Comparative Authoritarianism

Pepinsky and Snyder present to us two distinctive situations which occur under authoritarian rule. One looking obviously like a dictatorship, and the other, a democracy-like situation. Some European countries, like the U.S, have seen populism permeate the political scene and surviving. Per Snyder and Pepinsky’s explanation, I see that described by Pepinsky as a likely option. From the description, and on the surface of it, Malaysia looks like a democracy, therefore, the citizens are unable to tell they live under an authoritarian regime. They have lived and come to accept the situation as it is, hence, they see no reason to change the status quo. In Snyder’s description, if that becomes the system, the government’s actions may somehow become known and a call for change will erupt. But being in a system that resembles a democracy makes this more difficult. As he described, everyday life is akin to what “democratic” nations experience, therefore, a shift in that direction may become unknown to many and eventually accept it as it is. U.S may be heading into this direction, with Trump in the White House. But how many people will know and realize it. In a TIME magazine interview, he stated, “I am president, you are not.” What does that mean? Because he is president, he can do all he wishes to do? Including dragging the country into a democracy-like authoritarianism? And that all he says is final? Or just a show of political power?

Ploarization, civil society and democracy: The case of US

Current U.S politics has taken a turn a lot of people did not anticipate- the rise of populism that got Donald Trump elected to the White House. As some have already mentioned, the “masses” wanted to see a change in leadership-something different from the status quo. Trump always said he was going to drain the swamp and it caught on with a lot of people who felt the country was stagnant and Washington was not doing their best. Clinton on the other hand represented the status quo. Both parties clearly represent what Bermeo  mentioned of the “distant ideological camps” (p 5). They eventually leave the middle that holds democracy to survive. And this has caused many to be frustrated, they actively participated, and sent a shocking wave through the political landscape. Too much participation may not be bad but can lead a state in a direction that was never anticipated. And when a country wanders in such a direction, we see the rise of civil society. In America today, we have seen several forms of resistance happening, including thee Women’s March, Not My President and the use of social media by activists like Michael Moore to affect decisions. Even tertiary institutions like Harvard has started the “Resistance School’ to train activists to oppose Trump and actively participate.



China’s Civil Society

In this reading, we are provided with two large roles for civil society. They either “compliment” the government, which most states like China will want; or be in “conflict” which, more often than not, push back on some of the things the government does or oppose policies they see as not in the best interest of the general public.

As mentioned in the reading, the Chinese government represses organizations of such nature and favor the complimentary ones who seem to cast them in a positive light. Over a period, they have become useful to ensuring delivery of “public goods” (p.129).

So how does the CCP continuously offer the Chinese public what it seems to want while maintaining strict political control is successful-using civil society?

The government hides behind civil society and maintain its strict control. While these NGO’s work to help the poor and needy, the idea is that, it is probably the government that’s making it possible. So a beneficiary of such good may continuously vote for the Party and be accepting of all its policies, thereby making them legitimate. The government can also use some of its favored civil groups to engage the public on policies and decision-making in general, again, to hold on to their legitimacy, but they reserve the right to recognize such input, making them unaccountable to its citizens (p.103). The NGOs themselves also shift to align themselves with government – policy wise- to enable them become “effective” (p.129). This kind of detour, and other factors feed into or strengthen authoritarian regimes like the Party, granting them more power and longer stay in office.

Voter Fraud

Voter fraud is bad on all levels irrespective of how it is done. The story of Weaver, the Frat boy, is what I will say is an example of modern day electoral malpractice. What I see is, as the years progresses, there are new ways of committing these crimes. Compared to that of Adams County, Ohio. But I found it interesting how these practices in the county were normalized- even county officials looked on unconcerned- till the judge took action.

