It’s difficult to come to the defense of authoritarianism, especially given the assumption in this course that we operate in a world where democracy is universally the most favorable system of governance. Snyder’s article titled “Him” provides a narrative of the evolution of power dynamics in the context of Nazi Germany, in which power is eventually consolidated totally within the political elites and eventually results in suicide, failure, and collapse. Pepinsky’s discussion of Malaysia’s transition towards authoritarian rule however doesn’t correspond with the same evils and misery that was present in Nazi Germany. There’s a certain apathy and acquiescence towards the absence of civil society’s political power and efficacy, in that the people largely don’t mind an authoritarian system of governance, granted it doesn’t infringe too heavily upon human rights as we observed in Nazi Germany. Pepinsky describes political life for Malaysian citizens under authoritarian rule as “boring and tolerable”, as opposed to evil and oppressive.
I’d like to disclaim my pre-existing cynical belief that at least in the American context, we’re at least progressing towards a more authoritarian regime than we were previously, and while this may be to a very minor degree, it’s important to note in my evaluation of possible authoritarian outcomes for western democracies. With this disclaimer and the previous context, I largely subscribe to Pepinsky’s system of democratic breakdown as the most likely and realistic for western democratic regimes. Over the past few election cycles, we’ve observed a perpetually less efficacious public in the western world, and it’s easy to extrapolate that apathy into the apathy present in Malaysian political life as described by Pepinsky. So long as rights aren’t being infringed upon to the degree of Naziism, I foresee Pepinsky’s authoritarian observations being reflected in potential western authoritarian regimes.
Using this polarization model to analyze the susceptibility of our democracy to collapse, at face value the outlook seems to be rather bleak and leading to a nearly inevitable dissolution of democratic institutions. As both the prompt and the text address, standard contemporary beliefs is that democratic collapse is derived from an increasingly divisive cleavage between the left and right, such that the citizens will suggest and demand a system that is dramatically different than the one currently in place. On the contrary, Nancy Bermeo places the blame on political authorities and economic downturns, such that the citizen base is not ultimately responsible for democratic collapse.
Using this context to address the current political situation in the United States, we see clear evidence of a widening cleavage between the left and the right, and if we’re to adjust our expectations to fit the polarization model, then we’re on a fast track towards democratic collapse. To provide specific instances that further this point, evident collusion with non-democratic world powers seems to be common practice for our new administration. In addition, where political matters seemed to be more mutually respectful disagreements, we see vehement personal attacks and vitriol towards opposing party members and representatives.
While a clear anti-democracy movement isn’t ultimately evident in the contemporary political climate, the mass unyielding support of the current President of the United States has undoubtedly undermined democratic institutions and has made our system of governance less democratic than it was previously – to what degree that change is can be argued, but there are significant implications to this undermining of democracy that the polarization model suggests may lead to collapse. Ultimately though I believe the collapse is up to the discretion of the ruling entity, and it’s with that idea that I hold deep concern for our country in regards to the possibility of democratic collapse.
As we’ve discussed previously, the maintenance of a strong image of political legitimacy is important in consolidating and maintaining power as an autocratic entity. It’s argued that there has to be a calculated balance between consolidated and forceful use of authoritarian power while still feeding the respective constituents of that authoritarian government enough to satisfy their needs and mitigate their propensity to incite some sort of political revolution with the intention of upheaval. Given these concepts that we’ve explored in the little green book and The Dictator’s Handbook, we’re well equipped to evaluate the effectiveness of the CCP’s attempt at creating this balance, and thus the prospects for the perpetuation of their consolidated autocratic rule.
We spoke about this dichotomy between “soft-liners” and “hard-liners”, such that the increased influence of “soft-liners” in a regime leads to certain concessions to a fallaciously liberalizing society. Given this idea of the “voice” of the Chinese public being an increasingly integral part of Chinese government, certain facets of a more politically efficacious public are both positive and negative for the reinforcement of consolidated political power. As an example, the increasingly prevalent operation of NGOs in China make it easier to provide services, but the intentions and ideologies behind the NGOs run perpendicular to the CCP’s intent to maintain power. This “voice” of the Chinese public is then perpetuated further over time, which is something derived from the understanding that given some semblance of liberal political representation, the public will seek and demand further liberalization. This comes back to our collapse catalyzed by the cleavage between “soft-liners” and “hard-liners”, and one would imagine that it’s difficult to re-consolidate power if the re-consolidation of power means the eradication of privileges exclusive to a liberal society.
