This is a book about ‘non-democracy’. Non-democratic politics takes many forms, and goes by many names. ‘Dictatorship’, ‘tyranny’, ‘authoritarianism’, ‘autocracy’, ‘totalitarianism’, and ‘despotism’ are only some of the many terms scholars and ordinary people use to distinguish non-democratic states from democracies. In order to make sense of this variety, we first need to know what characteristics typically distinguish democratic from non-democratic states. Democracy is itself a contested concept, capable of taking on many meanings today (Coppedge et al., 2011). What the rule of the people requires of our societies and institutions is controversial. Fortunately for our purposes in this book, however, we do not need perfect agreement on what democracy is, or on what it should be, before we can speak about non-democratic politics. As the economist Joseph Schumpeter (1950) observed in the first half of the twentieth century, the key distinction between states that can be called democratic (even if grudgingly) and states that should not be so called (whatever else they might be called) has to do less with abstract notions such as popular sovereignty and the common good than with the forms of political competition for state power prevalent within them.
No country today wants to be thought undemocratic. So powerful is the allure of democracy today that the vast majority of countries in the world call themselves ‘democratic’ – regardless of whether or not they actually are democratic in any recognizable sense. Non-democratic regimes do not typically advertise themselves as such in their major legal documents, and perhaps do not even believe themselves to be non-democratic. If we took their public declarations at face value, almost every regime in the world is democratic and holds liberal rights in the highest esteem. And yet we know this cannot be right. At least by the standards of contemporary political science, only about half of all countries, comprising about half of the worlds population, can be reasonably identified as roughly democratic today (Figure 2.2). How did it happen that almost every state in the world today wants to clothe itself in democratic garb? Out of around 200 sovereign entities in the international system today (give or take a few), only 16 today fail to mention the democratic character of their government and society in any of their constitutional documents: Australia, Brunei, Denmark, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Monaco, Nauru, Oman, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tonga, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Vatican City. (Countries that do not mention democracy are identified from data made available by the Comparative Constitutions Project
Some of the most vivid images of dictatorship come from ‘totalitarian’ regimes: goose-stepping soldiers and gigantic mass rallies in Nazi Germany, extraordinary propaganda art from the Soviet Union or the Chinese Cultural revolution, the horrendous crimes of the Holocaust or Stalin’s ‘Great Terror’. Many other non-democratic regimes, by contrast, appear drab and boring; they may be repressive, even occasionally criminal, but they are often unexciting. Is there an important difference between the ‘totalitarian’ regimes that caused so much suffering in the twentieth century and the more ordinary ‘authoritarian’ regimes that populate the nondemocratic bestiary? How should we understand this difference, and what accounts for it? Non-democratic regimes vary in the degree to which a single, highly articulated ideological view dominates the state. At one extreme, we find the ideological monomania of totalitarian regimes; at the other, we find regimes that are almost democratic in the extent to which they allow electoral political competition. With the exception of North Korea and perhaps Eritrea, most totalitarian regimes have mercifully disappeared today; most non-democratic regimes are authoritarian, rather than totalitarian, falling in the middle of the continuum between the total lack of pluralism of totalitarianism and the wide pluralism of democracies. Their ruling elites cannot or will not completely eliminate independent groups and the views they represent; they do not hold highly articulated ideological views; and they prefer populations to be demobilized, or to be mobilized only in very particular ways.
Political regimes differ not only in the degree to which they enable the representation of a variety of views and interests; they also differ in the degree to which any particular individual – the ruler – has power. In particular, some non-democratic regimes, though perhaps repressive and odious, act according to public norms and make their leaders accountable to other elites, as in East Germany from 1949 to 1990, or in China after the death of Mao; in others, leaders are at best constrained by the de facto armed resistance of other people, and are free to act on their every whim, no matter how bizarre, as in the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire (1965- 97), or François Duvalier in Haiti (1957-71). Power in the latter regimes is personalized: concentrated in a single person, and exercised in ways inconsistent with publicly recognized norms. The chapter closes by examining how personal rulers typically manage such patronage relationships, and considers the factors that sometimes enable them to remain in power despite horrendous economic and social costs. The chapter closes by examining how personal rulers typically manage such patronage relationships, and considers the factors that sometimes enable them to remain in power despite horrendous economic and social costs.
