Competitive Authoritarianism and Democratic Fevers

 

thermometerRachel Lu recently made the case that our political discourse of late has been overwrought, leading to panic rather than prudence. Colorful rhetoric, she writes,

is a journalist’s friend, but let’s be honest. Most Americans have no experience of true political oppression. The din of our bellicose public square persuades us that the situation is desperate, when really that’s a sign of comparative health.

The rhetoric itself, she argues, disproves the notion that America is in a terminal condition, because passionate and public political debate is only possible in a vibrant democracy. She appeals throughout to metaphors of illness: A temperature is a sign that the body politic is fighting off infection, not an indication that it’s time to “go for the defibrillator.”

Yesterday, King Prawn opened a debate about her arguments. I exchanged a few thoughts with BrentB67 about the best way to describe our affliction, whatever it is. I agree with Rachel that it’s preposterous to use words like tyranny and despotism. Likening the IRS to a soft Gestapo empties both our imaginations and our vocabularies: Rather than emphasizing the danger of a politicized IRS, it trivializes the horror of Nazi totalitarianism.

Proving the enduring value of a political science degree — for the first time, ever — I wondered out loud if we should think about a condition described in the literature as competitive authoritarianism. Given that this is the political disease of the 21st century, perhaps it would be useful to ask ourselves what’s caused the outbreak — and even to ask whether we might have caught a touch of the bug.

The term comes from Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, who studied a type of regime that’s proliferated around the world in the post-Cold War era, much to the disappointment of those who hoped that the fall of the Berlin Wall had permanently settled humanity’s great political debates in favor of liberal democracy. “What began as a discussion of political scandals involving leaked tapes and autocrats in Peru and Ukraine,” they write, “led to a realization that the two countries’ regimes were surprisingly similar – and that we had no term for these regimes.”

And so they coined one. After carefully studying 35 similar regimes around the world, they came up with the term competitive authoritarianism. Such regimes are also described as illiberal democracies or hybrid regimes, and there’s much argument which term is best and what they describe, but in essence, they’re regimes that hold meaningful multiparty elections, but nonetheless engage in serious democratic abuse. The regimes in the countries they studied were competitive, they write,

in that opposition forces used democratic institutions to contest vigorously – and, on occasion, successfully – for power. Nevertheless, they were not democratic. Electoral manipulation, unfair media access, abuse of state resources, and varying degrees of harassment and violence skewed the playing field in favor of incumbents. In other words, competition was real but unfair.

The study of post–Cold War hybrid regimes, they continue, “was initially marked by a pronounced democratizing bias.”

Viewed through the lens of democratization, hybrid regimes were frequently categorized as flawed, incomplete, or “transitional” democracies. For example, Russia was treated as a case of “protracted” democratic transition during the 1990s, and its subsequent autocratic turn was characterized as a “failure to consolidate” democracy. Likewise, Cambodia was described as a “nascent democracy” that was “on the road to democratic consolidation”; Cameroon, Georgia, and Kazakhstan were labeled “democratizers”; and the Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville were called “would-be democracies.” Transitions that did not lead to democracy were characterized as “stalled” or “flawed.” Thus, Zambia was said to be “stuck in transition”; Albania was labeled a case of “permanent transition”; and Haiti was said to be undergoing a “long,” “ongoing,” and even “unending” transition. Such characterizations are misleading. The assumption that hybrid regimes are (or should be) moving in a democratic direction lacks empirical foundation.

To put it another way, Russia is not “on the wrong side of history.” In fact, it’s on the side that may be winning.

A level playing field, they write,

is implicit in most conceptualizations of democracy. Indeed, many characteristics of an uneven playing field could be subsumed into the dimensions of “free and fair elections” and “civil liberties.” However, there are at least two reasons to treat this attribute as a separate dimension. First, some aspects of an uneven playing field – such as skewed access to media and finance – have a major impact between elections and are thus often missed in evaluations of whether elections are free and fair. Second, some government actions that skew the playing field may not be viewed as civil-liberties violations. For example, whereas closing down a newspaper is a clear violation of civil liberties, de facto governing-party control of the private media – achieved through informal proxy or patronage arrangements – is not. Likewise, illicit government–business ties that create vast resource disparities vis-a-vis the opposition are not civil-liberties violations per se. Attention to the slope of the playing field thus highlights how regimes may be undemocratic even in the absence of overt fraud or civil-liberties violations.

They note that it’s important to distinguish between competitive and noncompetitive authoritarianism:

We define full authoritarianism as a regime in which no viable channels exist for opposition to contest legally for executive power. This category includes closed regimes in which national-level democratic institutions do not exist (e.g., China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia) and hegemonic regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist on paper but are reduced to facade status in practice. In hegemonic regimes, elections are so marred by repression, candidate restrictions, and/or fraud that there is no uncertainty about their outcome. Much of the opposition is forced underground and leading critics are often imprisoned or exiled.