When assessing the inevitability of an ultimate collapse of the CCP’s rule in China, that’s a much harder outcome to predict given what we know about transitions (and subsequently regressions). Even with this in consideration, I’m inclined to believe that the CCP’s attempt at this balance is relatively unsuccessful, in that we’ve seen a relatively unadulterated growth in the liberalization of an increasingly politically efficacious civil society in China. It still really depends on what you buy into, whether or not China’s civil society has passed the point of no return in regards to a possible regression to near-total consolidation of power by the CCP, and subsequently the eradication of nearly all political efficacy of civil society. This economic growth exhibited by China runs parallel to the concession of ultimate power. My assessment of the success of the CCP’s efforts may be false, as it’s derived from my belief that the system of authoritarianism that China operates under from the rule of the CCP can only be temporary. However, it’s difficult for me to imagine a scenario where the attempted re-consolidation of power isn’t met by protest and disdain, and without attempted re-consolidation of power, China appears to be on a trajectory towards a more liberal system of governance. It’s important to note while I see this “consultative authoritarianism” as temporary, empirical evidence provided by Dickson shows a civil society that largely takes no issue with the regime. I see consultative authoritarianism as a bridge towards political democracy as opposed to a successful and stable form of authoritarianism, although those in power clearly don’t see it that way.
In the circumstances provided in these texts, we’ve found that without strict voting regulations and strict, continuous oversight, the process and conclusion of political competition is ultimately guided by corrupt measures. In responding to the prompt, obviously both electorally fraudulent strategies are hindrances to democratic integrity. However, each strategy yields significantly different effects to the political climate in which they operate.
As evidenced in Campbell’s well-documented description of the nature of local elections in and around 1900, both disenfranchisement of a significant subset of eligible voters and illegal augmentation of Democratic Party voting numbers were rampant transgressions committed by Democratic Party members and benefactors. In this situation, we see both the suppression of opposition vote totals and the addition of Democratic vote totals via different means. Understanding the context of this political situation in Louisville, I’m better equipped to make a justifiable claim regarding which strategy is a larger hindrance to democracy.
Contrary to my initial belief that voter suppression was more detrimental to democracy than flagrant electoral fraud by means of augmenting voting totals through illegal registration and ballot box manipulation, the effects of voter suppression at least create a partisan-directed dichotomy that influences those who are disenfranchised to seek retribution, and we see this in the Louisville example through the catalysis and establishment of the Fusionist party. And while quite obviously the relative success of the Fusionist party didn’t remedy all fraudulent evils instilled into society by the Democratic Party as it operated in Louisville, it provided a pathway for democratic integrity to be re-established.
The magnitude of the political dichotomy in a given country between the “nominal selectorate” and the “real selectorate” as defined in The Dictator’s Handbook is directly correlated with the level of democratic institutions and values that operate in that country’s system of government. Put simply, the more democratic a country is, the more the “nominal selectorate” resembles the “real selectorate” in that given context. The justification behind this, and thus the justification behind a larger “real selectorate” or “winning coalition” in the context of political elections, lies in both empirical evidence and the inevitably selfish nature of important political actors. The Dictator’s Handbook provides several examples to illustrate that these theoretical dynamics of political “selectorates” are evident in both contemporary and historical examples of both democratic and authoritarian regimes.
The dynamics of selectorates in authoritarian regimes create a political situation where the “real selectorate”, more clearly defined as the group of political participants that have full discretion in deciding political leaders, are not representative of the “nominal selectorate”, which is more clearly defined as the constituency that is eligible to vote. As sense would dictate, the dichotomy between the “real selectorate” and the “nominal selectorate” in democratic regimes is much closer in comparison. And naturally, the “nominal selectorate” is a massive coalition that is essentially comprised of the entire adult population in a given country. When important electoral decisions are made, by having the “nominal selectorate” effectively being the driving force, naturally the political process will reach decisions in a more democratic manner, thus resulting in more democratic laws, institutions, and values. This clear difference in democratic and authoritarian regimes appears to provide a way for non-democratic regimes to progress towards democracy, although quite obviously it won’t be an easy task to convince political elites to convert to a system that reduces their power. As Jack mentioned in his blog post, it would be most effective as a gradual process, or else some major conflict would be inevitable.
