an indirect one, although neither would have been called a liberal democracy by today’s standards. However, they planted the grains of democracy, and it grew to be what we understand it to be today.
Democracy in the contemporary age
Why has democracy expanded to the vast majority of Europe yet not China? Why have countries like South Africa democratized when some of their neighbours didn’t? There are numerous and contradictory answers to these questions. Before delving into them, however, the next paragraph will describe some of the key moments in the rise of democracy.
In the 18th century B.C., the earliest known legal code was created by a Babylonian king called Hammurabi. 1200 years later, in the sixth century before our current era, Athens becomes democratic. However, after a short one hundred years, it collapses, due to war and economic toil. In the first century, Cicero, a Roman philosopher, wrote about the value of the public as a source of political power. From the fifth century to the tenth, the intense competition between kings, emperors and other rulers began to prepare Europe for the rise of the nation-state. In 1646, the treaty of Westphalia is signed, giving the right to all signatories to adopt their own religion. In 1689, the English pass the Bill of Rights. One year later, English philosopher John Locke writes Two Treatises of Government, which states that the government’s duty is to defend “the right to life, liberty and the ownership of property”. Another philosopher, a French one, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, further emphasized, in 1762, the well-being of the people as a priority for government, and stipulates that if a government does not act in the interest of its people, then the people have a right to depose said government. In 1787, the United States’ Constitution and Bill of Rights formalizes the separation of powers and the civil rights of those living on American soil. From 1832 to 1884, voting rights are extended to a much more significant percentage of the male population in the United Kingdom. In 1893, New Zealand is the first country to grant women the right to vote. In 1945, the Second World War ends, with predominantly democratic countries being the victors and predominantly autocratic countries the defeated. Three years later, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is passed by the United Nations. Russia and Eastern Europe begin democratizing from 1989 to 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Finally, in 1994, South Africa holds its first democratic elections without racial discrimination.
Below are many of the explanations given for the wave of democratization we’ve seen in the world:
Modernization theory argues that democratization comes with (be it correlated with or caused by) modernization. The key argument that has been given to support this idea is as follows. Seeing as modernization comes with greater enlightenment, then the “enlightened” people would aspire to have more power over the state so as to protect their personal interests. This view became less popular as the failure to democratize of many countries occurred in South America in the 1970s, as well as the Asian economic success despite prevalent non-democratic governance. The view has however become more popular since as a result of Eastern Europe’s wave of democratization. Political scientists are now more cautious when it comes to making claims about the causality between modernization and democratization. That said, economic development and low inequality do seem to correlate with democratization.
Elite-based theories attempt to explain why changes in standards of living have often not let to democratization, as was the case in many Middle-Eastern countries. The answer, according to these theories, lie in the role that elites play in society and politics. As the middle class was highly important in securing democratization across democratized countries, lack thereof (thus, poverty and inequality) play key roles in thwarting democratization. This is because where poverty and inequality are prominent, the elites have more power and thus relinquish more if they step down. Where poverty and inequality are relatively rare, the elites have less to lose and aren’t as eager to risk their lives for it.
Society-based theories focus on society’s power to change internal affairs. Elite-based theories inform us of the motivations of those at the top, but not why societies do (or don’t) demand change and enforce it. Scholars embracing these theories find that civil societies are important. Civil societies are, essentially, ways of associating outside of the state. They allow the people to create and feed their own interests independently. These civil societies are by definition not political, yet they allow the people to voice their own interests, views and demands to each other. Civil societies are thus carriers of democratization. Lack of such carriers implies little to no effort put into democratization.
Theories related to international relations take the position that international affairs play a role in shaping internal affairs. Extreme cases of this being true are apparent in the cases of post-World War II Japan and Germany, and recently, Iraq. However, political scientists think that international relations pressures are usually more covert than that, taking the form of globalizing forces that, in turn, modernize and democratize countries. Furthermore, international relations may acclimatize autocratic leaders to democracy. Additionally, civil societies can also be reinforced by the international spread of ideas and by the migration of ideas across borders. The importance of these pressures in pushing for democratization depends on, among others things, the pressure that is being applied, the pressure that is being received (countries can close themselves off, and thus perceive themselves internally as suffering no pressure), and the country’s ability to withstand pressure.
Culture, as discussed in chapter three, can play a role in shaping the preferences of individuals towards (or away from) democracy.
All the above explanations have their merit and flaws, and comparative politics scholars prefer some over others. As is clear, however, all these explanations are, to a degree, complementary and can be combined. Essentially, democratization in a country is a sum of all the factors weighed in the explanations above, but it is a sum that is difficult, if not impossible, to calculate in advance.
The democratic state’s institutions
This segment of this chapter is dedicated to the construction of the democratic state, and the way in which the powers are split up, combined and monitored. However, as will be noted, there is tremendous variety in democracies as to how this is done, although the basics (participation, competition and liberty) remain. Thus, first we will look at some of the major differences in these institutions in the bullet points below, which will be followed, in the next section, by the different models of democracy.
Executive power refers to two key roles in the state. There is the head of state, who is supposed to represent and symbolize the people. The head of government, on the other hand, focuses on running the state and directing internal affairs. There is quite a bit of variation between countries as to how much of a role these two positions play. Heads of government are typically called prime ministers, and the head of state can be a monarch or a president, although the latter is more common. Some countries join those two roles into one, like the United States, where the president is both head of state and head of government.
Legislature is the stage for debates and considerations regarding national politics. Much like in the case of how executive power is organized, legislatures are quite varied, but there is are two key variants: bicameral systems have two houses in the legislature and unicameral systems have one house in the legislate. The general correlation is that smaller countries are unicameral, and larger ones are bicameral, although most liberal democracies are in fact bicameral. In bicameral systems, the upper house serves as a check for the lower house. That said, the upper house tends to be more powerful than the lower house.
The judiciary is what sets out rules and laws that decide on what is deemed acceptable behavior, in the political realm and in life in general. The constitution is central to this, as it is a body of fundamental principles that a state is governed by. Much like the previous two institutions, there is a lot of variation across liberal democracies. Most such states have some type of constitutional court, which is tasked with upholding the constitution and guaranteeing a lack of conflict between the constitution and legislation.
Models of democracy
Given the above description of the state institutions that liberal democracies have at their disposal, let us take a look at different ways in which these institutions can be intertwined.
Parliamentary systems are the most common in democracies around the world. The prime minister is chosen from the legislature and as a result represents the political situation in the legislature. The prime minister is usually the head of the dominant party in the lower house. As a matter of fact, the prime minister typically maintains his seat in the lower house. This is also the case for other ministers.
Presidential systems are systems in which the president is directly elected by the people for a certain amount of time. This is the case in which the powers given to the head of state and to the head of government are combined in this one position. In the previous system discussed the prime minister and the prime minister’s cabinet are based in legislature and need a majority to maintain control. In presidential systems, the president’s term is fixed (usually at around four or five years), and there is no way for this position to be lost unless the official dies, is incapacitated or misuses his or her power.
Semipresidential systems are a combination between the two previous systems briefly overviewed. According to this system, there is a significant division of power between the head of state and the head of government. Presidents have terms that last for a pre-determined amount of time and prime ministers require the legislature’s approval (and, in certain cases, the president’s approval as well). Presidents typically mobilize policy and prime ministers are seen as being there to transform these policies into legislation that will be integrated into the state’s legislature.
What are the flaws and advantages of these systems? Well, let’s look at it systematically. The parliamentary system allows prime ministers to confidently create and amend legislation, and to be more easily deposed in case of dissatisfaction of the legislature. However, the prime minister is not directly elected by the people, which means that the people feel less responsible for and connected to the executive and legislative process. The presidential system has the advantage that the key political actor by far is selected by the people and thus represents national interests. But due to the way these systems are organized, the executive and legislative powers may be presided by opposing parties, dividing the government. Additionally, deposing the president is rather difficult, even if dissatisfaction is rampant. Finally, the semipresidential system allows the people to directly select the head of state and indirectly select the head of government, but as a result making a potential clash between the two heads possible, if not likely.
Political parties and electoral systems
Political parties are key elements of a liberal democracy. Why is this the case? For starters, they unite individuals with similar ideologies and are, through this popular support, given a mandate. Thus, they are a conduit for majority rule. At the same time, though, they divide the populace so as to mitigate majority rule to the extent that minorities have a voice. The way in which these parties interact and the way that the political game is played is rather diverse across liberal democracies. This diversity is partially shaped by the electoral system that is in place.
There are two main categories of electoral systems that exist in contemporary liberal democracies: single-member district (SMD) systems, and proportional representation (PR) systems. The smaller part of democracies in the world use plurality-based SMD system, also called first past the post. In these scenarios, all that happens is that each electoral constituency is represented by one official. This official is elected if he or she wins the largest number of votes. This victory need not be based in majority, but could also occur if the greatest share of the votes goes to one candidate. On the other end of the spectrum is the proportional representation system, which is the most common, in one variant or another, around the world. This system tries to minimize wastage of votes, and as a result augment the amount of parties in legislature. PR then uses multimember districts (MMDs), which means that each electoral constituency gets more than one legislative official.
Civil rights and civil liberties
Both civil liberties and civil rights are a part of liberty, which is the final element of liberal democracy. Civil rights involve the advancement of equality, and civil liberties involve the advancement of freedom. That said, they are not mutually exclusive. These rights and liberties encompass free speech and movement, freedom of religion, right to public assembly, right to public organization, equality under the law, prohibition of inhumane treatment, right to fair trial and right to privacy.
As we have previously discussed, democracy is a form of organization that tries to balance freedom and equality. In today’s understanding of what democratic rule should constitute, greater weight is given to freedom, which is made reality via participation, competition and liberty. This system encompasses all those who live in it, and thus everyone is subject to the rule of law. In the following chapter, we will discuss regimes in which this is not true.
In this chapter, the following main ideas and concepts will be covered:
Nondemocratic regimes are typically split up between authoritarian regimes and totalitarian regimes.