There’s now a huge literature about competitive authoritarianism, and no way for me easily to summarize all that’s been written about it. A good starting point is with the original book by Levitsky and Way, which you can read online. I’ll just quickly point out some important characteristics of such regimes:

  • Assaults on civil liberties take more subtle forms, including “legal repression,” or the discretionary use of legal instruments – such as tax, libel, or defamation laws – to punish opponents. Although such repression may involve the technically correct application of the law, its use is selective and partisan rather than universal.
  • Although “legal” and other repression under competitive authoritarianism is not severe enough to force the opposition underground or into exile, it clearly exceeds what is permissible in a democracy. By raising the cost of opposition activity (thereby convincing all but the boldest activists to remain on the sidelines) and critical media coverage (thereby encouraging self-censorship), even intermittent civil-liberties violations can seriously hinder the opposition’s capacity to organize and challenge the government.
  • Incumbents use the state to create or maintain resource disparities that seriously hinder the opposition’s ability to compete. This may occur in several ways. First, incumbents may make direct partisan use of state resources. Incumbents also may use the state to monopolize access to private-sector finance. Governing parties may use discretionary control over credit, licenses, state contracts, and other resources to enrich themselves via party-owned enterprises, benefit crony- or proxy-owned firms that then contribute money back into party coffers, or corner the market in private sector donations. The state also may be used to deny opposition parties access to resources.
  • When opposition parties lack access to media that reaches most of the population, there is no possibility of fair competition. Media access may be denied in several ways. Frequently, the most important disparities exist in access to broadcast media, combined with biased and partisan coverage. … Although independent newspapers and magazines may circulate freely, they generally reach only a small urban elite. … In other cases, private media is widespread but major media outlets are linked to the governing party – via proxy ownership, patronage, and other illicit means.

These regimes, they hold, are a genuinely novel, post-Cold War phenomenon. They don’t think this is a coincidence. They posit many reasons for their rise, but in essence, hold that it’s because  the international environment changed, raising the minimum standard for regime acceptability. The new standard, however, was multiparty elections — not democracy.

Other researchers point out that authoritarians learned from the failure of totalitarianism: It’s too costly vigorously to repress an entire population, and it’s viewed internationally as bad form, creating a world of hassles for regime leaders. Soft authoritarianism is more cost-effective, and widely viewed as reasonably legitimate, or at least, no real cause for excluding and ostracising these leaders. Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman elaborate on this idea in a paper titled, How Modern Dictators Survive: Cooptation, Censorship, Propaganda, and Repression:

How do dictators hold onto power? The totalitarian tyrannies of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and others relied largely—although not exclusively—on mass terror and indoctrination. Although less ideological, many 20th Century military regimes—from Franco’s Spain to Pinochet’s Chile—used considerable violence to intimidate opponents of the regime. However, in recent decades, a less carnivorous form of authoritarian rule has emerged, one better adapted to the globalized media and sophisticated technologies of the 21st Century. From the Peru of Alberto Fujimori to the Hungary of Viktor Orban, illiberal regimes have managed to consolidate power without isolating their countries from the world economy or resorting to mass killings.

Instead of inaugurating “new orders,” such regimes simulate democracy, holding elections that they make sure to win, bribing and censoring the private press rather than abolishing it, and replacing ideology with an amorphous anti-Western resentment. Their leaders often enjoy genuine popularity—albeit after eliminating plausible rivals—that is based on “performance legitimacy,” a perceived competence at securing prosperity and defending the nation against external threats. State propaganda aims not to re-engineer human souls but to boost the leader’s ratings, which, so long as they remain high, are widely publicized. Political opponents are harassed and humiliated, accused of fabricated crimes, and encouraged to emigrate.

The new-style dictators can brutally crush separatist rebellions and deploy paramilitaries against unarmed protesters. But compared to previous regimes, they use violence sparingly. They prefer the ankle bracelet to the Gulag. Maintaining power, for them, is less a matter of terrorizing victims than of manipulating beliefs about the world. Of course, shaping beliefs was also important for the old-style dictatorships, but violence came first. “Words are fine things, but muskets are even better,” Mussolini quipped. Recent tyrannies reverse the order. “We live on information,” Fujimori’s security chief Vladimir Montesinos confessed in one interview. “The addiction to information is like an addiction to drugs.” Montesinos paid million dollar bribes to television stations to skew their coverage. But killing members of the elite struck him as foolish: “Remember why Pinochet had his problems. We will not be so clumsy.” When dictators are accused of political murders these days, it often augurs the fall of the dictatorship.

We develop a model of dictatorship to capture the logic that governs the survival of such regimes. As in “career concerns” models of democratic politics, the ruler may be either competent or incompetent. Only the dictator and a subset of the public—“the informed elite”—observe his type directly. But citizens update their beliefs about this based on the information available to them from the state media, independent media, and their own living standards. Citizens’ living standards depend on the tax rate set by the dictator and on economic performance, itself a function of the leader’s competence and a stochastic shock. If enough citizens infer, based on these various signals, that the incumbent is incompetent, they rise up and overthrow him in a revolution. Members of the elite—if not coopted—would also prefer to replace an incompetent incumbent but cannot do so without the masses to back them up.

