Evaluating Election Fraud – Blog Post 3/20

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.

Selectorate Dynamics in Democracy

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.

The Racial Context of American Democracy

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.

The Economic Context of Early American Democracy

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.

Islam and Democracy – 2/13/17

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.

Favorable Preconditions for Democracy

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.

Hybrid & Illiberal Democracies

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.

How Do We Know Democracy When We See It?

Political participants fully understand the concept of democracy as a broad theoretical framework, but in assessing democracies empirically, there are attributes that vary between all democracies that affect each administration’s strength and legitimacy. Defining a government as a ‘democracy’ tells you very little about how it actually operates. The positive connotation associated with ‘democracy’ even coerces non-democratic states to use it as a means of feigning legitimacy. As such, a deeper analysis of these governments is necessary to understand if democracy truly exists in each specific case.

Unfortunately for the sake of this discussion, democracy as a specific set of rules and guidelines that can’t be abstracted in any way doesn’t exist. All democracies generally understand the ideal, theoretical framework of democracy, which can be described simply as a government whose accountability rests ultimately upon the public. Typically, in all legitimate democracies, that idea exists in practicality. Following that foundation however, democracies have extreme flexibility to vary from their democratic counterparts around the world.

Dahl provides certain standards that must be met to ensure validity in a given democratic administration. He defines five standards here: “effective participation”, “voting equality”, “enlightened understanding”, “control of the agenda”, and “inclusion of adults”. It’s clear just by the name of these standards that failed democracies throughout history have failed to meet all of these criteria. As we observed in Nigeria’s failed attempt at democracy, effective participation and voting equality was largely monopolized by the northern half of the country.

Unfortunately, some of these criteria are difficult to measure and assess, and as such, measuring democracy is a task with major impediments that provide for rather unclear results. We also can’t be sure if these criteria are the ultimate barometer of democratic validity, as empirical evidence is often abstract and fundamentally different on a case-by-case basis. Being that the strongest and most stable ‘democracy’ in history belongs to modern-day U.S.A. and (especially right now) we’re having trouble being comfortable defining it as a strong democracy, the world doesn’t have a perfect example to base their own democracies on, and we as political scholars don’t have an accurate measurement tool to assess democracy. So to answer the prompt question more clearly, we very loosely know “democracy” when we see it just by virtue of the government being held accountable by the public. But in questioning the legitimacy and strength of a democracy, you could answer in many different ways and have an argument for each one. Whether or not the inherent flexibility within democracy (based upon its loose definition) is ultimately a good thing, that’s a separate question that deserves its own analysis another time.