Numerous and contrary theories exist to explain the subsistence and survival of nondemocratic regimes.
Nondemocratic regimes exercise and keep their power by warping the people’s views with regard to the regime with propaganda and the threat of violence.
Nondemocratic regimes have been on a downward trend worldwide.
What is nondemocratic rule?
Nondemocratic regimes are a residual category, and as such, are difficult to corner into a precise, or somewhat broadly applicable, definition. Some regimes may appear closer to democratic regimes than undemocratic ones, and it is for this reason that nondemocratic regimes are defined in terms of what they do not allow their citizens as compared to democracies, rather than what they do. But nondemocratic regimes need to be more than the lack of democracy, or there is no workable efinition. This, political scientists tend to define nondemocratic regimes as regimes that are run by a tiny elite that does not answer to the people. The people thus play a removed role from governance, and political leaders are far less restrained in their powers to impose and dictate (hence, dictator). The limitation of freedom is thus central to nondemocratic rule. These limitations at the very least cut out the ability of the public to elect their leaders and representatives.
Before proceeding with the discussion of nondemocratic regimes, it is key to understand what totalitarianism entails. Totalitarianism is a nondemocratic regime that is highly centralized, has clearly stipulated goals and aspirations and is ready to use violence to reach these goals. The aim of the violence is where totalitarianism distinguishes itself from other such regimes: in totalitarian regimes, violence is a necessity for a clearly defined, political, greater good. Many leaders aspired to totalitarianism, but few succeeded in putting it in place. Examples of totalitarian regimes include Nazi Germany, Stalinist Soviet Union, and modern day North Korea. However, due to the rather subjective use of the term, it is often difficult to apply in a scholarly manner.
Why does nondemocratic rule persist?
Note how in the previous chapter we covered the explanatory variables for the spread of democracy, with a therefore implicit decline of nondemocratic regimes. In this section, we will discuss explanatory variables for the persistence, rather than the decline, of nondemocratic regimes.
As discussed in the previous chapter in relation to modernization theory, democratic rule arises when the economic prosperity is relatively equally divided among the people. Similarly, poverty and inequality would foster and maintain nondemocratic rule, and a strong correlation does exist (with India being a key exception to the rule). Even in modernized societies, nondemocratic rule may not only persist, but also arise, as the modernization of society is a rather irregular and messy process that can damage rather than promote a country’s desire for democracy. Although it is not the case that there is a clean correlation between poverty and inequality and nondemocratic rule, it is essentially the case that countries that are nondemocratic have a GDP per capita (adjusted to PPP) below 7.000 U.S. dollars.
Elite-based theories, as covered in the previous chapter, focus on the incentives that elites have to share (or not) power and material possessions. Those that stand more to lose will be more reluctant to do so. Higher inequality thus means that the elites own more, and will lose more. Additionally, tensions between elites and the governed tend to be higher when inequality is higher, and thus relinquishing power could also mean relinquishing their lives. Elites can be fed by the wealth produced by a country’s natural resources, creating a sort of elite-based type of resource trap argument: a great amount of resources will lock a country into being dependent on these same resources for revenue. When the resources run out, or when a leader takes possession of them, change is slow and difficult, as in the latter case, the regime is self-sustaining, and in the former case, wealth was not used to diversify the economy.
Recall the discussion on civil society in the previous chapter? With regard to nondemocratic regimes, it is precisely the lack of civil society that enables the persistence of such regimes. This is not to say that civil society does not attempt to form and unite. It is often the case that they do. But the regime coerces, spies and propagandizes so as to quell resistance and the rise of civil societies that could be a source of resistance. Even when civil societies do arise, it is often the case that the civil societies are not democratically inclined, and thus organizations (such as many Muslim fundamentalist civil societies in the Middle East) aim to take the government’s place rather than transform it into a democracy.
External influences are also culprits in helping the persistence of nondemocratic regimes, although they also play a role in democratization. Many examples of this occuring through invasion, for instance, exist. The clumsy drawing of borders that is oblivious to ethnic and cultural differences that occurred during imperalist times and left countries awkwardly delimitated also is responsible for many tensions that would have enabled nondemocratic rule.
Political culture, as discussed in the last chapter, also plays a role in enabling, producing and tolerating a type of regime. Nondemocratic political values would mean that popular dissatisfaction would attempt to address the problem by deposing the current leader for another, or by changing one nondemocratic regime for another, rather than reforming the system towards democracy.
Forms of political control
How do nondemocratic regimes maintain control over the populace? There are a few fundamental methods.
Coercion is one of the most obvious forms of political control. The threat of violence is used to gain obedience and compliance from individuals and minimize resistance. Examples of institutions enforcing this could be seen in Latin America’s death squads in the 1970s, which were charged with executing people thought to have rebellious views with regard to the state. Torture was commonly used before victims were murdered.
Surveillance allows regimes to obtain the intelligence needed to coerce and punish those who harbor views contrary to the regime’s. Often institutions like a sort of secret police are used to this purpose (such as the Soviet Union’s KGB), and sometimes incentives are created to turn the people on each other. This quells resistance with little effort being put actively into surveillance.
Tying into the idea of using the people to subdue the people is the method of co-optation. This method involves the turning of individuals, usually relatively influential ones, to play a discrete role in aiding the regime’s surveillance and data collection. There are two main forms of co-optation: corporatism and clientelism. Corporatism restricts the the existence of organizations allowed to represent public interests, and clientelism involves the granting of special advantages to individuals providing public support.
Propaganda can be used to promote the personality cult, i.e. the worshipping of a regime’s leader as a beneficial and necessary presence politically, as well as, in many cases, a suprahuman savior. Forms of media such as state-owned newspapers and television serve to reinforce this image. Usually, this is made more effective with the restriction of all media to state-owned media. In other words, the only media the people are exposed to is propagandized by the state (unless clandestine stations are set up and listened to).
Types of nondemocratic rule
Personal and monarchical rule is usually a form of rule in which one person is deemed suitable to run the entire country, without guidelines or a “mission statement” (an explicit ideology) to follow. It is often the case that such forms of rule are accompanied with extensive personality cult, as such veneration enables the idea that the individual is fit to run a country on his or her own. This type of rule’s primary tool of control is patrimonialism, whereby state supporters are given advantage over others.
Military rule became much more prevalent in the past fifty years in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Seeing as the military has the greatest potential for the use of force and essentially holds the monopoly for the use of force, it is logical that in states where government is weak, the military may sweep in and take advantage. This occurs quite often with the support of the people to depose a nondemocratic ruler, but the military remains after the coup. The primary tool of control here is the army, but also bureaucratic authoritarianism, a system that binds the economy and politics to the military.
One-party rule, as its name suggest, is a form of rule in which only one political party exists and presides over the political arena. This party’s membership is typically quite significant in absolute terms, although in relative terms not so much. In communist countries, for example, only about 10% of the populace takes part in party politics. These 10% are rewarded for their support with special privileges. The primary tool of control in one-party rule systems is the significant amount of people forming part of the party.
Theocratic rule is, if one bases oneself on the etymology of the word, rule by God. This means that one common set of religious beliefs and convictions is used not only to run a country’s society but also its politics. This implies that depending on the founding religion, the organization and shape of a country would vary drastically. The primary tool of control in theocratic regimes is the manipulation of any power-reducing event or procedure with religious reasoning (often voiced by religious supreme leaders or religious authorities). The political and religious leadership are one and the same.
Illiberal regimes are regimes in which the leadership is elected but all other supposedly democratic procedures are warped or non-existent. The word “illiberal” refers to the lack of formalization of liberty, hence the term, but the term hybrid regime is used interchangeably. Such regimes are also termed hybrid because they are a mix of nondemocratic and democratic regimes, espousing superficial democratic ideals and principles but at the core lacking key democratic institutions for them to be defined as democracies. The main tool of control in illiberal regimes is the warping of democratic procedures. For instance, faking ballots, harassing opposition, intimidating potential contrarian voters, and so on.
Despite the fact that this chapter centered around the persistence and resistance of nondemocratic regimes to exist, the global trend has been one of decline for such regimes. The question is whether this is a trend that will continue, or one that will slump and turn around? Maybe this era of democracy is nothing but a bump in the human tendency to organize itself nondemocratically.
We have thus covered many of the concepts that are used to make comparisons in politics. These devices can now be used to look at specific areas of the world. These areas are not necessarily so defined by their geographical location, but rather by their similarities with regard to their political institutions. This is because, as mentioned in chapter 1, similarities allow us to control the variables being investigated in order to better test our hypotheses. In this chapter we will explore a group of countries often called advanced democracies (a, granted, problematic term, as it is ridden with value judgment, and implies that all countries are advancing toward this). In this book, the term that is advanced democracies will be used to talk about those countries for whom democracy has been institutionalized and that have a high degree of economic development.
Thus, the characteristics of advanced democracies will be scrutinized, with the aid of concepts developed throughout previous sections of the book. There are some key questions and topics we will cover:
∙ There is substantial variability in advanced democracies with regard to the construction of political, economic and social institutions.
∙ Advanced democracies have developed economic institutions tied to significant welfare states, causing a predictable demographic problem with the aging of the population.
∙ What are the similarities between advanced democracies?
∙ What about the differences?
∙ How do advanced democracies tackle the problem between equality and freedom and find a balance they think acceptable?
∙ Are advanced democracies reaching an end stage, implying a slowing of progress, or is a transformation looming?
What is the advanced democracy?
The term was commonly used by scholars some time ago to speak of “First World” countries, which were characterized as economically developed and democratically run. On the other hand were “Second World” countries, which were communist states, and “Third World” countries, which were all states lacking economic development and democracy. These categorizations were somewhat complex, controversial and arbitrary, and we will thus use the following categorizations instead: advanced democracies, communist and postcommunist countries, and developing and less-developed countries. That said, these categorizations also have their shortcomings, and those criticizing them may argue that the only difference is in the name. However, there is a key difference, and it is that changing between them is implied as a possibility. Countries may develop, change, industrialize, and so on, and thus move between categories. Some countries, as we will see later on, even fit several categories at the same time, and some could be considered to be transitioning from one to category to another.