It’s worth it to read at least the book and the paper; if you’re curious about this, I can suggest a longer reading list.

Now, no one — but no one — describes the United States as a competitive authoritarian regime. But here are my questions for Ricochet.

1. Might this concept be useful in describing aspects of what we sense to be going wrong in the United States? Or is the United States so exceptional that it’s absurd to study other countries to spot trends and for comparison?

2. If you think it’s useful, would you agree that we see early warning signs of this pattern in America? In what way, exactly?

3. If you agree, would you conclude that contra Rachel, this is indeed reason to run around with our hair on fire, given the empirical evidence that this pattern tends to lead to a highly undesirable endpoint?

3. Why has this kind of regime proliferated in the aftermath of the Cold War? Levitsky and Way think the key reason is a change in international standards of legitimacy. But perhaps there are other causes? If so, might figuring out what they are, precisely, help us to understand what’s going on in America?

5. For the sake of the argument, say we accept the diagnosis: We’re suffering from early-onset competitive authoritarianism. What’s the most important thing to do to ensure the disease progresses no further? Which policies have best halted the progression of the disease elsewhere?

What policies, elsewhere, have led to metastasis?

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  1. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Now, no one — but no one — describes the United States as a competitive authoritarian regime.

    That may be true in a Clintonian/Obamian sense, where saying that “I believe in X” does not mean that one supports X — merely that one concedes that X exists.  Nobody but nobody says this of the US because the term is fairly new and only recently gaining publicity beyond a few wonks.  But those of us who see things such as the IRS persecution of the Tea Party as bricks in our own Berlin Wall and who already describe the situation as “soft tyranny” and unjust would take issue with the “no one — but no one” formulation.

    The questions you ask are answered throughout years of comments here at Ricochet by dozens of members.  Everybody Asks — Nobody Listens.  It is obvious that the only way into even remembering the conversation, much less understanding the answers, is to have your own a-ha! moment.

    • #1
  2. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    What’s the most important thing to do to ensure the disease progresses no further?

    We can secure the border, for starters.

    • #2
  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ball Diamond Ball: The questions you ask are answered throughout years of comments here

    What’s your answer to question 5?

    • #3
  4. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: 1. Might this concept be useful in describing aspects of what we sense to be going wrong in the United States?

    This concept describes very well what is going on in the US. The twist, perhaps, is that the “incumbents” come from both parties, and the “opposition” is largely frozen out of the system. That is, the appearance of successful competition is just that, an appearance.

    2. If you think it’s useful, would you agree that we see early warning signs of this pattern in America?

    I don’t know about “early”, but the use of the IRS, EPA, John Doe investigations and Human Rights (sic) tribunals to cow – if not outright fine and re-educate – what the incumbents have designated wrongthink ought to be a warning.

    3. If you agree, would you conclude that contra Rachel, this is indeed reason to run around with our hair on fire, given the empirical evidence that this pattern tends to lead to a highly undesirable endpoint?

    Sometimes, as they say, there really is a fire in the theatre. In the early days of the Russian revolution, would more concern about the goals and methods of the Bolsheviks have made things worse? Is Germany more free today than Singapore? If the system has been weaponised against you, I’m not sure breaking the system is such a terribly irrational thing. (As long as you break enough of it.)

    • #4
  5. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: 3. (sic) Why has this kind of regime proliferated in the aftermath of the Cold War?

    Because there are a lot more democracies to be imperfect.

    5. For the sake of the argument, say we accept the diagnosis: We’re suffering from early-onset competitive authoritarianism. What’s the most important thing to do to ensure the disease progresses no further? Which policies have best halted the progression of the disease elsewhere?

    Should “competitive authoritarianism” be considered a disease? It’s better than plain “authoritarianism” for almost everyone. Properly functioning democracies (whatever they are) seem vanishingly rare in actual human societies. Perhaps competitive authoritarianism is like being really fit, but not Olympic athlete fit (where the Olympians are functioning democracies). If so, the question is not to find something to “halt the progression”, but to elicit extraordinary performance.

    In any event, my prescription will be radically downsizing the state (in size, reach and ambition) and dissolving the institutions that have been co-opted by it: media, education, etc.

    • #5
  6. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball: The questions you ask are answered throughout years of comments here

    What’s your answer to question 5?

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: 5. [… say we’re] suffering from early-onset competitive authoritarianism. What’s the most important thing to do to ensure the disease progresses no further? Which policies have best halted the progression of the disease elsewhere?