Power relationships in non-democratic regimes are not always highly personalized. As we saw in the previous chapter, the struggle for power in many non-democratic regimes may result in the establishment of some institutional framework which, though never perfectly effective, is capable of imposing some limits on rulers and of regulating the competition for state power. Moreover, even personal rulers unconstrained by their elite colleagues often exercise power through particular organizations that enable them to control society and achieve their goals. Two institutions have played especially important roles in how non-democratic regimes are ruled in the modern world: the political party and the modern bureaucratized army. Both of these emerged from the transformation of certain patronage relationships (Martin, 2009, chs. 7–8) into functionally specialized and normatively regulated hierarchies – the party as an organization for mobilizing large numbers of people, and the army as an organization for the use of violence. This chapter focuses on the role of political parties in non-democratic regimes, while the next two chapters focus on armies and other institutions through which political power has been exercised in non-democratic regimes. We begin by surveying the diversity of ways in which non-democratic regimes have made use of parties. This diversity raises the question of whether there are any particular characteristics of parties that make them useful for non-democratic regimes even in contexts in which they do not serve to contest elections. The answer, I argue, is that (some) parties are particularly effective at ensuring elite cohesion, managing the loyalty of supporters through appropriate rewards and punishments, and mobilizing groups beyond the ruling elite in support of the regime.
The popular image of many non-democratic regimes is dominated by the military dictator. From Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator to Woody Allen’s Bananas to Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, authoritarian rulers are often shown in uniform in movies and other forms of entertainment. Real dictators, from Hitler to Saddam Hussein, have often worn military garb, even if they had not risen up through the ranks of the military (Hitler was only a corporal in the First World War; Saddam Hussein was never accepted into the military academy of Iraq). And it certainly seems as if military rule should be the most common form of non-democratic rule, given the fact that military officers control force. In his seminal study of military intervention in politics, The Man on Horseback, Finer (1962) posed the question thus. Yet, despite the fact that the military possesses arms, military rule properly speaking is both less common and more fragile than a naive view of the political advantages of military force might suggest. This chapter shows why. It begins by examining the main way in which the military has come to power in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the coup. Though the military can often exercise influence without staging a coup, specific conditions of the post-colonial context in many areas of the world tended to encourage the military to attempt to seize power directly. We shall also see that these factors have become less salient in recent times, and thus coups and military regimes have declined in number and importance.
Some modern authoritarian regimes do not pretend very hard to rule in the name of the people. Instead, they claim to derive their legitimacy from more traditional sources, such as a holy and exalted lineage. These are the ‘absolute’ monarchies. Monarchies in this strict sense are rare today, and they are mostly concentrated in the Middle East; but their longevity and geopolitical importance make it worthwhile to examine them in more detail. As we shall see in this chapter, though the number of genuinely ruling (as opposed to constitutional) monarchies has declined greatly, consistent with the broad normative changes towards republican forms described in Chapter 2, most of the remaining monarchies have survived by institutionalizing certain kinship structures to produce surprisingly resilient regimes. In these regimes, the key institution through which power is exercised is neither the army nor the party, but the dynastic family. After describing the decline of monarchy in the modern world, we thus explore the conditions under which monarchical regimes have managed to endure in the modern world, as well as the distinctive ways in which they have held power through institutions that neither incorporate significant numbers of ordinary people into the regime (as parties do) nor specialize in the use of violence (as armies do).