How, then, are advanced democracies defined? With regard to democracy, the amount and formalization of participation, competition and freedom are good factors to use. With regard to economic development, the existence of private property, free markets, and GDP adjusted to PPP are key factors. Economic output is useful to look at as well. The Human Development Index (hereafter, HDI) is a further consideration, as it attempts to measure societal well-being. Once all these factors are combined, we are left with the following list of advanced democracies (based on 2008 data), with continental subdivisions.
∙ The Americas: Argentina, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Mexico, United States of America, Uruguay.
∙ Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Croatia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland.
∙ Asia: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan.
∙ Africa and Middle East: Israel.
As you can see, the countries are, despite the categorization, highly different. Overall, however, they all have a high degree of economic development, and all place in the top 55 countries in the world in the HDI.
Balancing freedom and equality in advanced democracies
The similarities used to categorize democracies as “advanced” do not imply that the way they balance freedom and equality is the same. In fact, most countries have a rather individualized approach to the dilemma, especially so with regard to political economy.
Let us think of how widespread liberty is: every single advanced democracy espouses it. However, the definitions are rather different. In some countries, defined as “democratically advanced”, certain rights are lacking that, despite that, do not endanger its tag as an advanced democracy. Let us consider an example. In many advanced democracies, including Austria, Canada, France, Hungary, Sweden and the United States of America, abortions are permitted in the first trimester of a pregnancy, with very few limitations. In other advanced democracies, including Argentina, Poland and South Korea, there are significant restrictions on this. In yet other advanced democracies, abortions are banned, with very few exceptions. These countries include, among others, Chile, Mexico and Ireland. Similar differences can be found with regard to prostitution, drugs, hate speech, and privacy.
The degree of political participation also varies quite a lot within advanced democracies. Various electoral systems covered in the fifth chapter of this textbook all exist in these countries, as do, occasionally, combinations of them. Most advanced democracies make use of reference and initiatives, and some countries only allow voting on such things to the local level. These countries are Canada, Germany, Japan and the United States of America. Yet others do not account for it at all (Israel). Voter registration is another point of bifurcation: most advanced states automatically register all citizens to be eligible for voting, but in others, such as the U.S.A. and France, it is the citizen’s responsibility to register. Along a similar vein, voting rights and duties tend to be different. Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden all espouse the idea of allowing foreigners that are permanent residents to vote in local elections. Voting is made obligatory in Argentina, Australia, Belgium and Uruguay, but there is variation with regard to implementation and punishment.
Struggle for political power is also different throughout these advanced democracies. These differences could be in the manner in which political bodies competing for power receive funding. A generalization that serves to describe advanced democracies is that the majority do use a type of proportional representation so that the people are in fact properly represented in legislature. That said, a minority of countries (Australia, Canada, U.K., U.S.) use single-member district plurality or majority. A few (Germany, Hungary, Japan) use a combination of these systems.
In sum, there is a rather strong diversity, in a political sense, between advanced democracies. They agree on the basics (participation, competition, freedom) but where the limits are drawn and how these basics are used and enforced are highly individualized.
Advanced democracies additionally have another element in common that relates more to political economy: capitalism, in other words, the right to private property and the freedom of markets. It seems that this method of running the economy has created a significant amount of wealth, given that standards of living are significantly better in these advanced democracies than in countries not thus defined. This wealth lives alongside inequality, however, although to differing extents depending on the country. Germany and the United States of America have similar GDP per capita, but extremely distinct in inequality (Gini index). There is also a lot of variation with regard to how equality is tackled.
In a nutshell, advanced democracies have a key set of institutions that they use to balance freedom and equality. These institutions are, namely, liberal democracy and capitalism. However, within these advanced democracies, the institutions cited above are built and developed in diverging, distinct manners, which results in a large amount of contrast between such countries.
The evolution of advanced democracies
The aforementioned institutions that make advanced democracies just that are also institutions that make these countries, in a sense, modern (modern being defined as secular, rational, materialistic, technological, bureaucratic, with more focus on freedom than equality). However, as is the case with human institutions and human life in general, not only is there diversity, but also dynamism. Thus, many scholars are under the impression that current advanced democracies, rather than being an end-stage of human political organization, are also transforming into something else. As there is, as of yet, no tangible definition as to what this change entails or what it may be, the term to describe it has been coined as postmodern. The rest of this chapter will thus be used to explore the idea that modernity may be undergoing significant change, dividing this change into the following subsections: political, societal and economic.
Political institutional change
Advanced democracies are, although different in their degree of autonomy and capacity, all are distinguished by their sovereignty. However, recently, there has been movement in that regard, specifically favoring international integration and national devolution. Integration is a process that states use to trade sovereignty for political or socio-economic benefits. Thus, an increase in integration would imply a blurring of country sovereignty. Devolution, on the other hand, is the process that is used to transfer political power from the top tiers of government to the lower, more local, tiers of government. Both of these processes send power away from the state, and advanced democracies are most affected by these processes. Intuitively, these processes could transform our current understanding of the modern state and sovereignty. However, it appears that there are opposing forces to slow, if not halt, such change. A useful case study can be seen in the case of the European Union.
The European Union is the most notable attempt at integration thus far. It had no precedent, and the potential ramifications of this union are rather vast. Think about its origins. It came at a time when a war had just ravaged countries in Europe and killed millions of people. And yet precisely the divisions in Europe appear to be what sparked integration. This integration did span many years. Let us take a look at the way in which they proceeded. In 1951, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and France formed the European Coal and Steel Community. In 1957, this became the European Economic Community, which then, in 1967, transformed into the European Community. 6 years later, Denmark, Ireland and the U.K. joined, and after another 6 years, constructed direct elections to the European Parliament. In 1981, Greece joined the European Community, and Spain and Portugal joined as well five years later. The European Community then became the European Union in 1993, which was joined in 1995 by Austria, Finland and Sweden. In 1999, it was decided that there should be a monetary union, which most countries forming a part of the European Union joined. In 2002, the currency called the Euro begins being circulated across most EU countries. In 2004, ten new members join the EU, and the process is ongoing.
Clearly, the process of unification and integration was anything but quick (or smooth, for that matter, as in 2005 France and the Netherlands rejected the EU constitution, and in 2008 Ireland rejected the Lisbon treaty). This is partly because each country had to decide how to balance integration and loss of sovereignty, a difficult decision, and each country may balance these according to personal, cultural, societal, political and economic imperatives.
How did this change affect things? Specifically, how did the monetary union fare? Well, that is entirely dependent on how success is understood. The Euro became a strong currency, so strong that it challenges the American dollar. However, this strength has counterbalances, namely that the national variation within the E.U. makes a common currency dangerous, as a single set of monetary policies cannot account for the different economic conditions across countries. For this reason, although the euro keeps expanding, fears are becoming more prominent that an economic storm may prompt some countries to leave the Euro and become monetarily sovereign once again. This opinion has been increasingly voiced following the 2008 crisis and Greece’s, Italy’s and Portugal’s soaring debt.
The enlargement of the EU, from six members in 1951 to 28 in 2013, also is at the root of many potential issues. One of these issues is in the economic realm, as a majority of states are poorer than the founding states. As a result, a lot of monetary flow has been directed at those countries in order to help set them on a prosperous path. This channeling of money to these countries has created significant resentment between old (relatively wealthy) and new (relatively poor) states, as tax-paying citizens begrudge the fact that their money often does not end up funding their own institutions. Due to this, old members and new members are often clashing over the new members’ need for funds, and how to procure them.
Another source of conflict lies in the fact that as life is cheaper in these newer member countries, many companies have migrated towards them and away from those where production costs are higher. Although this migration wasn’t as significant as many predicted, this has further fuelled resentment in the hearts of people living in old member states.
Where politics are concerned, the addition of new members has also created a diversity of voices that has resulted in, for instance, the constitutional block in 2005. In sum, the lesson learned from the E.U. can be expanded to any union between countries: a balance needs to be struck between sovereignty and integration, and although the trend has been toward integration, there is also a strong demographic pulling toward maintaining sovereignty in every country.
The past discussion on the E.U. being focused on integration, this paragraph will briefly be dedicated to the discussion of devolution. It is a curious phenomenon, as it is contrary to past trends in the evolution of the state (namely, power has had a tendency to be increasingly centralized). In advanced democracies, however, the opposite trend is taking place. There are various reasons for this. Among them is the perception of the state by the general public as distant, and decentralization (devolution) allows the people to more closely monitor changes that affect them, as local governments are more accessible to locals than national governments. Because the people are better heard, it is then hoped that the democratic quality of these states will be further reinforced. Much like with integration, we don’t know if decentralization is a trend that will persist or not. We also do not know what the implications of this trend continuing would be. It could imply that national governments will become so obsolete that the world will split up into much smaller countries. How it turns out remains to be seen.
Societal institutional change
Societies also seem to be susceptible to being shaped by dichotomous forces. Some scholars say that new norms and values are appearing in advanced democracies, whereas others that there is a process of reversal, whereby local identity and its strengthening is localizing societies rather than globalizing them. Either explanation is strongly tied to the forces discussed in the previous subsection, namely, integration and devolution.
What are these postmodern values? It helps, in order to discover this, to contrast them with what may be called “premodern” values, where authority was a generational hand-me-down and survival was a tiring struggle. Since, especially beginning in the 18th century, there has been a focus on rationality, science, individualism and autonomy in those countries that would come to be called advanced democracies today. Postmodern values represent a furthering of this step, away from the material. They are less interested in material goods, technology or science. Rather, they are interested in the “quality of life” of people, where material gain is a second order priority. Such “quality of life” concerns involve the environment, health, leisure, personal equality and diversity. However, many countries in the “advanced democracy” category share much more traditional values than this, and the question is whether the trend of postmodern values described above will in fact reach all advanced democracies, or whether it is merely a local and regional movement in some.