    “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    I prefer to answer this longitudinally.  The most important thing to do is to make it hurt, disproportionately so, for those who benefit disproportionately from the status quo.  No, not eat the rich, but throw the bums out.  This is not some pissant country, interrupted, on its way from eating ants on sticks to Enlightement values.  This is the absolute pinnacle of Western Civilization (but I repeat myself) — the word of liberty made flesh of government and people upon the face of the land.  So I don’t care what somebody else did to fix up their yurt.  America is different, and will require different remedies.

    Lo and Behold!  These were also written down for us by those who set us on the path.  The trap of an immoral people was predicted, and the best controls that could be devised were put on government .

    Nothing short of revolution will suffice if we cannot get at least one party onboard with the urgency and gravity of the situation.  We are trying every option, appropriately.

    • #6
  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Mike LaRoche: We can secure the border, for starters.

    Let’s take as given that we do that. What next?

    • #7
  8. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Mike LaRoche: We can secure the border, for starters.

    Let’s take as given that we do that. What next?

    Alligators.

    • #8
  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    genferei: Should “competitive authoritarianism” be considered a disease? It’s better than plain “authoritarianism” for almost everyone. Properly functioning democracies (whatever they are) seem vanishingly rare in actual human societies.

    Yes, as Dani Rodrik and Sharun Mukand put it, “What requires explanation is not the relative paucity of liberal democracy, but its existence – rare as it may be. The surprise is not that few democracies are liberal, but that liberal democracies exist at all.” Have a look and tell me what you think of the argument. Key paragraph here:

    In the West, democracy arrived when the dominant cleavages were the class differences created by industrialization. As our model suggests, under those conditions the elites preferred liberal democracy (to electoral democracy), while for the majority the differential gains from electoral democracy (relative to liberal democracy) were minor. In the developing world, democracy came when the dominant cleavages were identity-based. …

    And conclusion:

    The crucial building bloc of our analysis is a taxonomy of political regimes, based on a tripartite division of rights: property rights, political rights, and civil rights. We have argued that these rights operate across two fundamental types of cleavage in society: an elite/non-elite cleavage that is largely economic or class-based, and a majority/minority cleavage that typically revolves around the politics of identity. Property rights are important to the elite; political rights empower the majority; and civil rights protect the minority. Liberal democracy requires all three sets of rights, while the bargains that produce electoral democracy generate only the first two.

    Democratic transitions rely on the resolution of conflict between the elite and the masses. Our central message is that in the presence of additional cleavages – identity cleavages in particular – this resolution does little, in general, to promote liberal politics. The stars must be aligned just right for liberal democracy to emerge. The rarity of liberal democracy is not surprising.

    • #9
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ball Diamond Ball: Nothing short of revolution will suffice

    Have a look at the link I just posted — the Rodrik and Mukand paper — and tell me:

    1) how this revolution works, in steps. (Are you expecting it to happen on its own, as Marx did? Or will it be led by a revolutionary vanguard? Is it going to be a sort-of color revolution, a velvet revolution, or are we looking at a lot of bloodshed, here?) and,

    2) If you accept the argument that liberal democracies are very rare and improbable, tell me why you think a revolution would be apt to lead to one. If you don’t accept the argument, where do you think it goes wrong?

    • #10
  11. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Reduce the power of government, of course. Eliminate Rico, seizure of private goods without trial, regulations… Anything the government uses to harass the citizenry.

    • #11
  12. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball: The questions you ask are answered throughout years of comments here

    What’s your answer to question 5?

    We are already seeing the beginnings of the soft despotism – it occurs when we tolerate that which is objectively called corruption at the highest levels of government.  A sitting Secretary of State should not conduct the business of the country while a foundation run in her name rakes in millions (tax free, of course) from countries with business pending before the US.

    This is corruption of the almost worst sort (the worst form of corruption is the one where it is expected at the local level – bribing the cop who pulled you over under the pretense of speeding to solicit a bribe), but it is the most pernicious- eventually leading to the second.

    What to do about it?

    The most important thing is to let it go no further and to do that, we have to hold the enablers accountable.

    Lois Lerner and her ilk should be put on trial for corruption.

    Hillary Clinton should be put on trial for violations of Federal Recordkeeping laws and separately for violations of National Security laws. Same with anyone else who participated in her scheme(s).

    The Clinton Foundation and participants in the bribery scheme should be placed on trial.

    The John Doe Prosecutors in Wisconsin should be tried in both criminal and civil court.

    The list is long.

    • #12
  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    iWe:Reduce the power of government, of course. Eliminate Rico, seizure of private goods without trial, regulations… Anything the government uses to harass the citizenry.

    I’m hoping for answers that are a bit different from “I think exactly what I thought before I read this.” Not that you were wrong to think that — agree on all points except maybe RICO — but I’m curious to know whether looking at the problem from a different angle yields any new insight. Either about the nature of the problem, or maybe an insight into how to explain the problem — perhaps not to each other, but to people who don’t inherently find the arguments we tend to make here compelling?

