Comparative Politics: History and Theories

Authoritarianism

Nondemocratic regimes may take a wide range of various forms, such as autocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, tyranny, etc. However, all non-democratic regimes share one common feature: they deny the possibilities of participation, competition, and liberty. Thus, nondemocratic regimes are usually established and maintained by the small group of people that hold power “without being constitutionally responsible” to citizens (O’Neil, 2015, p. 178). O’Neil (2015) suggests four factors that contribute to the establishment of non-democratic regimes: lack of modernization, elites’ unwillingness to share power and the resource traps, weak civil society, and highly ideologized culture (p. 188). Weinthal and Luong (2006) also listed resource traps coupled with poor and unstable economic performance and weak institutionalization of the society as determining factors of non-democracy (p. 35). Nondemocratic regimes employ various types of political control mechanisms, some of which may be even considered by citizens as legitimate.

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They are coercion and surveillance, as well as different forms of co-optation such as corporatism and clientelism. It should be mentioned that some of these mechanisms may be coupled with personality cults, as in the case of Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union. Larry Diamond (2008) analyzed authoritarianism in Africa and concluded that only international actors might help to overthrow these regimes (p. 148). Political scientists distinguish between several types of nondemocratic regimes: personal/monarchical (Mobutu’s regime in Zaire), military (current North Korea), one-party (Cuba, Vietnam, China, North Korea), theocratic (Iran), and hybrid (Lebanon, Kenya, Colombia, Turkey). Levitsky and Way (2002), as well as Linz and Stepan (1996), believe that the forms and types of nondemocratic regimes tend to change over time due to such factors like the Western influence, global economy, communication technologies development that are contribute to the widespread promotion of human rights and democracy.

Political Violence

Political science distinguishes many types of political violence: assassinations, riots, military coups, ethnic conflicts, rebellions, and even civil wars. Currently, revolutions and terrorism are the most often types of violence. While revolution is a mass and open movement, terrorism implies the secret actions of a particular group of people (O’Neil, 2015, p. 214).

Revolution includes three key components, such as public participation, authoritative leadership, and the objective to overthrow the existing regime. Thus, revolutions aim at the reconstruction of political, economic, and social institutions. It seems that revolutions have one more important component – violence – however, history knows a few examples of non-violent revolutions, such as the collapse of Eastern European communism at the end of the 1980s (O’Neil, 2015, p. 2015). At different stages, political scientists named various causes of revolutions, such as modernization (within the framework of the relative deprivation model) and competition between states (Skocpol, 1976, p. 189). In the end, these approaches merged. All in all, revolutions result in significant changes in the political, economic, and social system of a state, heavy death tolls, and institutionalization of new forms of politics (Goldstone, 2011, p. 16; O’Neil, 2015, p. 2015).

As in the case with revolutions, terrorism also has its components: political goals, intentional violence against civilians, and nonstate actors. There are three points of view on the reasons for terrorism’s existence. Some believe that it is the lack of money and education; however, such an explanation does not have essential support since many terrorists come from wealthy families and are highly-educated. Weak political institutions and nihilist ideology appear to be more logical reasons for terrorism, but one should not refuse the possible personal motivations of terrorists, such as the desire to serve a greater purpose or to revenge the society for some injustice (O’Neil, 2015, p. 225). On the one hand, terrorists rarely achieve their political goals. However, the impact of their actions on the political, economic, and social institutions is rather significant (Abrahms, 2008, p. 90; Crenshaw, 1981, p. 379). State governments spend considerable means for the fight against terrorism and have to stabilize public unrest.

Developed Democracies

Developed democracy implies a liberal democratic regime coupled with the capitalist economy. On the whole, all developed democratic countries are characterized by the high economic development that presupposes open markets, high level of the gross domestic product (GDP), and the presence of private property (O’Neil, 2015, p. 243). It should be mentioned that agricultural and industrial sectors of GDP are out-grossed by the service sector that includes education, information technologies, and retail trade. Currently, there are 50 countries that can be characterized as developed democracies (O’Neil, 2015, p. 244). The United States take the lead with the highest share of service sector in country’s GDP. De Tocqueville (2003) called the United States “the image of democracy itself” (p. 24).

Despite the fact that all developed democracies have in common the high level of economic development and liberal democracy, each country employs its measures and policies to maintain a balance between equality and freedom. Some of the developed democracies are characterized as parliamentary systems (the United Kingdom), some – as presidential (the United States), and some – as semi-presidential (France) (Iversen & Soskice, 2006, p. 169). The definition of civil rights is also different from country to country (Estevez-Abe, Iversen, & Soskice, 2001, p. 160). All in all, developed democracies characterize the present state of political, economic, and social life. However, against a background of the dynamic development, these countries always have to deal with a plethora of challenges that influence the balance of freedom and equality: state sovereignty, social norms, industrial issues, information-based economy, etc (O’Neil, 2015, p. 268).

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Communism and Post-Communism

The basics of communism were introduced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their The Communist Manifesto in the middle of the nineteenth century. They considered the world and all existing phenomena and relationships from the perspective of the economy. Thus, they developed concepts of base and superstructure and with the help of these concepts build a utopian theory of classless society where all the members will be economically equal (Engels & Marx, 2004, p. 12). However, the practice has shown that the establishment of communism is a difficult task since people become politically, economically, and socially repressed by the government and do not have any stimulus for the construction of a better state (Gat, 2007, p. 59).