Economic institutional change
Postindustrialism is the era when the majority of a country’s profits and citizens come from and work in the service sector. The service sector involves the sale of intangible goods, such as insurance, education, health care, and so on. This is a shift that is occurring the world over. In many advanced democracies, the service sector employs three quarters of the working population. However, whether this shift will continue is not certain, and it cannot be stated in absolute (or even near certain) terms that the old economic system will fall and information will become the currency of tomorrow.
The welfare state
The welfare state, as discussed in the fourth chapter, is created to rectify whatever social injustices are perceived by the state. The cost of the welfare state, however, is great, and with several demographic changes, is bound to increase, and reactions to this increase will come about. These demographic changes that put pressure on the welfare state revolve around:
∙ Increasing life expectancy, yet much more slowly increasing retirement age.
∙ Decreasing birth rate, which will imply an aging of the population as this birth rate is below replenishment levels.
The combination of less workers to fund the welfare state via taxation and of more elderly to pay for makes for a rather important problem, one that doesn’t appear to be easy to fix. Indeed, societal and political change to adjust to the demographic change is unlikely to happen, as resistance to retirement age increases, labor market amendments and benefits decreases is widespread and dominant.
Advanced democracies have a distinct set of characteristics, institutionally-speaking and also with regard to their challenges. Despite the fact that differences exist between them, they are all composed of liberal democracy and high economic development, and all balance freedom and equality in a manner acceptable to modern values. However, values, much like society, are in constant flux, and where this flux will take it is an important question we have attempted to explore in this chapter. In the next chapters, we will look at those same questions outside of advanced democracies.
In this chapter we will discuss the following concepts and ideas:
∙ Communist ideology bases itself on the idea that politics are the result of economic inequality.
∙ The ultimate aim of communism is to eradicate inequality by getting rid of private property and market forces, by using a one-party state.
∙ Controlling every aspect of socio-political and economic life proved too complex for communist states, leading to a collapse or a restructuring of their institutions.
∙ States having exited a communist phase have had to reverse the state’s removal of private property and markets, with varying outcomes.
∙ States having exited a communist phase (also called post-communist states) have also had to change political institutions. This change had two main tendencies: towards liberal democracy or a maintenance of authoritarianism.
This chapter is dedicated to understanding the fall of most communist states. This will be done by studying communism’s theoretical background and how these theories was developed into practice in which states. The practice will then be analyzed in order to understand its pitfalls.
Communism and Karl Marx
Communism is a political theory that aims at the eradication of inequality by ascribing ownership to the state as a common good rather than to individual people as a private good. This theory is mostly based Karl Marx’s work. Marx’s theory was as follows. Having noticed that part of a good’s value is derived from the effort (labor) put into it, and that this value remains with the good, he posited that inequality is quite easily attained as a result. This is because goods are easily accumulated with coercion, be it physical, political or social. As such, any system that permits the accumulation of goods (such as capitalism and liberal democracy) merely fools the less fortunate into believing that they had a chance at having a political voice, whereas actually only the wealthy have this voice.
With the above ideas in mind, Marx attempted to understand the past and predict the future. In so doing, he came to the conclusion that technological innovations would facilitate capitalist production, and at the same time create tensions between those in power and the proletariat over inequality and control of the means of production. These tensions would erupt in the form of a revolution, prompting sudden and violent change toward a new economic order. This change wasn’t only seen as one that would occur nationally. Rather, Marx postulated that capitalism’s crisis would occur on an international scale. Following this revolution, the proletariat would come to rule so as to do away with previous institutions that bound the people to capitalism and the state. After this stage of proletariat rule, the state would then dissolve, as there would be no necessity for it, since everything would be equally distributed. The transitional stage of proletariat rule is often called socialism, as communism is the end stage of the transformation in which the state does not exist. This socialism is not to be confused with the socialism used to describe social democracies.
Communism in practice
Two key leaders found mass appeal in Marx’s ideas. First was Vladimir Ulyanov (also known as Lenin), and second was Mao Zedong. The former led a communist revolution in Russia in 1917, and the latter in China in 1949. Yet even at this stage, they severed themselves from Marx’s ideas, seeing as their revolutions took place in poorly industrialized and barely (if at all) capitalistic. Marx stipulated that revolutions would only occur at capitalism’s most advanced stage (although he did, somewhat contradictorily, argue that a revolution could take place in Russia, even at its underdeveloped state at the time). These revolutions did in fact spread, as Marx predicted, but instead of spreading in the most capitalistic and prosperous societies, they spread in many of the least capitalistic and poorest societies. In the decade of the 1980s, one third of the world’s population lived in communist countries. Despite this, there was no clear approach as to how to go about instilling communism, and confusion with regard to this became rampant. It was assumed that the most difficult process would be the revolution, with the transition from proletariat state to communism flowing naturally. Because they wanted to reformat the way people’s incentives worked and the way people interacted, communist countries became closed off, autonomous countries that relayed on totalitarianism to forcefully reshape all human institutions. The Communist Party ruled this state (members of the CP forming, as mentioned in a preceding chapter, about 10% of the total population), its role and purpose constitutionally written, implying that it could not be constitutionally deposed. Thus, the proletariat state went from being, in theory, a transitional stage, to a permanent one. Furthermore, alternative ideologies and human organizations were oppressed.
The threat of violence in itself does not suffice to maintain power. As such, communist states developed their co-optation strategies, giving benefits to those who joined the communist party and were in a position of power to actively promote and support it. Whereas the theory postulated that power would rest in the hands of the state, the power, in practice, rested in the hands of the CP. Resistance was widely squashed, and across communist countries, such repressions represented some of the bloodiest times in human history. In the Soviet Union, under Stalin, tens of millions were murdered, often for crimes they hadn’t committed. These killings weren’t mistakes, but rather a tool to terrorize the people into submission. Under Mao Zedong, over a million people died in a country-wide (state-promoted) search for all pre-communist remnants. Countless works of art and literature were also subsequently destroyed.
Political economy under communism
Centralizing all power was, as previously mentioned in this chapter, grossly overwhelming to the communist state. It especially encountered (unforeseen) problems with regard to the political economy, having tampered with market forces and finding itself fighting them to no end. The market was taken over by state bureaucracy, which essentially decided on equal rations for everyone and distributed these goods, also deciding on pricing. This is also known as central planning. The decentralized reactions to supply and demand could not be accounted for by the state. As a result, constant shortages or surpluses (although much more of the former) persisted. For instance, the shortage of steel would have had negative impact on the production of all steel-based goods, such as screws and hammers, which would then be needed in the production of other goods. This chain deficit, and thus inefficiency, made communist countries lag behind economically and stagnate.
A key factor in the collapse of communism was the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Technically, the issue was the reprise of the Cold War, as in the 1970s there was little confrontational activity. A costly war with Afghanistan began and an aggressive U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, came into power. The previously mentioned stagnation made competition with the U.S. and Afghanistan difficult, and further strained Soviet resources. Then, Mikhail Gorbachev came into power, and, having noted the Soviet Union’s downward spiral, took measures to reform it. He installed glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Glasnost involved public participation and debate, thus hoping to fuel constructive criticism that would enable beneficial change for the regime. Perestroika involved the taking into account of said constructive criticism and turning it into reform. Thus, Gorbachev’s aim was to reform the Soviet Union to better it, but not to undo it.
However, as a result of the open platform for debate now given to the people, rather than constructively criticizing the regime so as to better it, the populace criticized the legitimacy and validity of the regime itself. Outside of Russia, in countries incorporated into the Soviet Union, this sudden opportunity to be heard was taken so as to promote independence and thus secession from the Soviet Union. As further measures and reforms were made, confusion ensued and the Soviet Union’s collapse promptly came. In 1989, many of the Soviet Union’s satellite states demanded elections and the cessation of one-party rule. This phenomenon spread while Russia stood by, as Gorbachev had a non-interventionist policy, until, in 1991, a poorly organized coup d’etat took power and detained Gorbachev. However, as this coup had little support, it was promptly ended. After this coup, the Soviet Union fragmented into fifteen new independent countries, including Russia, which began a process of liberalization.
In China, however, protests, in part prompted by the change seen under Gorbachev, were violently squashed at Tiananmen square. Why the difference? Why did the Soviet Union collapse while China stayed politically solid as a communist state? Leadership may have played the most significant role, as Gorbachev’s willingness for change (albeit limited change) did not have a Chinese equivalent.
We have so far discussed the background of communist countries, theoretically and practically. In this segment we will talk about the way these countries transitioned away from communism. It is worth noting that postcommunist countries had to build and restructure political, social and economic institutions a short period of time. It was a challenging task that has had rather different outcomes depending on the country.
A primary area necessitating change revolves around the state’s autonomy and capacity. Under the communist system, these are very high, given that the state was able to regulate almost all aspects of daily life. This needed to be changed, with an emphasis on preventing the intentional weakening of the state into spiralling out of control.
The rule of law was another key area in which change was needed. As mentioned throughout the textbook, rules are important guidelines that apply to all those who live within a state. In communist regimes, the rule of law was weak, not necessarily because legislation was lacking (indeed, it often wasn’t) but rather because the law was not universal, and well connected individuals were capable of getting away with murder, literally. Because of this history with the law, the people had developed a culture of skepticism with regard to it, and thus also were more comfortable with the idea of breaking it. As the state’s autonomy and capacity was decreased as part of postcommunist restructuring, problems derived from noncompliance with the law, such as corruption, tax evasion, and so on, soared. The constitution needed to be rewritten, with room made for the separation of powers. Additionally, a democratic was needed, and most postcommunist Eastern European countries chose the prime ministerial system. As for the electoral model, the preference was for Proportional Representation and mixed PR and SMD.
This transition let to rather different outcomes in different countries. Below is a list of communist and postcommunist countries so as to illustrate this variety (as of 2007).