    • #13
  14. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    I think the authors started looking after the fall of the wall and found something that had been there all along.    All countries  in Latin America have had administrative states and elections, sometimes interrupted by leftist or military power grabs because corruption or dysfunction got embarrassing.   After the Wall fell there was a rush to liberalize, marketize the economies– liberalization was the flavor of the day.   But opening to global competition soon ran into to class interests.  The political economic elite owned most of the productive assets and so slowed liberalization through  a swing left.  Simultaneously with the end of the Soviet Union there was no longer material support for violent leftist movements so  Cuban supported leftist parties, with guidance from Cuban operatives,  adopted electoral strategies.   Some funds flowed into these parties from the drug business, and from Venezuelan oil but mostly it was Cuban advice and guidance.     These are different organic complex systems that are always adapting and emerging, but in Latin America they all had similar beginnings in Spanish, pre enlightenment mercantilism and that hasn’t changed, nor did it change after the wall fell.   I’d also  guess that the universally marxist Latin American studies departments had to find a new analytical model. Stress guess.   The  Asian third world country I lived in doesn’t fit a paradigm shift either.   The US?  We’re slowly  building an administrative state that will destroy the rule of law which is the key.  We must reverse that trend.

    • #14
  15. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    I Walton: I think the authors started looking after the fall of the wall and found something that had been there all along.

    Don’t think so, or at least, Levitsky and Way respond to that charge as follows:

    We contend that competitive authoritarianism is a new phenomenon and that no existing term adequately captures it. First, these regimes routinely proved difficult for scholars to categorize during the post–Cold War period. For example, the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua was described as “a hybrid perhaps unique in the annals of political science” Fujimori’s Peru was said to be a “new kind of hybrid authoritarian regime”; and the PRI regime in Mexico was labeled a “hybrid, part-free, part authoritarian system” that does “not conform to classical typologies. Which existing regime categories might be appropriate for these cases? One scholarly response has been simply to label them as democracies. Regimes in Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Peru, Russia, Ukraine, and Zambia were routinely labeled democracies during the 1990s. Even extreme cases such as Belarus, Cambodia, Haiti, and Russia under Putin occasionally earned a democratic label. The problem with such a strategy is straightforward: Regimes with serious electoral irregularities and/or civil-liberties violations do not meet procedural minimum standards for democracy. To label such regimes democracies is to stretch the concept virtually beyond recognition. Another conceptual strategy has been to use generic intermediate categories, such as hybrid regime, semi-democracy, or Freedom House’s “partly free,” for cases that fall between democracy and full authoritarianism. The problem with such categories is that because democracy is multidimensional, there are multiple ways to be partially democratic. Competitive authoritarianism is only one of several hybrid regime types. Others include

    (1) constitutional oligarchies or exclusive republics, which possess the basic features of democracy but deny suffrage to a major segment of the adult population (e.g., Estonia and Latvia in the early 1990s);

    (2) tutelary regimes, in which elections are competitive but the power of elected governments is constrained by nonelected religious (e.g., Iran), military (e.g., Guatemala and Pakistan), or monarchic (e.g., Nepal in the 1990s) authorities; and

    (3) restricted or semi-competitive democracies, in which elections are free but a major party is banned (e.g., Argentina in 1957–1966 and Turkey in the 1990s). The differences among these regimes – and between them and competitive authoritarianism – are obscured by categories such as semi-democratic or partly free. For example, El Salvador, Latvia, and Ukraine were classified by Freedom House as partly free – with a combined political and civil-liberties score of 6 – in 1992–1993.  Yet, whereas in Latvia the main nondemocratic feature was the denial of citizenship rights to people of Russian descent, in El Salvador it was the military’s tutelary power and human-rights violations. Ukraine possessed full citizenship and civilian control over the military, but it was competitive authoritarian. “Semi-democratic” and “partly free” are thus residual categories that reveal little about regimes other than what they are not.

    Competitive authoritarianism does not easily fit existing subtypes of authoritarianism (e.g., “post-totalitarianism” and “bureaucratic authoritarianism”) in large part because these regimes are noncompetitive. As Diamond noted, none of Linz’s seven principal types of authoritarianism even remotely resembles competitive authoritarianism – and “for good reason. This type of hybrid regime, which is now so common, is very much a product of the contemporary world.”

    Our conceptualization is more restrictive. We limit the category to regimes in which opposition forces use democratic institutions to contest seriously for executive power. Such a narrow definition is not a mere exercise in conceptual hairsplitting. Competitiveness is a substantively important regime characteristic that affects the behavior and expectations of political actors. As we argue later in this chapter, governments and opposition parties in competitive authoritarian regimes face a set of opportunities and constraints that do not exist in either democracies or other forms of authoritarian rule. Furthermore, competitive authoritarianism is widespread. More than 40 countries – including Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia, Taiwan, and Venezuela – were competitive authoritarian at some point after 1989. Indeed, competitive authoritarian regimes easily outnumbered democracies in Africa and the former Soviet Union. Thus, the conceptual space we are carving out – that of competitive nondemocracies – may be narrow, but it is both densely populated and substantively important.