We’ve discussed in class about how there are certain conditions and conflicts that need to be present in order for a successful democracy to be effectively catalyzed and established. The context of the distinct racial dichotomy in the early American “democracy” came about not as a means of believing that one race was superior to another, because it was clear that wasn’t the case. Instead it came about as a means of white settlers creating a political and social construct in the interest of self gain that marginalized the humanity of non-whites, and created a racial dichotomy with a distinct hierarchy between whites and non-whites. This politicized and institutionalized racial dichotomy granted citizenship exclusively to whites, which is when the system of white political supremacy became clear.
The question then becomes: how did this political, social, and racial situation shape the way the United States subsequently democratized? The previous context that I mentioned was illustrated by Joel Olson, and this context is followed by the implications that this racial state has upon the democracy in which it exists. Olson’s discussion of Alexis de Tocqueville’s philosophy about American democracy focuses on the “inevitability of equality”. While Tocqueville’s argument was fundamentally flawed as a result of Tocqueville’s own racist biases, the foundations of his argument underlie the historical development of American democracy, in that the deeply rooted white contempt and prejudice against non-whites has sustained and perpetuated the system of democracy that operates in the United States. The desperation and fabricated necessity for whites to maintain social, political, and economic power over other races has somewhat driven democracy, and racial constructs have been exploited by white political elites to maintain power. While this institutionalized racial dichotomy has driven the democratization process in the American context, Olson also concedes that the white privilege is ultimately a major problem when it is being looked at in a democratic context.
In taking the racial dichotomy underlying the American democratization process and applying it to other contexts, similarities are definitely seen in other democratizing countries under racially-compromised circumstances. As Olson describes in Alexis de Tocqueville’s French context, a similar situation was seen in French colonies that had systems of black slavery on their plantations. In all contexts with these racial dichotomies, as Olson describes, “racial conflict will long outlast slavery”, which is an important reality to consider in other democratizing nations when dealing with problems involving similar racial dichotomies.
Following the establishment of American independence, America experienced a period of significant and unprecedented economic recession. Coalitions of those with the majority of concentrated wealth commanded most of the economic and political power. The dynamic of the new political and economic system distinctly divided the wealthy elite from the non-wealthy lower class.
Being that political control was largely delegated to wealthy elite, the political action taken to relieve the massive debt incurred following the revolutionary war was to dramatically increase the taxes collected from the working class. This in addition to the massive decrease in money supply (nearly a third of what it was prior to the war in Pennsylvania) created a situation in which debtors were ultimately stripped of all of their financial assets, while creditors – the wealthy elite – maintained their supreme financial status. This blindness and ignorance to the economic woes of the non-elites in this new American society heavily contributed to a government that, in regards to economic representation, didn’t appear to appropriately represent the significant majority of its constituency.
This thoroughly unequal dichotomy between the rich and the poor peaked when the elites unabashedly exploited the poor financial means of the lower class by penalizing them through legal channels when they were unable to meet the demands of the tax collecting agencies. It became clear that the system was fundamentally flawed and that all members of governed society regardless of financial status need to be protected from exploitation by creditors, and that situation was largely realized by the Framers.
We’ve had some brief discussion on how Protestant ideologies and practices contributed significantly to the establishment of American democracy, in that some concepts exist concurrently in both liberal democracy and Christianity. The most important shared aspect was explicitly described in the Sunday Times piece, that being equality. According to Amir Taheri, the concept of equality is foreign and incomprehensible to the Muslim people through both language and religious principles. A distinct hierarchy is inherent in Islamic belief, and thus there is an inherent conflict in having a democracy governing any largely Islamic society. Public dissent, one of the major tenets of democratic belief, arguably can’t logically exist in a society in which the general public is of a distinctly lower status than those with the divine right to make decisions.
This understanding of the relationship between Islam and democracy isn’t necessarily reciprocated by political scholars. Dr. Kendhammer differentiates the relationship between conceptual democracy and conceptual Islam from the relationship between actual democracy and actual Muslims in society. While democracy would mean a distinctly different thing in a majority Muslim society than it does in America, a democracy founded with overwhelmingly Protestant principles, it can still be argued that it can exist. To what degree of success I’m not sure, but modern Islamic thought has changed and allowed more room for debate and differing viewpoints. Quite obviously, the concepts of universal equality and other precepts of liberal democracy need to be embedded in this discourse to pave the way for real democracies to be established in these communities. The traditional implementation of sharia law in Islamic political spheres doesn’t receive universal support in favor to liberal democracy, so it’s definitely possible for these liberal ideas to be implemented.
