Research Journal 9

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate the naming and shaming literature into a study of human rights reform in China. While some of the literature points to the strategy being effective in autocratic regimes, I have found weak evidence that this holds true in the Chinese case (especially in the context of Xinjiang and Tibet). To try and account for this rift between theory and reality, I’ve been considering possible explanations for exactly why this is. One possible reason (and the evidence I’ve encountered points to this as the strongest) is due to China’s involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Central Asian security organization headed by Russia and China. All states in the organization have problems with specific ethnonationationalist and separatist groups, and have framed the discourse around human rights to reflect a broader security risk for the state. Considering China has re-framed its domestic issues in Tibet and Xinjiang to fit within the broader context of the global war on terror post 9-11, it seems that the SCO provides an insular environment to promote less-than-democratic norms and to reject Western influence in the region. SCO member states all fall under “authoritarian” or “competitive authoritarian” categories (China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan), so it seems that the organization provides its members a degree self-made legitimacy. Interestingly, the SCO regularly conducts “peace missions” (not to be confused with the UN’s peace keeping operations, although China participates in those too), which consist of military exercises that simulate terrorist and separatist crises.

So, it seems that the SCO postures itself as an alternative to the liberal democratic structures in the West, which by definition offers its member states a degree of insulation from attempts at naming and shaming. As I’m getting deeper into writing the analysis, I’m finding that exploring situations in which the processes of democratization have stalled can contribute to the overall understanding of the rise of competitive authoritarianism.

4/19 Blog Post: Course Reflection

Over the course of this semester, I’ve learned a lot from the various units and readings we’ve explored. However, I am most grateful for learning how to rig an election. That enlightening lecture by Dr. Kendhammer gave me the tools I need to go ahead with my plan to take over the world.

On a serious note, my views of democracy have changed substantially. While the name of the course should have clued me in (duh), I was and still am fascinated by all of the “shades” of democracy and authoritarianism, and how blurred the lines can be between each regime type. The Levitsky and Way reading was only for one class, but I was struck by their argument on competitive authoritarianism and how analytically useful their framework is for understanding many of the countries I am interested in (Russia, in particular). I also really enjoyed the unit on China, mainly because of the public opinion surveys in the Dickson book. Learning a new perspective on certain democratic(ish) aspects of Chinese authoritarianism will undoubtedly be helpful in my future studies. As far as class activities go, I found the Democratization Index group project to be really insightful. Although I do not necessarily want to explore that type of work as a career option, it was still interesting (and frustrating! Damn it, Turkmenistan!)  to learn how to construct indices.

So, in conclusion, it’s been a simultaneously challenging and rewarding semester. I’ve really enjoyed the wide variety of readings, and will continue to use them as reference points in the future.

4/17 Blog Post

In his article, Snyder provides a bleak account of a state’s descent into authoritarianism (and Nazism). While the political landscape was undoubtedly polarized, he crafts a story in which moderate voters held “a certain faith that the political elite had matters under control,” and that the political elite held ” a certain faith that state institutions would somehow protect themselves” (Snyder). This confusion regarding whose responsibility it was to prevent the collapse of (German) democracy played a key role in the development of the one-party state. Interestingly, he notes that if any one group could have stopped the march toward full authoritarianism, it would have been the leaders of the military and intelligence branches; however, their dissent proved to be too little, too late (Snyder).
Pepinsky, on the other hand, outlines a gentler version of life under an authoritarian regime. His experiences in Malaysia reveal conditions that call into question the unforgiving American perceptions of authoritarianism (or totalitarianism, as Pepinsky would prefer to call it). Contrary to the apocalyptic vision most prefer to ascribe to such a system, the author notes that most become aware that they are no longer living in a democracy “because the elections in which [they] are participating no longer can yield political change” (Pepinsky). Thus, his account demonstrates that most authoritarian backsliding occurs subtly over time.

Pepinsky’s version of authoritarianism seems more likely than Snyder’s  when taking the factors outlined in today’s blog prompt into account. While it does seem likely that such conditions would polarize the Western political landscape even further, I am skeptical on 1) the extent to which the polarization argument would sway moderate voters, and 2) how modern states could solidify totalitarian rule Snyder-style. Levitsky and Way’s argument on competitive authoritarianism seems relevant, especially for Pepinsky’s article: one of Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s response to dissent was “if you don’t like me, defeat me in my district” (Pepinsky). It seems that it would be much more likely for a subtle slide into authoritarianism to occur than a rapid and heavy-handed one.