    • #15
  16. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    1.) Multiculturalism destroys liberal democracy.  It is essentially AIDS for societies.  The 2 cannot possibly coexist forever, while not fatal itself, it will destroy the coping mechanisms of society to deal with that which is fatal.  There is research to support this.  Multi-culturalism is not merely ethnic diversity, as the left and the right are essentially peoples apart without enough commonly assumed values as to support common administration.

    2.) Democracy exists SOLELY, because the benefits of continued participation exceed the risks of losing.

    3.) The rule of law does not, nor has it ever, existed.  See 4.

    4.) The constitution really is just a piece of paper.  Prick the delusion and it just becomes a pantomime for sophists to justify whatever it is they want.  The law means whatever the oligarchy wants it to mean.

    5.) Happiness is a positive change vector.

    Without a near universal buy in into critical social values and norms nothing we are talking about exist, at all.  Society, liberal democracy, illiberal democracy, are useful collective delusions.  Prick the membrane and poof its gone.  All of it.

    Nothing here should be interpreted that other people are inherently bad, just incompatible for some kinds of relationships.

    • #16
  17. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    Guruforhire:

    Without a near universal buy in into critical social values and norms nothing we are talking about exist, at all. Society, liberal democracy, illiberal democracy, are useful collective delusions. Prick the membrane and poof its gone. All of it.

    I believe this is true.  I believe that our republic is a very fragile thing held together by nothing but a common set of agreed upon beliefs. (A civic religion, if you will)  However, if that is the case, how do you explain it holding together for as long as it has, even if you now view it as in decline.

    • #17
  18. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Claire, I may read the paper, but probably not soon. I am not much impressed with academia or its prescriptions. I would just cherry-pick or poo-pond it anyway. I appreciate the invitation, and don’t wish to denigrate it or be evasive.

    A liberal democracy was established right here, by revolution, after a souring of a largely liberal, largely democratic model.

    I refer you to Samuel Adams in most particulars, including of course a darned good lager.

    Neither academics, nor debate, nor logic nor friendly politics will set us right. Trump is as good as it is going to get for quite some time if the ruling class is not debased.

    • #18
  19. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:— but I’m curious to know whether looking at the problem from a different angle yields any new insight. Either about the nature of the problem, or maybe an insight into how to explain the problem — perhaps not to each other, but to people who don’t inherently find the arguments we tend to make here compelling?

    The problem is that the people who do not find the arguments compelling are invariably people who benefit from the preservation and extension of the corrupt system.

    These are the people who heard – and applauded – Hillary Clinton last night when she said “No business too big to fail, no person too important to jail,” and entirely missed the irony.

    No, I don’t think this perspective will make a dent.

    • #19
  20. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    iWe: These are the people who heard – and applauded – Hillary Clinton last night when she said “No business too big to fail, no person too important to jail,” and entirely missed the irony

    I think we can give up on the people in that audience. But they’re not the electorate, writ large. Are they?

    • #20
  21. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    I Walton: I think the authors started looking after the fall of the wall and found something that had been there all along.

    Don’t think so, or at least, Levitsky and Way respond to that charge as follows:

    That conforms to what I’m saying, I see a lot of continuity with changes in Cuban strategy forced by the collapse of the Soviet union and what they learned in Venezuela.  And academics looking for a way to categorize emerging complexity.  And that’s fine, the world is too complex to grasp without such generalizations and serious efforts.  I don’t know about the sub continent or eastern Europe I never served in that part of the world.

    • #21
  22. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    iWe: These are the people who heard – and applauded – Hillary Clinton last night when she said “No business too big to fail, no person too important to jail,” and entirely missed the irony

    I think we can give up on the people in that audience. But they’re not the electorate, writ large. Are they?

    They might well be 47% of them.

    • #22
  23. Crow's Nest Inactive
    Crow's Nest
    @CrowsNest

    #1. Yes, I think it the term/framework can be useful. But its worth discussing what the limits of the usefulness of this concept are.

    Comparative politics is useful generally because while the regime imperatives and history of any existing structure are unique, knowledge of broad trends can help us understand where we are going or grant us knowledge of some roadblocks or pitfalls we can avoid. It can help us to know what the boundaries or attainable alternatives are in any given age.

    However, while the comparative approach is a useful theoretical construct for these reasons, it is not reliably “predictive” or scientific in the sense that conditions and outcomes are precisely replicated from place to place, or that one can easily disentangle and isolate variables. Prudence remains necessary in political things.

    Appealing to our own tradition, Madison and Hamilton discuss other democratic regimes throughout the Federalist and draw some conclusions from their successes or characteristic pitfalls. We’d do well to follow their example.