To explicitly answer the prompt, I do think that Islamic polities can become successful democracies, but that will require an evolution of Islamic thought to universally include equality, freedom, and other liberal concepts. Unfortunately though, this may be too dramatic of an abstraction of what Islam is understood to be. Dr. Kendhammer does however provide valid argument that Sharia law can evolve into democratic law given the right framework and circumstances.
In response to my blog post last week, I was asked by Ophelia whether or not I believed that conditions would at some point be favorable for illiberal democracies to become fully established democracies, and I really didn’t have a basis to answer that question with any conviction. We’ve spoken about the liberal foundations of stable democratic regimes (as explicitly described in Zakaria’s text), but we haven’t really discussed where those values are derived from outside of instances where they are grandfathered in from a previous colonial rule. Thus, these readings introduce hypothetical social and economic prerequisites for a stable and functioning democracy. In response to the prompt, we’ll discuss the wealth-based conditions that have major implications on democratic stability and functionality.
Lipset provides some historical context that there has been a perpetual understanding since Aristotle among political scholars that abundant, non-concentrated wealth in a society positively correlates with the sustenance of a democratic system. Taking everything at face value, data strongly suggests that contemporary democratic regimes possess wealthier societies than non-democratic ones. Wealth subsequently provides advancements to education, industrialization, and urbanization, which can evolve into liberal ideologies about government and create the desire to form democracy. Seeing the social effect that good economic welfare has upon a given society, it becomes rather clear how the desire to form democracy comes about. Unfortunately, however, great societal wealth doesn’t guarantee democratic stability. Huntington believes that political stability and economic development don’t necessarily correlate positive with each other. He cites multiple instances where one flourishes and the other fails, namely in India and Venezuela.
While wealth doesn’t guarantee democratic stability, I definitely believe it provides an advantage. The absence of wealth mitigates so many other attributes of democratic stability like education and even freedom. The wealth must support the underlying liberal and democratic foundations of the government to ensure that both economic development and political stability remain positively correlated with each other. It must be kept in mind however that wealth alone is not an indicator for a regime’s proclivity towards stable democracy.
We’ve discussed previously in class how the connotation behind the word “democracy” can feign security and true democratic stability when that may not actually exist in a given case. We’ve also discussed “waves” of democratization throughout contemporary political history. These two ideas play an important role in understanding how these governmental amalgamations operate. While we’ve discussed that we are in the third “wave” of democratization, and quite a few governments have established self-identified democracies, it’s important to look back at how we’ve begun to identify democracies and what exactly constitutes democratic government, using conjecture from Dahl and similar political scholars. With that context in mind, identifying the political nature of the regimes discussed in today’s texts becomes somewhat more clear.
This prompt requires the analysis of the current state of these “illiberal democracies” given some historical context, so that we can evaluate if liberal democracy is the logical next step in the evolution of these governments. As discussed by Fareed Zakaria, for these newly democratized countries, emphasis was placed solely upon democratic institutions, with liberal values being ultimately ignored. A very important distinction that I agree with Zakaria on is the idea that a foundation of liberal values leads to democracy, but a foundation of democratic institutions doesn’t necessarily lead to liberalism. There are regimes, especially in Central Europe, that have made effective transitions from autocracies to liberal democracies. However, their success in liberal democratization can largely be accredited to their previous colonial rule by the British.
An important question that I considered was whether or not democracies and autocracies are mutually exclusive types of governments. According to the definitions of democracy provided by Levitsky and Way along with the existence (or lack thereof) of liberal values and ideals, I’d argue that the two aren’t distinct. To answer the prompt, I feel as if the “illiberal democracies” that exist today are indeed stable autocracies in disguise, as evidenced by their nondemocratic practices to effectively nullify their democratic institutions. Whether or not they can transition into liberal democracies wholly depends on if they can constitutionally establish unequivocally liberal values. The current wave of democratization is just that: an increase in governments with democratic institutions. Unfortunately for the sake of liberal democracy, there’s not a wave of liberalization that goes alongside the wave of democratization.