Research Journal 8

I received a good deal of constructive feedback from my meeting with Dr. Kendhammer last week. In particular, he instructed me to focus on the following points:

1. Get deeper into the literature, particularly by Emilie Hafner-Burton, a scholar who writes extensively on naming and shaming.
2. Explore the conditions under which regimes are responsive to naming and shaming, as well as the inverse.
3. Similarly, I need to explicitly state the reasons why the three minority groups’ repressive treatment is surprising.

To get started, I am currently reading through the following articles by Hafner-Burton to see how they interact with my current theoretical foundation:

Hafner-Burton, Emilie M. 2008. “Sticks and Stones: Naming and Shaming the Human Rights Enforcement Problem.” International Organization 62: 689-716.

Hafner-Burton, Emilie M. 2005. “Right or Robust? The Sensitive Nature of Repression to Globalization.” Journal of Peace Research 42: 679-698.

Hafner-Burton, Emilie M., Brad L. LeVeck, and David G. Victor. 2015. “How Activists Perceive the Utility of International Law.” The Journal of Politics 78: 167-180.

Hafner-Burton, Emilie M, Edward D. Mansfield and Jon C.W. Pevehouse. 2013. “Human Rights Institutions, Sovereignty Costs, and Democratization.” The British Journal of Political Science 45: 1-27.

I will update in a few days with some comments on the findings.

4/10 Blog Post

In the first few chapters of her book, Nancy Bermeo explores the reasons for which she believes authoritarian regime takeover is not due to the actions of citizens, but rather due to the actions (or miscalculations) of political elites. The question of whether the polarization model applies to the case of the United States is an interesting one– one that I think has similarities to the US context, but is not completely applicable.

In Chapter 2, Bermeo explores a host of European cases of anti-democratic regime change during the interwar period, many of which find that the people (voters) played a largely peripheral role in the authoritarian backsliding. I am not sure whether I would describe the level of political participation in the United States as “too much”. While we did see a nontraditional candidate elected to the presidency at the end of 2016 that defied the standing conservative elites (as another classmate mentioned in their blog post), I am unconvinced by the argument that the current president is so radically anti-system that our democracy is facing the threat of dismantlement because of the amount of voters attracted to the far-right platform. For the purposes of writing this post, I found it helpful to look at the German case that Bermeo explores, partially because she devotes a substantial amount of detail to it, and partially because I have heard comparisons between the current administration and Nazi Germany more times than I care to count. Bermeo notes that the high degree of fragmentation in Germany was partially due to the proportional representation system with no minimum vote threshold, which “encouraged an overly fragmented system” (37). While we did experience (or so it would seem) a significant degree of voter defection from the center of the political spectrum, I don’t know that this defection was enough to shake the foundation of the political system because of the nature of the two-party system.

4/3 Blog Post

Public goods provision, largely discussed in Dickinson’s Chapter 4, provides unique insight into the degree to which such provision is effective for CCP power retention. From my understanding, the CCP has achieved a moderate amount of success in this regard, as it walks a fine line between “not enough” and “too much”. While its policies are far from perfect, I find that the CCP’s responses to the various health crises of the 2000s illustrate its general strategies. The initial lukewarm responses to the SARS outbreak and subsequent revamping of the healthcare system in 2009 highlights the illustrative tendency of the regime; that is, to publicly recognize government wrongs (to an extent), and then take highly visible steps to remedy the issue (so long as it does not interfere with political power). Similarly, food contamination scandals prompted publicized investigations into production company wrongdoing. These grand displays of reform contribute to the idea that the CCP exists to serve the people, not the other way around. Educational reform is another interesting example, as providing higher education seems counterintuitive for an authoritarian regime vehemently opposed to institutional reform. The increased emphasis on “quality of life,” rather than ideological issues contributes to the complex sense of CCP legitimacy.

The question asked in the blogging prompt is especially thought-provoking when put in the context of Bueno de Mesquita and Smith’s book. If, as they say, “bad policy equals good politics,” what explains the Chinese case’s departure from their conclusions? If the point is to be as corrupt as possible, and to steal from the poor and give to the powerful elite that backs the dictator, then it appears that the Chinese case’s increased public goods provision deviates from this logic.

Research Blog #7

After the really helpful peer feedback activity last week (thanks again to Fiona and Anthony!), I now have a few points to focus on while constructing the final draft of my paper. While I will undoubtedly receive even more direction from the upcoming meeting with Dr. Kendhammer, I am focusing on the following points for the time being:

1) Be clearer in explaining why these three groups are included in my study. I think it may be necessary to reframe my question slightly so that the paper is about religious repression in China.
2) Be clearer in stating the ethnic differences between groups. I’ll be sure to include a brief discussion on the salience of ethnic identity in China today.
3) Potentially use resource mobilization theory to explain the differences in methods between Tibetan, Uyghur, and Falun Gong organizations.