    That said, the term “competitive authoritarianism” is more likely to be useful in an academic context than a political one. Contemporary academic political science stands or falls by the fact/value distinction and further adopts a perspective that is trans-political. The academic is not viewing the problem either as a statesman in the position to make the decision or as an active citizen confronted directly a vote.

    So, part of the reason that you might be hearing some people use words like “soft despotism” versus “competitive authoritarianism” is that these are different vocal registers for describing something similar.

    Were I speech-writing, or advocating for building a public constituency around an idea, I think the term “competitive authoritarianism” is too anti-septic and too broad for describing to/for citizens what the breakdown of their relationship with their institutions is and feels like on the ground. Something like “soft despotism”, “lawlessness”, “bureaucratic tyranny” would be more useful in that directly political context.

    • #23
  24. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    The US has become more of an “authoritarian libertine” country over the years. Not only must we tolerate deviance, we must celebrate it.

    • #24
  25. Crow's Nest Inactive
    Crow's Nest
    @CrowsNest

    2. Other posters are doing a great job of citing specific examples. I’ll amplify their remarks with a few bullets of trends:

    • The erosion of the rule of law through isolating national bureaucracies from the consequences of their own decisions. The opt-outs, exemptions, privileges or bailouts for favored constituencies on a somewhat arbitrary basis.
    • The soft oppression of a legal code so extraordinarily detailed that one needs an army of lawyers to know when/if/how to get around breaking the law. The swarm of officials necessary to understand and enforce these laws
    • The continued flow of law-making power from elected institutions to un-elected officials. The perpetuation of that class of officials from one administration to the next. Congress retaining its traditional forms, but more and more effectual power wielded by the Executive branch.
    • The widespread disregard for political process from both parties, preferring force/action to persuasion. Trump represents this as much as Obama’s petulant foot-stamping enactment of Executive Orders.

    3. I’m not a believer in the wisdom of crowds, nor do I think that running around with our hair on fire solves problems. But are these trends reason to be climbing the bell tower and ringing the alarm to wake up/educate our fellow citizens? Most certainly. Is it worth looking to form institutions and alternative structures to teach liberty? Absolutely.

    • #25
  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    My  answer to #5 is this:

    The next President uses his executive authority to say the following (something I have harped on a lot on these posts in the past, but I will repeat until I did or it happens):

    1. The Constitution does not give any one Branch the sole ability to interpret the Constitution (Fact)
    2. The Constitution is one of enumerated powers, meaning that what is not allowed, specifically, is forbidden (Fact)
    3. Congress is not empowered under Article I to pass its power to legislate to any other body. (Fact)
    4. Therefore, much of the empowering legislation that creates the administrative structure under the Executive Branch is unconstitutional.
    5. Based on my power as President, over the Executive Branch, as outlined in Article II of the Constitution, I am suspending all regulations and activities not explicitly written into law by Congress and approved by the President.
      1. All Regulatory laws are, as of this moment, suspended.
      2. Any ongoing investigations or actions are suspended.
      3. Any property seized will be returned within 90 days.
      4. Any law passed that is unclear, will not be interpreted by my Administration, and thus will not be enforced upon the American People.
    6. Congress, may of course, pass any new bills it chooses to better outline regulations. I will welcome those to my desk. However the following will apply:
      1.  I will veto any bill I do not believe the majority of the legislators have actually read. No “Passing the bill to find out what is in it”.
      2. I will veto all legislation that empowers the Executive Branch abuse the American People. This includes, but is not limited to things such as any seizing of property without a conviction at trial, or defining a flooded back yard as  “wetlands”
      3. Any attempt to link unrelated items to regulation bills will be met with a veto. I expect clean bills only. The American People deserve to know what Congress thinks of them when they vote.
    7. All SWAT teams by any agency other than actual law enforcement agencies will be disbanded. There is no reason for the IRS to have its own SWAT teams. That is why we have the FBI.

    All of the above is perfectly legal, and totally in the President’s power, without any real controversy. Oh, people won’t like it, and a lot of employees won’t have anything to do, but it is legal on the face of it, without invoking the Constitution. The President controls the Executive Branch. This next part is more tricky.

    1. Because Congress cannot give away its ability to legislate, setting up unaccountable boards, such as the NLRB is not allowed.
    2. Therefore, all regulations by such boards are also suspended following the same rules as I have outlined for other regulatory agencies.
    3. On September 11, 2001, the Americans on Flight 93 demonstrated that no terrorists will be able to take over planes as weapons in this country. Therefore:
      1. I am instructing the TSA to stop all checks other than regular metal detectors. As of midnight tomorrow, no one will have to remove his or her shoes at the airport. There will be no “enhanced” screening. We will remove the body scanners, and use normal metal detectors. Mothers will be allowed to bring milk for their babies. Any airport that wants to kick the TSA out and take over its own security will be allowed to do so.
      2. Pilots may be armed.
      3. I am going to use money saved with enforcement changes to non enforcement agencies to put two Sky Marshals on every flight.