The Communism Manifesto inspired many political figures that chose to lead their countries following its ideas; however, the destiny of communism and its consequences was different in each country. Eastern European and Soviet communism collapsed at the end of the twentieth century. Since that time, Eastern Europe has managed to build democratic regimes and establish capitalist economies, while Russia maintains its authoritarianism. The reason why Russians do not protest against Putin is that the majority of those who could do that have migrated from the country or moved to the virtual reality (Krastev, 2011, p. 14). Currently, some post-communist countries are in the process of reforming their political and economic systems since they realized that communism is inapplicable in practice, as in the case of China; some of them, however, continue to draw their inspiration from Marx’s manifesto, as in the case of Venezuela.

Least Developed Countries and Newly Industrializing Countries

Developing countries are the middle and lower income states. Over the half of a century, some countries have developed stable economies, modernized their political and social institutions and now are rather close to being the developed democracies. Such countries as Mexico and South Korea are given the name of newly industrializing countries. As opposed to NICs, there are countries in which poverty rates increased as well as the levels of violence and social instability. The reason why some of the countries have poorly developed economy and governmental system lies in the fact of their longstanding colonialism. In the past, large empires such as the United Kingdom occupied vast territories leaving there the bureaucratic structures to maintain control and giving the basic public goods such as education and healthcare.

However, without proper governance, people could not establish stable and well-functioning states and continued to live with the so-called hybrids of Western and local institutions (O’Neil, 2015, p. 318). With permanent ethnic, religious, national conflicts, the low level of industrialization, low levels of freedom and equality, these countries remained politically and economically unstable and underdeveloped. Numerous attempts to solve the problem of developing countries did not result in particular progress. The international community has not managed to elaborate an effective strategy for the help. However, many political scientists expressed the belief that reorganization of institutions on the local level will promote the further development of these states (Collier & Gunning, 1999, p. 22; Krugman, 1994, p. 77).

Globalization

Globalization is the next step in the development of the international community. It is a qualitative change of human organization during wich people establish close relationships with the help of traveling, business, education, and communication (O’Neil, 2015, p. 347). The purpose of the globalization is to make the international affairs more open for everyone. In the past, the future of many citizens depended on the actions of a relatively small group of people that mediated the communication between countries. Currently, with highly developed technologies people are able to participate in all kinds of communication, sharing the ideas, opinions, knowledge, thus speeding up the world’s technical, scientific, and cultural progress (Jiang, 2012, p. 88). The international globalization mostly depends on multinational corporations, nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations (O’Neil, 2015, p. 348). While some political scientists believe that globalization will lead the world to greater stability since freedom and equality exist beyond the states’ boundaries, many others urge that this process may turn to be a catastrophe that will involve mass conflicts and total failure for this same reason (Florida, 2005, p. 50; O’Neil, 2015, p. 369).

Conclusion

The course of comparative politics makes it possible to understand that throughout the history of political, economic, and social relationships, both domestic and international, people sought to find a proper balance between freedom and equality. For this purpose, they created a vast variety of systems and concepts, types of states and political regimes, economic markers and indicators. People theorized different questions and put their theories into practice. Sometimes, their decisions and actions led to severe consequences that touched the whole countries, slowing down their political and economic development. Currently, the situation in the word is far from stable; however, all the events that take place at the present moment will eventually contribute to the construction of newer systems. It is to be hoped that the process of globalization will have positive influence and will help the international community to build a better world.

References

Abrahms, M. (2008). What terrorists really want: Terrorist motives and counterterrorism strategy. International Security, 32(4), 78-105.

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Collier, P., & Gunning, J. W. (1999). Why has Africa grown slowly? The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 13(3), 3-22.

Crenshaw, M. (1981). The causes of terrorism. Comparative politics, 13(4), 379-399.

De Tocqueville, A. (2003). Democracy in America. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.

Diamond, L. (2008). The rule of law versus the big man. Journal of Democracy, 19(2), 138-149.

Engels, F., & Marx, K. (2004). The Communist manifesto. London, United Kingdom: Penguin UK.

Estevez-Abe, M., Iversen, T., & Soskice, D. (2001). Social protection and the formation of skills: A reinterpretation of the welfare state. In P. A. Hall & D. Soskice (Eds.), Varieties of capitalism. The institutional foundations of comparative advantage (pp. 145-183). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Florida, R. (2005). The world is spiky: Globalization has changed the economic playing field, but hasn’t leveled it. Atlantic Monthly, 296(3), 48-51.

Gat, A. (2007). The return of authoritarian great powers. The Foreign affairs, 59-69.

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Goldstone, J. A. (2011). Understanding the revolutions of 2011: Weakness and resilience in Middle Eastern autocracies. The Foreign Affairs, 90, 8-16.

Iversen, T., & Soskice, D. (2006). Electoral institutions and the politics of coalitions: Why some democracies redistribute more than others. American Political Science Review, 100(2), 165-181.

Jiang, M. (2012). Authoritarian informationalism: China’s approach to Internet sovereignty. Jiang, M.(2012). In P. O’Neil. & R. Rogowski (Eds.), Essential Readings of Comparative Politics (pp. 71-89). New York, NY: WW Norton & Company.

Krastev, I. (2011). Paradoxes of the new authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy, 22(2), 5-16.

Krugman, P. (1994). Myth of Asia’s Miracle, The Foreign Affairs, 73, 62-78.

Levitsky, S., & Way, L. (2002). The rise of competitive authoritarianism. Journal of democracy, 13(2), 51-65.

Linz, J. J., & Stepan, A. (1996). Problems of democratic transition and consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and post-communist Europe. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press.

O’Neil, P. H. (2015). Essentials of comparative politics (5th ed.). New York, NY: WW Norton & Company.

Skocpol, T. (1976). France, Russia, China: A structural analysis of social revolutions. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 18(2), 175-210.

Weinthal, E., & Luong, P. J. (2006). Combating the resource curse: An alternative solution to managing mineral wealth. Perspectives on Politics, 4(1), 35-53.

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