Political power in non-democratic regimes is never wholly secure. Ambitious insiders may plot to achieve absolute power; and outsiders may gather enough support to supplant an existing ruling elite. Even the most complete personal autocrat still fears the possibility of a popular uprising, and needs to always to be on his guard against ambitious subordinates. Though, as we have seen (Chapters 4–7), the most important risks to rulers and ruling elites in non-democratic regimes usually come from within the ruling elite, leaders and other authoritarian elite members do spend significant resources trying to avert challenges from outsiders. This chapter focuses on the tactics rulers and ruling elites use to prevent such challenges and ensure their control over the broader population. These tactics range widely, from simple repression to the sophisticated manipulation of information and emotion, depending on the objectives leaders pursue and the environment in which they must act. Among the means rulers and ruling coalitions use to secure popular support or acquiescence, this chapter describes the uses and limits of surveillance, propaganda, and cults of personality. We shall argue that, in general, these tactics have two primary functions: making it difficult for people to mobilize against the regime, typically by demoralizing and scaring.
In a 1992 speech, the late founding prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, declared that. In Lees view, democracy not only was unnecessary for good government, it was positively harmful under particular cultural and economic conditions. Though strictly speaking Lee did not consider the Singaporean system he had led undemocratic, only differently democratic, he did indicate in a 1994 interview that he was not intellectually convinced that one-man, one-vote is the best system (Zakaria and Lee, 1994, p. 119), and certainly suggested many times that democracy was not necessary for economic development. Democracy was only good if it produced good government; and it could only produce good government under very specific cultural conditions. In societies where these conditions were not present, he thought, some other (more authoritarian, or more technocratic) political system would be preferable to democracy.The idea that democracy is bad for good government, particularly good government conceived in terms of economic development. The idea that democracy is bad for good government, particularly good government conceived in terms of economic development.
Regimes change. While significant regime change is rare, and most countries in the world have not experienced many regime changes in the recent past – out of 155 countries examined by Geddes, Wright, and Frantz (2014) for the period 1945–2010, 59 experienced no regime transitions, and 25 experienced only one transition – some countries have experienced many such changes since the Second World War, especially in the post-colonial world. These transformations have ranged from coups that merely change the personnel controlling the state to revolutions that comprehensively transform the normative and material bases of the state. They can be gradual, peaceful, and unspectacular, and they can also be sudden, violent, and spectacular; they can be forced by popular mobilization or led from the top; and they can be ephemeral or durable. Two kinds of explanations for large-scale phenomena such as regime change are typically possible. The first kind focuses on structural factors, such as cultural norms or economic development, that may in turn shape political structures. Such explanations are macropolitical. Two kinds of explanations for large-scale phenomena such as regime change are typically possible. The first kind focuses on structural factors, such as cultural norms or economic development, that may in turn shape political structures. Such explanations are macropolitical.
Regime change doesn’t just ‘happen’ when structural conditions are right. Though the long-term ‘macropolitical’ processes of structural change described in the previous chapter prepare the soil, transitions to and from various political systems are produced by specific people doing particular things, from signing petitions to engaging in protest to taking up arms. To be sure, sometimes regimes change without anybody intending them to change. New institutions evolve that change the meaning of existing institutions; before anyone knows the absolute monarch has turned into a constitutional monarch, hedged everywhere by the weight of custom and law. But even in such cases changes are usually the outcomes of what the Trinidadian writer V. S. Naipaul once evocatively termed ‘a million mutinies’: small, local conflicts, individually insignificant but together enormously consequential. And sometimes political change – even very significant change – happens in places where structural conditions are very unfavourable.
Non-democratic politics has changed much over the past two centuries. As documented in Chapter 2, the world has in many ways become much more democratic since the 1800s. Political life used to be structured around monarchical ideas and norms of hereditary selection; it is now structured around the sovereignty of ‘the people’ and norms of electoral selection almost everywhere. These changes have not been linear, however, and great crises of democracy have contributed to the three eras of non-democratic innovation we have examined in detail in this book. The crisis of the interwar European regimes gave rise to the totalitarian moment, with its highly ideological regimes claiming to speak more authentically in the name of the people than mere representative democracies, and accompanied by unprecedented levels of social control and repression. The optimism of the decolonization process after the traumas of the Second World War gave way to an authoritarian and dictatorial moment, when rulers dispensed with constraints in the name of development, anti-communism, or national unity. And today, we have perhaps entered a competitive authoritarian moment, in which non-democratic rulers have figured out new ways to tame democratic institutions for non-democratic ends, and many democracies have become less democratic.