I also find it difficult to tell the lesser of these two evils. But one thing about that of Adams county was that it has some order attached to it. You go to the “market place,” and you bid- of course the highest bidder wins. But Louisville Kentucky’s “portable polling places”  was done under the cover of darkness, and together with what happened when the results trickled in, could have ended in violence. For the purposes of this post, I will say “fraud that suppresses an opponent’s vote total” is pretty dangerous. As I mentioned, it could result in violence. The opponent and their following may try to rebel.  And this is similar to what happened in the Weaver case. He tried to suppress his opponent’s total vote and ended in jail.

For the vote buying, you are not necessarily working directly to suppress the other candidate’s vote but rather cajole the voters to shade in your name when they go to the polls. This pretty much what most candidates do, even in a democracy. But the introduction of money, and other materials to influence them makes it wrong. But suppressing someone’s total vote seems more damaging and has thrown many countries in anarchy even in present day.


The Coalition Force

Bueno de Mesquita and Smith clearly stipulate the characteristics, rules and how autocracies and democracies can and should operate. As they mentioned, autocratic regimes have fewer people to please, who form their “essentials.” And pleasing them means you have a limited number of people to work with, though requires huge sums of money. Because the autocrat was not elected, he basically owes nothing the larger population. It’s all about himself, his “influencials” and essentials.” Incorporating a larger population, the “interchangeable,” means you are accountable to the nation. That prevents the leader from satisfying only a few people he or she trusts and could protect him from enemies or potential threats to the seat of government. A larger coalition also means that each citizen, whether they voted for you or not, must benefit from the public good. A lack of public good will see that leader exiting the stage. If everything goes as expected, the “interchangeable” will ensure they stayed in power and continued their work. That way, you have their support, your government gains legitimacy and favor.

For authoritarian regimes, what they could learn is that, it is better to have the support of the larger population to cement their leadership, rather than a few cronies who will switch camps when the tables turn. Their betrayal means the downfall of that regime. Their inner members cannot always be trusted, and that they are not safe at all.

Slavery and Democracy

Interestingly, some of the issues raised in Olson’s article has come up in my race theory class- citizenship, racial states et al. Creating  of those racial states, somehow was to thwart rebellions from the slaves. Denying them the ability to use the justice system and other social avenues which could help them advance their cause. That way, they were able to deny citizenship and proceed to “democratize.” It also shows how the white elites loved to hold on to power and authority in the State. It was a means to maintain the cleavages between the various social classes . Olson stated,  for whites to be ‘independent citizen-earners,’ black people had to be put at the bottom of the social class (p.47). Democratization also meant, in part, economic development. Therefore, giving the lower class equal rights meant decrease in the labor population. So denial also meant they could use them to solve the “labor problem.” One thing that surprises me is the definition of the anti-black attack as democratic. I don’t see how that could be justified then. But this process of democratization is a bit problematic.

When Survival Meant Resistance: The Case of Penn State Agrarians

Holton and Bouton give a vivid description of happenings in Pennsylvania which, according to Bouton, was highly underestimated with comparatively much less scholarship on it.

The situation as described by Holton and Bouton, especially the latter, shows a period of great economic crisis that hit the Pennsylvania region in the late 18th century. As it was an agrarian society, the farmers, who constituted most of the poor was gravely hit by the crisis. As time went by, they lost almost every property and struggled to eke out a living. Taxes were high so much that even if they sold off all of their belongings, it still couldn’t pay up. This led to a majority of them owing huge sums to the state. Inability to pay also meant that, foreclosures were initiated and property finally auctioned off.

As someone’s misfortune is another’s blessing, the gentry in society took advantage of the situation to make money off the  farmers. They took property and bail out monies lower than it’s face value and redeemed it at  higher prices. They forced laws that further worsened the woes of the poor farmers. They were basically in want of power, money and authority.  Even as the farmers rebelled, they tried to do everything possible for state laws to compel the deadbeat farmers to pay up debt. Thankfully, some rational thinking members of the society put in efforts to protect them at their own peril. The Federal forces that came did less to make them pay up; rather put their creativity to test as they dug trenches on highways, built fences and host of other things to send a message to authorities.