∙Liberal democracy: Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania.
∙Illiberal democracy: Albania, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine.
∙Authoritarian regime: Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, China, Uzbekistan.
Additionally, it must be considered that a significant chunk of the populace in the countries mentioned above as democratic in fact supports a return to communism or authoritarianism (poll taken in 2004). In the Czech Republic, 14% of the population supports a return to communist rule, 16% favor a dictator. In Poland, now a liberal democracy, 24% of the population supports a return to communism, and 48% favor a dictator. Similar numbers are visible in the Ukraine and Bulgaria.
Two key processes were necessary to undo the communist coupling of removing private property and the market: privatization and marketization. In order to privatize, the state often sold relatively small business to their workers, and relatively large ones to the highest bidder. These highest bidders were often foreign investors looking to profit from the potentially prosperous climate ahead. In other cases, the populace was given shares in firms. Overall, whether the approach worked or not was rather individualized.
Marketization was a hotly debated topic with regard to the speed with which change was to be prompted. Some argued that slow change would prevent social unrest (and perhaps increase inflation and cause hyperinflation), whereas others argued that quick change have a lower opportunity cost (thus, advocating for a policy of shock therapy).
The results of individualized approaches to marketization and privatization have been, as seems to always be the case, varied. Estonia’s wealth has grown to that of Greece, Slovakia and Hungary to that of Portugal. On the other hand, former Soviet satellite states, such as Uzbekistan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan have fared much worse.
Religion was a very important point of oppression in communist countries. After communism’s collapse, it has resurfaced with quite some strength, especially in the form of evangelical movements and Islam in central Asian countries. As in the case of religion, ethnicity and nationality have resurfaced as powerful forms of identification. This has played a strong role in uniting a people, as well as dividing them if ethnic and national differences remain as a result of heterogeneous coexistence. Many common practices under communism are now shunned in many postcommunist states, including, for instance, abortions.
These societal transformations have been quite varied across countries. On the worst end of the spectrum, the rise of new religious and national identities sparked conflicts in the Balkans that have done away with hundreds of thousands of lives. Other parts of the postcommunist world have also seen violence, albeit on a lesser scale. The constant conflict in Afghanistan resulted in the rise of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, launching pads for an international war on the Western countries perceived to be attacking Islam. On the other end of the spectrum, many postcommunist countries have been peaceful, with identity crises (strong nationalism, religious fundamentalism) not being an issue. There are two exceptions to this, namely, China and Russia, where nationalism has been steadily growing, albeit fuelled by their respective governments. The situation of women has become more precarious in central Asia and Russia, although in other countries, especially the wealthier ones, the situation of women is approaching that of women living in advanced democracies.
Marx predicted the rise of communism and the fall of capitalism. However, the practical application of communism seemed to be an insurmountable task, as one regime after the other faltered and collapsed without reaching its goal. With forced equality and little freedom, incentives for work and innovation were minimal, negatively affecting economic prosperity and political stability. The path many postcommunist countries have traveled is already quite significant, but as data shows, the desire to return to the ways of the past is there and growing as dissatisfaction with slow (if any) progress increases. It is clear that a significant part of postcommunist countries will continue their liberalization and become advanced democracies, just as it is clear that some postcommunist states are in decline and the people may turn to strong leadership to get them out of these troubles. Even if they do not, the stagnation means that such countries will be more similar to LEDC (Less Economically-Developed Countries). Although communism as a set of political institutions does not have much hope for the future, it’s basic aspiration to eradicate inequality is still prominently present.
After having discussed the advanced democracies, or the First World, and the the communist and post-communist countries, often called the second world, in this chapter we will discuss the residual category: the Third World. This term clumsily groups together most of Latin America, Asia and Africa not for what they are, but for what they are not: the countries in this group do not have a liberal nor a communist history and they have not developed their economy to the degree that the First and Second World countries have. Hence, there are widespread differences in the people, political systems and institutions that make up these countries. In order for us to discuss and understand this part of the world, we will first divide it into two categories, the newly industrializing countries and the less-developed countries.
Although the name implies differently, the levels of development between Third World countries can vary greatly. Some countries in Asia and South America in particular have grown so much over the past few decades that they have begun to resemble advanced democracies. For this reason, they are grouped together as the newly industrializing countries (NICs). These countries' strong economic growth is often accompanied by democratization and increasing social stability, which makes them more and more eligible to join the advanced democracies. On the other hand however there are the countries which still have ineffective governments, weak political and social institutions and underdeveloped economies, some of them plagued with violence, extreme poverty or even conflict. These countries can be grouped together as the less-developed countries (LDCs). There are many questions to be posed about why a country has ended up in one group instead of another, and about whether comparison between NICs and LDCs can be useful: can a more developed country serve as an example for a developing country? Before any of these questions can be addressed, we must try to unravel the nature of the large differences in development processes of LDCs and NICs, starting with the shared history of imperialism and colonialism.
Imperialism and Colonialism
All NICs and LDCs have in common that they were all once subject to imperialism and/or colonialism by what are now mainly classified as advanced democracies. A period of rapid economic, political and social development in Europe, the Middle East and Asia resulted in the acquisition of new territories in order to contribute to these regions' growing power. In doing this, they created empires (one sovereign political entity controlling several territories beyond its own borders) on which they projected their own view of the world: imperialism is hence the system in which countries expand their power beyond their own borders to control other territories and peoples. Colonialism, although often used interchangeably with imperialism, is a means of consolidating an empire through the physical occupations of other lands.
Although imperialism is an age-old concept, modern imperialism dates back only to the 1500s and lasted for nearly five centuries. Even then, the practice has always been linked to economic and technological development and a wish to acquire more power. All areas who were subject to imperialism and colonialism were significantly changed at the hands of the imperial power: the subjected countries often had equally developed institutions as compared to the imperial power, but initially simply lacked the military power to resist subjugation. The British, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Belgians and the Dutch established significant empires across the world not only for economic benefits, but also due to the believe that Christianity and the culture of the West needed to be spread across the world. The belief that imperialism was a necessity that was willed by God allowed European powers to stretch their powers around the globe and continue to develop, nearly always at the expense of the subjugated territories and their peoples. The effects of applying a set of foreign values to regions on the other side of the globe have proven to be devastating, and are a root cause of many of the problems currently existing in the developing world.
Effects of Imperialism
The modern state
One of the most obvious export products of the imperial powers was the modern state as it developed in Europe over the centuries. As empires grew, more and more territories were incorporated into the structure of the state and as we can see on a political map of Africa, States were often arbitrarily created by drawing lines across the empire's borders without taking into account geographic or tribal boundaries. Moreover, after having established power in the territories, authority and bureaucratic structures were established as a way of civilizing (i.e. Westernizing) the local population. Institutions such as schools, a national language (that of the imperial power) and a police force were established; some empires integrated the local power structure into the new imposed one, but others bypassed the pre-existing structures completely. Either way, hardly any imperial powers furthered democratization, and their subjects in their acquired territories were hardly granted political rights. The inhabitants of imperial territories experienced many improvements, such as more widely available education and health care as well as a more sophisticated infrastructural system. However, the transition was unfinished: the changes suddenly imposed by the imperial power were incomplete and thus fused with the existing regional traditions, creating a situation in which the original traditions lost their potency, but the imperial customs had also not fully developed yet. The imperial territories have therefore not been assimilated into the modern world, but are also no longer part of the pre-modern one: as a result, imperial territories remain politically and economically underdeveloped to this day.
National and ethnic identity, just like the state, came out of Europe, and are fairly new concepts even today. While in most of the imperial territories people often used to identify by religion, economic class or tribe, the imperial powers imported their processes of identification. Despite the fact that the imperial powers never drew their borders according to existing religious, ethnic or other cultural divides, they did take a lot of interest in dividing people in terms of ethnicity and nationality. This meant that basic rights were tied to membership of a particular group, something which many people did not feel they had. The imperial powers were particularly prone to differentiating between 'races' and designating one as superior over the others, a prime example being Rwanda, where the Belgian occupiers were the first to significantly distinguish between the Tutsi and the Hutu; a crucial division which gave rise to the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Certain ethnic groups, whether they be indigenous or settlers from the home country, were often given certain advantages over the others, causing deep grievances and widespread inequalities. With the introduction of national identity came the rise of nationalism, which until then was a foreign notion in the imperial territories. While the imperial elites introduced nationalism, which implies the right of a people to their own sovereign state, they did not allow their subjects in the imperial territories that right. Moreover, gender roles were also changed significantly by the imperial powers, often for better, but sometimes also for worse.
The economic transformations instigated by the imperial powers are also a root cause of the current economic inferiority of former colonies. Firstly, the imperial powers forced money-based economic systems upon agricultural societies in which trading and bartering where practiced. The introduction of mercantilism ensured that the colonies had no choice but to buy and sell from and to the imperial powers: often, these were products such as tea, coffee, cocoa and other raw materials. These extraction did not allow for the colonies to flourish, as the countries developed only to facilitate the colonial powers' extraction from the land: entrepreneurship and industrialization were oppressed and jobs existed only in the extractive sector; agriculture developed only for export and not for self-sustenance, stunting the colonial peoples' ability to feed themselves. In short: the colonial economies were developed for the sole purpose of serving the imperial powers.
Post-imperialism and Development
The seeds of nationalism planted by the imperial powers eventually caused the empires to lose power and the decolonization processes to start and speed up massively right after World War II. The withdrawal of the colonial powers however did not mean the end of their impact in those countries, as their legacy was significant and contributes greatly to the widespread social, political and economic instability observed across former colonies. In this section we will discuss some of the biggest challenges faced by post-imperial countries.