    A President has the power to do those things. That would move us very far to restoring Liberty in American. After four years, imagine the growth in the economy. Imagine the cheer of the American people that these attacks on their liberty would be over.

    I think after 4 years of this, there would be no going back.

    • #26
  27. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Very useful concept.  I think a competitive authoritarian regime  is what progs are trying to establish, as the IRS scandal, Clinton foundation and email scandals, etc. show.  The left’s multi-culti push /political correctness are a big part of it too.  Obviously they own mainstream media, education and the like, though they are getting push back.

    But which came first, chicken or egg?  I’d say we’re in the place we are because of the huge ideological divide between the parties, but when and how did that happen?  Kennedy would today be a Republican based on his beliefs and policies.  I’m currently reading Roger Scruton’s book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.  The fools, frauds and firebrands seem to be the ones who have come up with the ideological underpinnings of competitive authoritarianism and the fraudulent ways of instituting it.   It’s been their way of pushing Marxism and its form of utopianism and “redemption” on a world that was understandably wary of the more virulent forms of it after the monumental disasters of authoritarian states during the 20th century.  They are sophists of the highest order. For example, Dworkin advocated, with impressive sophistry, divorcing court decisions from precedent in favor of judges pushing straight up prog values with the merest pretense of constitutional justification, and that’s pretty much what has happened.

    I actually had a conversation about this with Rachel on Saturday.  We both agree that the “hair on fire” approach is what has given us Trump.  We talked about Paul Ryan in particular.  He has some really good ideas for rolling back the progressive agenda, and yet so many on our side hate him and think that we can end 50 years of progressive mischief overnight and unilaterally.  Some think they are rebelling constructively by supporting Trump.  What took 50 years to build will not be dismantled overnight, and is there any chance that Trump would solve anything? The man is not conservative and clueless about pretty much everything.  So no, fiery hair is not helpful.

    Since I think the fools, frauds and firebrands are a major reason why we are where we are, I think a good antidote would be to utterly discredit them.  That has to happen through education to some degree.  I will give Trump this, countering that damage is probably why his make-America-a-winner-again rhetoric is so successful. People don’t want to be told our nation is bad and oppressive because on the whole it isn’t, not now and not historically.  Not that it has never been in any way, but that has not been its thrust.  So we need to educate kids from the beginning in the true history of our country, and we need to take back education.  Odd though it may seem, the threat from ISIS might help us do that. The comparisons are very glaring.  And we need to show the folly of bread and circuses.

    • #27
  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    My go-to German analogy is always Bismarck, not Hitler. When someone proposes some government program or another to promote order and build prosperity, my reply is generally, “Bismarck couldn’t have said it better.”

    I think the fact that they need to resort to Google to figure out what I mean is a feature rather than a bug of this tactic. A more well-known reference would be easily dismissed/forgotten. Mentioning Bismarck is a bit of a puzzler, so it might stick in the mind.

    • #28
  29. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    David Knights:

    Guruforhire:

    Without a near universal buy in into critical social values and norms nothing we are talking about exist, at all. Society, liberal democracy, illiberal democracy, are useful collective delusions. Prick the membrane and poof its gone. All of it.

    I believe this is true. I believe that our republic is a very fragile thing held together by nothing but a common set of agreed upon beliefs. (A civic religion, if you will) However, if that is the case, how do you explain it holding together for as long as it has, even if you now view it as in decline.

    Who said it did?  The constitution lasted 3 generations.  It died with the civil war, when its character fundamentally changed and became a benevolent despotism imposed by violence.

    • #29
  30. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: [Mukand and Rodrik conclude]:

    The crucial building bloc of our analysis is a taxonomy of political regimes, based on a tripartite division of rights: property rights, political rights, and civil rights. [<- not Claire’s words]

    Not that this tripartite division would be recognisable to many, particularly the formulation of property and civil rights:

    • Property rights protect asset holders and investors against expropriation by the state or other groups.

    • Political rights guarantee free and fair electoral contests and allow the winners of such contests to determine policy subject to the constraints established by other rights (when provided).

    • Civil rights ensure equality before the law, in the administration of justice and the provision of other public goods such as education and health.

    I’m not sure this classification would meet Ricochet’s understanding, either:

    In dictatorships, it is only the property rights of the elite that are protected. Classical liberal regimes protect property and civil rights, but not necessarily electoral rights. Electoral democracies, which constitute the majority of present-day democracies, protect property and political rights, but not civil rights. Liberal democracies protect all three sets of rights.

    And this is just wrong, for more normal definitions:

    Each one of these rights has a clear, identifiable beneficiary. Property rights benefit primarily the wealthy, propertied elite. Political rights benefit the majority – the organized masses and popular forces. And civil rights benefit those who are normally excluded from the spoils of privilege or power – ethnic, religious, geographic, or ideological minorities.

    • #30
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