The farmers only wanted economic equality or some form of economic relief which will give them back their lives. This led to a series of stiff oppositions in several shapes and form to drive home their demand for better conditions and reduction of taxes. Because they lost all their belongings to the wealthy-who got richer every day at the detriment of the agrarian society.

This I will say is the exact opposite of what happened in England. The peasants never rebelled and went with the flow as closures took away their livelihoods.


Islam and Democracy: A question of compatibility.

Both authors of today’s readings have made certain things clear in their writing that suggest it may be difficult for Islam  to co-exist with liberal democracy. Kendhammer (2016) also mentions how some people within the faith are accepting of democracy but state laws and other factors are making it onerous for that to happen.

Before I declare where I stand on this issue, I will say that whether Islam is compatible with democracy or not, both situations are humanly possible. But as it stands now – with the current state of affairs- and the fight to establish caliphates and Islamic republics, I argue that, Islam is not compatible with democracy. I reckon that some governments (like Algeria) try to mimic a democracy (just so they can be accepted internationally) but the foundation of governance hinges on Islamic laws, rules or values.

As Amir Taheri puts it, “Many Islamist thinkers regard democracy with horror.” And this I believe stems from the fact that they see God as the ultimate ruler of their lives and rather not a mere man who has coined his system of governance called “democracy.” So far as majority of the followers continue to hold this belief, it will be very difficult for Islam and democracy to peacefully co-exist. Even if the citizens may be pushing for it, the fact that the religion supports the patriarchy, and do not ascribe to certain values such as gender equality – which democracy dismantles and favors, leaders of such countries will do everything possible to keep out a democratic system.

Another reason I find both incompatible is what Kendhammer (2016) mentions that, most of the followers of Islam would want some aspects of democracy to exist, that is probity and accountability. But at the same time do not want to commit to it and eschew “pluralism.”  Democracy is an all-or-nothing game. It’s either you are for, or against. In their case, I foresee a constant conflict between the religion and the system of governance which will make the country  unstable and eventually fail.

Democracy and Wealth: Somalia as a test case.


Map of Somalia

First of, let’s take a look at a country  like Somalia, compared to South Africa. I am using South Africa because at least, they are on the same continent. Using a Western country might seem a bit unfair. Between both countries, we can say that South Africa is wealthier- and that I will say has contributed to its successful democracy. Poverty, the lack of working institutions, among others are reasons Somalia is classified as a failed state. So I agree that, wealth and democracy go hand in hand. Why do I say this? Countries that are wealthy are more likely have institutions, welfare and health systems work for them. So they have the propensity to support such a system of governance that has made those things possible, because they believe that style, which is democracy, has contributed to the comparatively good life they are enjoying. While the citizens are at peace, they are also more likely to support any step to strengthen that democracy and promote it. As Lipset said, they could “intelligently participate” in the political discourse. In a failed state like Somalia, the immediate need is not democracy. One is likely to ask “will we eat democracy?” They need basic things like food, water, shelter and medicine to survive the day. That, they are not even sure will come. A hungry man is an angry man – and will not be willing to support “foreign” systems which aren’t taking away his woes. In such a country, “democracy” cannot be modeled – not to talk of sustainability. So the probability that wealthier countries will sustain and strengthen democracy is higher than a non-wealthy states.

Autocracies in Disguise

This, I will say has been one of the reasons why it seem difficult to define democracy. And whether it should a thin or thick definition. These institutions mimic a democracy and in some cases, one is n0t sure where to place them. As to whether they are a complete democracy or not.

For the sake of this question, I will say that they are actually autocracies in disguise. These states, for them not to lose their international standing portray on the outside what looks like a democracy – so as to be counted as such – but the citizens experience something different.

The fact that elections are held frequently and the presence of democratic institutions doesn’t necessarily means it is a democracy. Again, that is why it is difficult to define the term “democracy.” Else, all of such democracy-looking autocratic states will conveniently fall within the bracket.

I will add that, the presence of some of those democratic institutions is what is keeping them from a total collapse. However, they are autocratic states- who when given the chance, will show their true identity and completely take over the playing field.