Political institutional development
Post-imperial states have had trouble establishing their state's power through capacity (a state's ability to practice its power effectively) and autonomy (a state's ability to practice its power independently). Capacity-wise, these states are often unable to provide the most basic necessities for their citizens, such as quality education and infrastructure. This relates back to the fact that the people who initially set up the bureaucracy did so independently from the local population and left upon independence without facilitating an effective transition. As a side-effect, bureaucracy and jobs within it have become a tool for acquiring political support. Moreover, although at first sight NICs and LDCs seem reasonably autonomous, the political system is often used as a means to an end by other actors, jeopardizing its autonomy and causing high levels of corruption. This includes local and regional actors, but also international actors such as the IMF and the United Nations, who put much pressure on these countries using their economic and political power, often greater than that of the state itself. The combination of weak state autonomy and weak state capacity leads to a society in which the rule of law can hardly be established, without which there is no basis for stability to develop.
Social identity development
The tangled mess of ethnic, religious and cultural identities which was left behind by the imperial powers when they drew random borders dividing territories and enforced previously non-existent racial inequalities, left many newly independent states with the daunting task of forming one single nation out of such a diverse and tense society. The economic inequalities that were often also reinforced did not help matters, as it caused certain ethnic groups to be better off than others, causing serious grievances. These ethnic, cultural and religious dissonances also complicate the political process, as it often causes political power to be divided along those same lines, which makes it difficult for one group to successfully and democratically rule the state without marginalizing other ethnic minorities. In some cases, this sense of marginalization may cause certain groups to disassociate themselves with the newly independent state altogether, possibly leading to secessionism.
Economic growth is of particular interest to most people studying NICs and LDCs, as it is mainly by their economic growth that they are classified as either one or the other. Due to imperialism these countries were not allowed to undergo economic change in their own way, but were instead forced to develop in the image of the Western imperial powers in the latter's best interest. As a result, these states' economic systems upon independence were dysfunctional hybrids of modern and pre-modern economic systems which were made to be highly dependent upon the imperial power. This caused an unbalanced relationship between the former colonies and the former colonizers which strongly resembled a new, different form of imperialism: neocolonialism.
In order to outgrow this toxic relationship, LDCs have applied to different approaches: import substitution and export-oriented industrialization. Import substitution requires a government to restrict imports in order to allow for local products to succeed on the market. This often involves the creation of state-funded or partially state-owned enterprises, to be groomed to be able to compete on the international market. However, this has not always proven successful, instead creating a situation in which local companies could dominate locally, but not develop well enough to be able to compete on the global market. This caused these companies to remain highly dependent on the state, leading the state to lend money internationally which eventually led to economic stagnation. The second strategy, export-oriented industrialization, focuses specifically on producing products and technologies for export: first, the product would be produced for the local market in a specific country, then exported, and then produced much more cheaply somewhere else. This is a strategy employed by many Asian countries and has had much higher success rates than import substitutions. The reasons for countries to choose one approach over another are often geopolitical: the Cold War and Second World War for example have played great roles in the decision making processes in Asia and Latin America respectively. However, both strategies can be easily criticized. A third route of economic development which is mainly implemented due to Western states and international organizations is that of structural adjustment programs: this implies a reduction in state involvement and increased liberalization.
Solutions for Democratic Development
Opinions differ on what the role of the state should be in order to develop LDCs. Some argue that the role of the state should be reduced greatly, while others are of the opinion that it is not so much a question of reducing state power, but of re-appropriating it to produce better results. Moreover, it has also been suggested that certain political institutions have contributed to instability, like for example presidential systems in which power is very centralized and zero-sum. In that light, some have suggested that the concept of shared sovereignty might be helpful to lift certain states out of situations of severe instability: international organizations such as the United Nations would step in and have certain responsibilities, whilst also providing aid and assistance when necessary. This would be on the basis of conditionality, meaning that certain conditions would have to be met before help can be given. However, the notion that sovereignty can be violated like that has not been globally accepted and this type of practice bears too much resemblance to imperialism for some people's taste.
Improving social conditions should be just as high on the agenda as economic and political reform, as the latter two do not guarantee the former despite its great importance. What can be done about social instability caused by ethnic tension/conflict and poor governance? Some scholars feel the answer lies in strengthening civil society in order to counterbalance the power of the state. Through public participation outside of politics in small, grass-roots social organizations and through civil education, democracy can also be achieved. Other scholars have suggested however that the opposite of small-scale organization is necessary: they are of the opinion that battling the social issues in LDCs requires massive international action on the level of for example the United Nations and their Millennium Development Goals. There is however the criticism that such large-scale projects can never reflect the situation and needs in the field.
Poverty and economic inequality are big problems in all LDCs and NICs. One big common issue is that these countries have very large informal economies, meaning that a large part of their economy conducts itself outside of the control of the state (examples being street vendors and labor businesses conducted from the home). This is problematic because these businesses lack the possibility to grow, as they are not developing under the auspices of the state: they are not paying taxes, not organized and are completely unprotected. Opinions on which reforms can help to transform such informal economies into formal ones differ. Some suggest that property rights need to be sharpened in order to regain access to unused but useful property, while others suggest that the solution lies in increasing the availability of capital. To that end, a much-discussed solution is microcredit or microfinance, which allows small-scale businesses to access small loans (under $1000) at reasonable interest rates in order to develop their businesses further. However, critics of microfinance have suggested that this offers a solution only for small business owners, leaving the larger firms at a stalemate.
The common denominator which can group NICs and LDCs together is the history of imperial rule, which has caused or exacerbated very many of their current problems. Due to the extremely varied levels and manners of development, no clear-cut strategy can be pinned down for the further development of any of these countries: while NICs have obviously overcome some of the same obstacles which are still causing LDCs significant problems, there is as of yet no consensus as to whether a lesson can be drawn from the development processes of NICs. In the meantime, scholars and other interested parties continue to vie for the attention of policymakers to suggest different plans of actions.
In the previous couple of chapters we covered nondemocratic regimes and touched on the subject of many of these regimes cope with the popular dissatisfaction and dissent that is so common when the people aren’t listened to. This chapter is dedicated to the opposite: the violence that the people exert on others (mostly the state, but not always the case) when they are unhappy with the status quo. In this chapter the following topics will be discussed.
∙ Political violence is violence that is motivated by politics and that is uncontrollable by the state.
∙ Motivation based on ideology, institutions or individual beliefs and incentives could all play a role in sparking political violence.
∙ Revolutions are attempts by the populace to seize the state, depose the government and its regime and substitute it for another.
∙ Terrorism is defined as the systematic use of fear, most of the time engendered by violence, in order to accomplish a specific goal.
∙ Governmental retaliations against political violence tend to bring into question state power and liberty within that state.
Defining political violence
The institution that is the state is the foundation of what we consider modern politics, which we have defined earlier as the institution that holds the monopoly for the use of force over a given territory. But what happens when this monopoly is held by a state that a significant amount of individuals within that state with to depose? Or when the state’s monopoly is incomplete? Of course, it never can be, as even murder or physical abuse would constitute a threat to that monopoly, but what about when violence becomes so prevalent that the state officially has little to no control of the area? This is what is commonly termed political violence, or violence that is motivated by politics and that is uncontrollable by the state.
Understanding why political violence occurs
There are a variety of reasons that are thought to play a role in determining why civilians may exert violence on the state or other citizens for political purposes. They have been split into three key groupings, presented below. These groupings aren’t really mutually exclusive and the reasoning may fit into several. Furthermore, a lot of said reasons compete against each other, with some political scientists preferring to give more weight to certain factors than others.
∙ Explanations that focus on institutions revolve around the idea that some institutions may excite the idea of political violence in people with an inherent culture that is contrary to that of the people. If the institution’s culture restricts the freedom of the people, then conflict is also promoted. Furthermore, institutional structures that run counter to the people’s wishes (such as, for example, electoral systems that promote political control by an exclusive group of individuals) are also thought to engender political violence.
∙ Ideational explanations revolve around the reasoning behind the application of violence. This reasoning, the use of these ideas, could be based on institutions (religion, political organizations) or it could not be. For instance, political scientists studying suicide terrorism look at the tools used by revolutionary groups to spread the idea of glory and self-sacrifice in order to recruit individuals to their cause. These groups could have a religious foundation, as is the case of Al Qaeda, or not, as is the case of the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, who used nationalistic ideas to fuel their suicide attackers.
∙ In this last group, explanations center around the individual’s motivations. Specifically, the individual who carries out the violence. Personal motivations are in fact thought to play a very important role in promoting a revolutionary group and cause so that it may gain fighters. Some explanations revolve around the idea that the interaction this specific individual has had with the society he or she lives in has brought him to violence. This negative interaction could have done so due to poor standard of living, being perceived as ethnically inferior, or just inferior in general... The individual could have been brought to desperation out of poverty, knowing that revolutionary groups would give money to his or her family post-mortem. Alternatively, it could have been for glory, knowing that he or she would be praised as a martyr. Other political scientists, rather than seeing terrorism and revolutionary acts as perceived by individuals to be a path to self-fulfillment, think of it as a rational act, whereby individuals carefully strategize. In this case, political violence’s advantages and disadvantages are cautiously calculated by those exerting it.
Different types of political violence
Political violence has thus far been defined in a rather general way. This fails to take into consideration many forms in which it can manifest itself. The previously hinted at dichotomy of revolution and terrorism will be used to discuss these different types of political violence.
Sudden and dramatic change is often called a revolution, and often is positively associated with beneficial political change that has occurred the world over. This understanding of the word is too general for the purposes of this textbook. Instead, we would rather define revolution as an attempt by the people to seize the state, depose the government and its regime and substitute it for another. Within this definition are several elements. First, the public, as revolutions involve the participation of a significant amount of people. Second, revolutions involve a seizure of the state. Third, the goals of a revolution isn’t merely the deposition of power, but also of the regime. Whether revolutions are always violent is difficult to answer. It is obvious that avoiding violence is rather challenging considering its drastic aim. The regime will fight back, often with a division forming within institutions that compose the regime themselves, such as the military, which sometimes sides with the rebels. What follows a revolution also tends to be violent, as the power vacuum that is produced as a result incentivizes a mass struggle for power (or a counter-revolution begins to depose the newly installed regime). Additionally, the deposed regime’s leaders are often punished (executed) for their deeds.