Research Blog 6

This post (which was supposed to be posted last week) mainly focuses on gathering the final sources needed for the individual case studies in my paper. I will be pulling information from the following books and journal articles:

Brophy, David. 2016. Uyghur Nation: Reform an dRevolution on the Russia-China Frontier. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hillman, Ben, and Gray Tuttle. 2016. Ethnic Conflict and Protest in Tibet and Xinjiang. New York: Columbia University Press.

Li, Junpeng. 2014. “The Religion of the Nonreligious and the Politics of the Apolitical: The Transformation of Falun Gong from Healing Practice to Political Movement.” Politics and Religion 7: 177-208. doi: 10.1017/S1755048313000576.

Combined with the previously mentioned articles that explore the role of external actors (NGOs, individual rights groups), these sources are coming together to form the bulk of my argument, and to answer the question of whether vociferous external oppositions encourage moderation and restraint in authoritarian regimes, and if so, to what extent. Considering that the first version of the rough drafts are due on Wednesday, I suspect that it may be helpful to meet with Dr. Kendhammer briefly to identify and address any weaknesses of my argument.


3/20 Blog Post

The articles for today’s class demonstrate the nefarious ways in which candidates can skew election results in their favor. Gist explores the Adams County fraud case, in which votes were openly bought and sold. Early 1900’s Kentucky saw similar voting fraud, as state representative Arthur Wallace manipulated the secret voting method and engaged in violence, intimidation, and voting delays to ensure votes did not go to the opposition party. Finally, the Shapiro article explores the case of Matthew Weaver, the university student who used keyloggers to steal university login information from public computers in order to cast votes for himself in the upcoming (profitable!) class president election. Thus, we see clear instances of both the suppression and addition types of voting fraud.

The question posed by the prompt for today is an interesting one. While it feels wrong to say conclusively which method of voting fraud is worse, I get the impression that suppressing vote totals for opponents is slightly more harmful than increasing the amount of votes overall. Fraud that actively takes away votes from a candidate (through any one of the repertoire of methods exercised by Arthur Wallace and his goons) seems to diminish the most basic and sacred elements of elections. Rerouting a vote would completely do away with the competitive aspect of elections, as one cannot have an election without competition. On the other hand, while inflating the overall vote totals does not take away votes from the opposition party, it does still cast false votes towards the corrupt party. This is a difficult question to answer, as both are detrimental to the full realization of the democratic voting system.

3/13 Blog Post

Bueno de Mesquita and Smith provide a compelling account of the dynamics of power accumulation and retention in both autocracies and democracies. They begin the book by explaining the three tiers of people in a given political landscape: the nominal selectorate (the people who have some degree in deciding political matters, such as the total voting pool), the real selectorate (the group that actually decides the state’s leader), and the winning coalition (the group the leader needs to appeal to in order to retain power) (4-5). Autocrats depend upon the upper tier of this system, while democrats draw support from the bottom. As such, leaders of both systems of governance must provide incentives to different portions of the population in order to securely remain in office.

One interesting aspect of their argument is that democratic leaders do not provide public goods and services because of their own sentimentality; rather, the provision of these goods that we often attribute to benevolence is primarily done for the sake of attracting the proportion of votes necessary to achieve/ retain power.

Through reading Bueno de Mesquita and Smith’s book, one can draw several conclusions regarding the future of democratizing authoritarian regimes. First and most obviously, it would seem prudent to reduce the size or scope of the winning coalition. Since the very existence of many autocrats is dependent upon a small group of powerful people, undertaking measures to either reduce the size of the winning coalition or to undercut its loyalty to the leader. Once this key support is diminished or gone entirely, potential alternative leaders will emerge and assume office (through election or through violent coup). However, simply reducing the loyalty of the winning coalition does not guarantee democratization. For this reason, heavy emphasis must be placed upon education. There is an unequal distribution of top universities between democracies and autocracies which can be attributed to the insecurity of the autocratic leader. “Educational opportunity should be not so extensive as to equip ordinary folks, the interchangeables, to question government authority…highly educated people are a potential threat to autocrats, and so autocrats make sure to limit educational opportunity” (108-09
). Educational reforms present the opportunity to engage average citizens in the political process that was previously unavailable to them (at least in the authoritarian context).