It is nevertheless not the case that all revolutions are violent. For example, in 1989, following the failure of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, there was barely any violence. Only in Romania was there bloody, armed conflict in the aftermath. However, due to this, political scientists would rather call those events political transitions rather than revolutions.
Why do revolutions occur? As is typical in this field, and as you may have guessed from this textbook, there is no concise answer that scholars agree on. One of the principal explanations for the occurrence of revolutions in political science was given by the relative deprivation model. This model states that revolutions aren’t so much a result of deficient conditions, but rather caused by the difference between actual conditions and public expectations. Bettering conditions could thus still be conducive to a revolution if the improved conditions also led to increased expectations in the public.
Another model, based on institutions, proposed around the events in France, China and Russia, suggests that very specific conditions need to be met for a revolution to be engaged. The first of these conditions is the necessity for international competition, through war and trade. This rivalry exposes the weak. The second condition is that, because of this rivalry, the weak attempt to better themselves by increasing autonomy and capacity. The approach used to do this destabilizes the current state of affairs, and thus sets a potential for revolutionary action. According to this model, it isn’t really the change in itself that brings about revolution, but the change caused by the state.
Besides the basis for revolutions, an important aspect to consider is also its impact. Assuming a revolution succeeds in its goal to depose the current regime and substitute it for another, the potential ramifications are extensive. Revolutions imply a complete transformation of existing institutions and represent the installment of new ideologies. Economics and society are also highly affected by regime change brought on by a revolution.
Revolutions are good at achieving progress, but it is important to take a look at what revolutions do not do. Although revolutions, at their foundation, involve the demand for greater freedom or equality, they often result in the opposite, with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes finding an opportunity to instill themselves in the post-revolutionary power vacuum. It is usually revolutionary leaders that take this opportunity, and in fact concentrate more power in their own hands than was concentrated in one leader in the previous regime.
It is important to add that revolutionary change is often expensive, not only with regard to resources, but also human lives. For example, the revolution in Mexico killed 1.5 million people. The Russian Revolution and the civil war that came afterwards killed over 5 million people.
Some believe that it is impossible to define terrorism, as freedom fighters and heroes from one perspective are terrorists from another. This belief is counterproductive to the goals of political science, since its purpose is to describe and understand the world in an objective way. Thus, we will try to define terrorism precisely. Worthy of note is the fact that terrorism, although it has been on the rise lately, has been responsible for less deaths than revolutions. In this textbook we will define terrorism as the systematic use of fear against citizens by nonstate actors, most of the time engendered by violence, in order to accomplish a specific goal. As with revolutions, this definition has several elements that deserve to be pieced apart. First of these elements is the nonstate actors. Why should terrorism not apply to states? Well, in fact, the origins of the term came precisely, from state terrorism. However, the term has evolved towards being associated with nonstate actors. That said, state-sponsored terrorism does exist, and it refers to terrorism that is secretly funded and aided by states through back channels. However, the face of the terrorism remains the terrorist group in question. The second element is the fact that the violence is directed at citizens. It is through this element that a distinction can be made between terrorism and guerilla warfare, as the latter is aimed at the state, not civilians. The third and final element of the definition of terrorism given earlier in this paragraph is the specific goal, always political in nature. Terrorism is not simply a violent act with destruction in mind, it aims to spread a message.
Before overviewing the reasons for which terrorism occurs, let’s review the spread of terrorism in the world as of 2007. In the Middle East, there were 7540 incidents, causing in total 14010 deaths. In East Asia and the Pacific, 1429 terrorist acts occurred, killing 1119 people. In Europe, 606 terrorist incidents took place, killing 227. In South Asia, there were 3067 terrorist incidents, which claimed 4737 lives. In Africa, 835 terrorist acts took place, killing 2187 people. Finally, in the Western Hemisphere, there were 482 incidents, with 405 fatalities. This brings us to a total tally of 13959 terrorist acts, with 22685 deaths. The number of wounded is probably higher than the number of dead.
So why does terrorism occur? As usual, various conflicting explanations exist, although they are less comprehensive and numerous due to the lack of a settled-upon definition of the word. Yet again, these explanations can be divided in the institutional, ideational and individual categories. The institutional explanations revolve around the idea that economic conditions explain the incentives that terrorists have. Terrorism, amidst poor economic conditions, is a measure of desperation by those trapped in a hopeless future. Arguments that follow these lines, although compelling at first, are actually rather difficult to support empirically. Terrorists do not appear to be poor as a group. Bin Laden for example was a highly wealthy individual whose wealth was thought to be at least a million dollars. The ideational arguments focus on the capacity of ideology, religion or other values to spur individuals to commit terrorist acts. As was the case for the institutional arguments, the evidence is lacking to support these claims. On the other hand, personal ideology does go a long way to understanding personal justifications for terrorist crimes. Other scholars argue that specific ideologies do not really matter, but rather their closeness to nihilist views. Nihilism is the view that nothing has any meaning and that violence is the one thing that escapes this lack of worth. The final set of explanations revolving around individuals centers on the idea that potential terrorists have been ostracized and shunned by others. These feelings of denigration would then motivate terrorism through anger, frustration, and as a want for revenge. Some have said that terrorist groups are similar to religious cults in the way that they instill a sense of higher meaning into people.
What is the impact of terrorism? Well, it’s more challenging to see them, as its effects are less discernible than those of revolutions. Additionally, as terrorism centers on the acts themselves, events and outcomes become of little consequence. A general trend can be observed, however, and it is that terrorist acts do not bring the results the terrorist in question aims at. The change aimed at is rather significant, and interspersed acts of violence very rarely succeed in bringing this change about. Thought about in this manner, terrorism is a rather ineffective mechanism is bringing about change is a primary goal. Terrorism does not exactly go unnoticed either. Its impact runs deep, affecting economic well-being and societal well-being. Terrorism’s impact on politics is also significant. Counter-terrorism is expensive and difficult, and reorients public funds away from the public. Thus, public confidence in the state could be damaged, at home and abroad.
Stopping political violence
Thus, how would the state (and other actors) approach countering this? The answer is, again, complex. The contextual regime seems to make a difference, as terrorism occurs more often in nondemocratic societies. One of the most common explanations for this is that democracies allow individuals to voice their opinion, and nondemocratic states do not, cornering many (or so they feel) into voicing their opinion violently. That said, in the increasingly globalized and interconnected world we live in, violent spillovers can occur, in which case domestic political violence prevention won’t do much good. There are a few lessons to draw from these points. First, that a state that worries excessively about security may endanger its democratic nature. Second, that doing so could engender political violence. Third, the state’s consolidation of power for greater security may have the opposite effect, as centralized states tend to be less secure.
Political violence is a rather difficult issue and a field where definitions are muddy and connotations, be they positive or negative, are many, further complicating concepts. Political violence cannot really be halted or avoided as a whole. Instead, it must be tackled on a case-by-case basis.
In this final chapter, we will cover the topic of globalization, and several subtopics pertaining to it and its concepts, namely:
- Globalization is the process through which international exchange occurs. The exchange can be of ideas, goods, technology, and anything else that can be transferred via human interaction.
- Political globalization is a threat to sovereignty.
- Economic globalization is a powerful force that has the potential to shape and reshape economic interactions between states and economic conditions within them.
- Social globalization may create and damage identities.
- Political scientists are unsure as to whether globalization is a recent phenomenon, an exaggerated phenomenon or an irreversible phenomenon.
Globalization doesn’t merely refer to international interaction, seeing as this has been taking place for millennia. The globalization we talk about is a much more extensive form of interaction and exchange, spanning essentially the vast majority of all countries in the world. Furthermore, globalization involves the participation of locals in international and complex networks that connect people from all over the world. These networks are shaped by commerce, cultural and ideological exchange, and so on. A key factor that played a role in facilitating the extensive globalization we now know are the technological innovations of the 21st century, which drastically shortened the time between message and response, whoever and wherever the sender and receiver are.
Institutions and globalization
Globalization has seen the growth of several types of institutions, namely, multinational corporations (MNCs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). Their importance in today’s world is rapidly increasing. MNCs are large companies, such as Apple, whose assets are greater than most countries’ GDPs. NGOs are groups that can have either a national or an international scope that are not tied to any specific country or government and they aim at certain policy goals. Greenpeace and Red Cross are examples of these. IGOs are groups that are founded by states to aim at certain policy goals. IGOs are, for example, the United Nations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and so on.
Whether these organizations could be considered institutions is a point of debate, which is why this sub-section’s heading ties globalization and institutions, but doesn’t call it institutional globalization. In the following subsections we look at globalization through the familiar lenses of politics, economic and societies.
What effect does globalization have on politics? More specifically, what effect does it have on a state’s autonomy and capacity? One prediction states that the governments will find themselves strongly linked to international organizations that take over certain responsibilities and tasks. This implies a decrease in national sovereignty. Another prediction argues that, as interdependency increases, war will become too costly and the disincentive to wage it will lead to a complete halt in the waging of war once all countries globalize. Yet another prediction states that the democratic process will also be positively affected, as international institutions will reign over political proceedings and rule them adequate or not. An institution that has this function, for example, is the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in the Hague.
Some predictions are, however, pessimistic. Many see globalization as a dangerous process that will divide the world in a clash of civilizations. Violence will not become obsolete, instead it will change shape. This is what happened in the case of Al Qaeda, where underground organizations commit international acts of violence. Al Qaeda, furthermore, persists, due precisely to its easy relocation and the decentralized nature of information, further abetted by modern technology. State agencies may attempt to prevent and curtail acts of violence, but they will find it impossible to do so exhaustively. Others question the ability of globalization to do anything other than harm democracy, as international organizations may not represent the right interests and may further divide countries.
Both scenarios concede that power will be moving from national to supranational authorities. What these views do not agree on is whether such a shift will be beneficial or detrimental to the world at large. Both scenarios are entirely possible and anecdotal evidence supports both to different extents. It is rather likely that the world will see changes that reflect a combination of these views on political globalization.
Economics is often the primary field that is associated with globalization, as international trade has, in many ways, brought about the technological, political and institutional change that we also associate with the term. Let us look at some data to observe the effects of globalization thus far. In 1992, FDIs (Foreign Direct Investment) totalled about 200 billion U.S. dollars. 14 years later, it totalled 1.3 trillion U.S. dollars. World exports in 1992 were about 3 trillion U.S. dollars, and 15 years later had more than quadrupled to about 13 trillion U.S. dollars.
The communications boom is further boosted by economic developments. The Internet, chief among recent technological innovations, permitted a revolution in the way goods are marketed, sold and produced. For instance, online banking now allows anyone to transfer funds internationally with a couple simple clicks.
Nor does globalization merely apply to these things. It also applies to labor, and causes shifts in where companies go to look for employees. China, providing remarkably cheap labor (although it is getting more costly) attracts large conglomerates and incentivizes MNCs to install factories there, occasionally at the expense of some social and political capital. This is because people at a national level reproach the migration of labor abroad as unemployment exists at home, and because conditions are known to be rather poor in countries with cheap labor, which allows companies to be reproached on a human rights level. This process by which companies move labor abroad is called offshore outsourcing. It is heavily on the rise. In 2002, it amounted to 1.3 billion U.S. dollars, and five years later, in 2007, amounted to 300 billion U.S. dollars. Africa, China, Eastern Europe and India have all played large roles in this.
The optimistic view of economic globalization is that it brings a tide of good fortune that will lift everyone up. The increased interconnection and interdependence means that prosperity is shared, as are skills, labor and innovations. Pessimists, however, claim that this dependence will produce monopolistic control of some other the other through specific goods, such as pharmaceutical products. Additionally, it is claimed that the outsourcing and desperation to match investment-incentivizing wages will begin a race to the bottom, rather than float everyone to the top. It is further argued that the internationalization of corporations will make it difficult, if not impossible, for governments to regulate their activity, leading to a gap in accountability mechanisms for MNCs. As was the case with political globalization, both the skeptic and the optimistic view probably hold truth in them.
The way people identify themselves with a certain group has always been in constant flux, but has been accelerating as a result of globalization. A common argument is that key characteristics of individual and collective identity are fading. The Internet facilitates this, as it aids the expansion of information, ideas and cultural products (such as movies, TV shows, news broadcasts, and so on). Online messaging, communication and interaction systems, such as e-mail, Skype, World of Warcraft... enable social exchange between individuals without any geographical grounding whatsoever.
How does this phenomenon affect society? There are two general gists that are talked about. Societal globalization could bring about global multiculturalism, or it could bring about global democracy and global civic identity. There are criticisms against both views, arguing that globalization need not be beneficial to society. Part of these criticisms center around the idea that the facilitated interchange will flood individuals with so much noise and information that people will retract into their old identities out of confusion and fear. This implies a drastic increase in nationalism and fundamentalism. Another criticism centers around the result of societal globalization, arguing that the opened exchange will encourage a societal race to the bottom as each culture attempts to cater to the wider public. Of course, both the optimistic and the pessimistic views are probably correct to some extent.
We are going through a deep shuffle due to globalization. If the world is highly affected by this and moves towards being globalized, conflict for freedom and equality may merge from domestic to international levels. The question is thus raised whether a country’s freedom and equality comes at another’s price. Furthermore, it can be asked whether freedom and equality could hold sway in a global world without a global government. With this in mind, freedom and equality could morph into having different definitions due to the tide of novel thought processes. This flux profoundly accentuated by globalization could have negative or positive effects, or a combination of both. Whatever the result of globalization, comparative politics provides us with the tools necessary to understand the present, take a peek at the future and use that to help shape humankind.
Deze samenvatting is gebaseerd op collegejaar 2012-2013.
Andeweg, R.B. en G.A. Irwin. 2009 (derde editie). Governance and Politics of the Netherlands. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Het boek is gepubliceerd in 2009 en dit betekent dat de ingrijpende politieke veranderingen van de laatste jaren, zoals het minderheidskabinet van Mark Rutte, niet in het boek en dus in deze samenvatting voorkomen.
De vorming van Nederland
Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden bestaat uit een Europese gedeelte en de overzeese gebieden in de Antillen. De gebruikelijkste naam voor het eerste deel is Nederland. De naam Holland is ongeschikt, omdat het slechts verwijst naar twee provincies en de Lage Landen omvatten niet alleen Nederland, maar ook België.
Rond honderd voor Christus trokken verschillende Germaanse en Keltische stammen, eerst vooral jagers en verzamelaars en later ook boeren, het land binnen. De Romeinen, te beginnen met C. Julius Caesar, hadden moeite met het bezetten van de moeilijk begaanbare en economisch weinig waardevolle stukken land en gebruikten de rivier de Rijn als grens ter verdediging tegen barbaarse noordelijke stammen. Nadat de Romeinen geen stand konden houden tegen zowel de Germanen als de zee, kwamen de Franken, met als koning Karel de Grote. Zij verspreidden het christendom maar de sociale verbanden tussen mensen bleven onveranderd.
De moerassen waren geschikter voor kleine boeren en veel steden, die als stadsstaatjes functioneerden, dan voor grootgrondbezitters en adel. Het feodalisme – en daarmee het begin van de adel (een ‘piramide’ met een leenheer aan de top en leenmannen die grond van de leenheer gebruikten om zelf weer als leenheer uit te delen) – kwam in Nederland niet van de grond.
In de tiende en elfde eeuw kwam het water via zee en rivieren zo ver het land binnen dat de Zuiderzee, het tegenwoordige IJsselmeer, ontstond, tezamen met de Zeeuwse eilanden. De uitdijende bevolking zou in haar geheel baat hebben bij een bescherming van het land door middel van dijken en zodoende werd het beheer hiervan niet overgelaten aan enkelen, maar aan gemeenschappen. Hieruit kwamen vanaf de dertiende eeuw, zo zou men kunnen beargumenteren, de eerste democratische organisaties van het land voort: de hoogheemraadschappen (4).
Verschillen binnen de Lage Landen
Er zijn geen natuurlijke grenzen in Nederland, maar de geschiedenis heeft de Lage Landen verdeeld langs drie scheidslijnen: die van politiek, godsdienst en taal, waarbij de laatste zich slechts in België manifesteert. De problemen daar, tussen Frans- en Nederlandstaligen, treft Nederland echter niet. Wat betreft de eerste lijn: na veel verbanden tussen de machtigste families van Nederland en Europa werden de verschillende gebieden verkregen door Karel V, heerser over een groot gedeelte van Europa. Toch was hij tamelijk vertrouwd met Nederland, aangezien hij de taal machtig was. Zijn zoon, Filips II, die Nederland samen met Spanje had geërfd en zich duidelijk meer afficheerde met het tweede land, miste het gezag van Karel V en compenseerde dit met hard optreden en het opdringen van het katholicisme. Nu zowel de politieke vrijheden als de geloofsvrijheden werden bedreigd begonnen protestanten, en meer in het bijzonder calvinisten, zich in het licht van de in Duitsland al eerder ontstane reformatie te verzetten. In 1566 werden in het hele land tijdens de Beeldenstorm katholieke kerken aangevallen. Filips II reageerde met een poging tot centralisatie van het gezag onder de hertog van Alva, wat slechts resulteerde in een verenigder oppositie, geleid door Willem van Oranje, ook bekend als Willem de Zwijger. Hij werd in 1572 stadhouder en was afhankelijk van de Staten-Generaal, het lichaam waarin de provinciën waren vertegenwoordigd. De Unie van Utrecht, gevormd in 1579, bracht de noordelijke provincies, ongeveer het huidige Nederland afgezien van Limburg en Noord-Brabant (dat geen provincie maar een generaliteitsland was, beheerd door de noordelijke provincies tezamen), bij elkaar op het gebied van buitenlands beleid.
De Vrede van Münster in 1648 maakte de Republiek van de Zeven Verenigde Provinciën onafhankelijk van zowel Spanje als het Heilige Roomse Rijk der Duitse Natie. Nadat het Spaanse gedeelte van de Lage Landen overgegaan was in Oostenrijkse handen en Napoleon dit gedeelte samen met het noordelijke gedeelte annexeerde in het Franse Keizerrijk, besloten de grote mogendheden beide gedeelten samen te voegen als één land om als buffer te dienen tegen Frankrijk. De verschillen waren echter te groot om door koning Willem I overbrugd te worden. Het Spaanse gedeelte was katholiek gebleven of weer geworden waardoor zich opeens een godsdienstige grens manifesteerde in het land. Willems wens het land op te nemen in de vaart der volkeren veroorzaakte wrevel bij de katholieke en liberale Belgen doordat hij noordelijke Nederlanders bevoordeelde. In 1830 verklaarde het Nationale Congres België onafhankelijk en dit werd door Willem I negen jaar later geaccepteerd.
De enige stukken land die na de afscheiding van België nog van staat verwisselden betreffen de koloniën. Na de Tweede Wereldoorlog verklaarden Indonesiërs het enorme eilandenrijk in Zuidoost-Azië onafhankelijk en na een jarenlange oorlog die beter bekend is onder de term “politionele acties” heeft Nederland onder internationale druk Indonesië in 1949 erkend. In 1975 was Nederland snel met het erkennen van Suriname, waardoor enkele eilandjes in de Antillen de laatste overblijfselen zijn van de Nederlandse koloniën. De BES-eilanden, Bonaire, Sint-Eustatius en Saba, zijn “openbare lichamen”, officieel behorend tot Nederland. Aruba, Curaçao en Sint-Maarten zijn formeel gelijkwaardig aan Nederland, wat betekent datRead more