Dictatorships have dominated global politics for hundreds of years, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the absolute monarchs of Europe. Though democracy has since spread to much of the world, about a third of today’s countries are still ruled by dictatorship. And yet, compared to democracies, we know very little about how dictatorships work, who the key political actors are, and where decision-making powers lie. Political processes are opaque, and information is often intentionally distorted. Political survival depends not on maintaining the favor of voters, as in democracies, but on securing the backing of a considerably smaller coalition of supporters. The absence of a reliable third party to enforce compromises among key players means that power-sharing deals lack credibility and the threat of forced ouster is omnipresent. Uncertainty pervades authoritarian politics.
Modern autocrats respond to this uncertain environment in a variety of ways. They use political parties, legislatures, elections, and other institutions typically associated with democracies to lessen their risk of overthrow. Despite the façade of democracy, these institutions are key components of most autocrats’ survival strategies; those that incorporate them last longer in power than those that do not. The specific ways in which autocratic institutions are used and the extent to which they can constrain leadership choices to prevent consolidation of power into the hands of a single individual, however, vary enormously from one dictatorship to the next. Better understanding the conditions that push autocracies down a path of collegial versus strongman rule remains a critical task, particularly given that the latter is associated with more war, economic mismanagement, and resistance to democratization.
Conventional views assume a systematic intertwining between the Orthodox Church and the state, which makes Orthodox countries culturally hostile to modernity. These views have been shaped by a long history of antagonistic relationships between Western and Eastern European states and fail to grasp important long-term trends within the Orthodox religious landscape. The political culture in Orthodox countries has undergone several changes across the centuries. Under the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, complementarity provided the blueprint for church-state relations. In later centuries, this model was modified to suit the Ottoman and Russian empires. Modernization also prompted Orthodox states to create state churches. Church-state separation was further pursued by communist and colonial regimes and was sometimes accompanied by the active persecution of clergy and the faithful. The political culture of modern Orthodox countries was decisively shaped by the nationalization of the faith, spurred by various national revivals. In the 19th century, Orthodox Christianity became a nationalized religion, whereby strong associations were established between newly constructed churches in Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania and these countries’ respective nations. This version of Orthodoxy was exported into the New World through communities of East European immigrants. The communist takeover of Eastern Europe further strengthened administrative fragmentation. After 1989–1990, the fragmentation of the USSR allowed for a more open expression of the model of national religion. Orthodoxy was revitalized but also served as a cornerstone for Russian, Ukrainian, and Estonian national identities, leading to regional ecclesiastical disputes. Current institutional dilemmas have resulted from these long-term processes.
Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.
The inclusion-moderation theory posits that radical parties will abandon their most extreme goals and become more moderate in ideology and behavior if they are included in competitive electoral politics. The case of Indonesia confirms many assumptions of this theory, demonstrating that Islamist parties can indeed become more moderate as a result of their inclusion in formal electoral politics. Certain supporting conditions, however, may need to be in place, and even if moderation does occur it may not always be conducive to the quality of democracy.
In Indonesia, the first experiment with including Islamist parties in electoral politics in the 1950s failed, but when democracy was eventually restored in 1998, the evolution of the two main Islamist parties that established themselves in the party system followed what proponents of the inclusion-moderation theory would expect. Both the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan) and the Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera) abandoned their original goals of turning Indonesia into an Islamic state based on sharia law. Like other radical parties in similar political contexts, they moderated in response to institutional incentives and immersion in parliamentary and cabinet politics. By the time Indonesia started preparing for the 2019 elections, both parties were basically mainstream conservative Islamic parties, which, in view of their behavioral and to a lesser extent ideological moderation, should no longer be considered Islamist parties.
However, the moderation of these parties has not led to a deepening of Indonesian democracy. On the contrary, while Islamist parties moved to the center, ostensibly secular parties moved increasingly to the right, supporting religiously conservative initiatives and policies, and forming alliances with Islamist actors outside the party spectrum. Thus, Indonesia underwent a process of Islamization despite the moderation of its Islamist parties.
Mainline Protestant denominations in the United States have a history of using divestment as an economic form of nonviolent moral activism. While such activism can have a domestic focus, at times church divestment efforts have emphasized foreign policy issues as an extension of church activism in the areas of social justice and moral reform. Churches have used economic activism such as divestment from apartheid South Africa and investment screens to prevent church pension and other funds from being used for products and services—such as alcohol, tobacco and munitions—deemed “immoral” by church bodies. The case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict illustrates the broader themes and tensions involved in church divestment debates, given the media coverage that has been generated by the topic due to the special relationship between Christians and the holy land and the troubled history of Christianity and anti-Semitism. Some Protestant denominations, particularly those with a history of engagement in Israel/Palestine, have responded to the Palestinians’ call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) to advance their freedom and human rights. However, such responses have not been immune from debate and controversy. Some mainline Protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), the United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church have debated resolutions dealing with church divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Such resolutions have resulted in pushback from some parties, including efforts to criminalize boycott of Israel.
Religion was a relatively overlooked factor in the study of political science until the 21st century. Even when the focus on religion increased in the aftermath of 9/11, a majority of the scholarship still dealt with religion and violence. “Religion and peace” has arguably been a less popular topic, yet there is still a vibrant literature that has contributed to our understanding of religion and social dynamics, especially given the significant number of religiously inspired organizations that are active in postconflict processes, such as Network of Engaged Buddhists, Sant’Egidio, and American Jewish World Service. Religion can play a critical role in conflict resolution and negotiation, especially in settings where secular approaches fall short of resolving the tensions, and where religious actors are seen as more neutral than the political actors. Peacebuilding literature has also recognized the importance of religion. Every religious tradition has its own sources of nonviolence within itself, and under the right conditions, these sources can help with reconciliation, peacebuilding, and transitional justice. At the same time, involvement of religious actors in postconflict processes poses its own challenges. Religious actors are rarely fully neutral, their assistance usually comes with conditions attached, and their involvement in political processes can undermine their moral authority. In addition, there are religious leaders who work against reconciliation to protect their own status in conflict settings. Recognizing that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of faith-inspired initiatives, more scholarship is needed to explore the dynamics of religious initiatives in postconflict processes. There are gaps especially when it comes to non-Christian actors’ involvement in peace processes, and how the faith-inspired initiatives of individuals differ from those of religious institutions and organizations.
Countries can regulate both the majority religion and minority religions. Although most countries do both, the motivations and dynamics of these two types of regulation are distinct. The regulation, restriction, or control by a government of all religion in a country, including the majority religion, can take multiple forms. These include regulating (1) religion’s role in politics, (2) religious institutions and clergy, (3) religious practices, and (4) other aspects of religion. At least one form of religious regulation is engaged in by 95.5% of governments, and religious regulation is becoming more common over time. Regulating, restricting, and controlling religion is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion.
Multiple motivations exist for regulating, restricting, and controlling majority religions. (1) Some countries have secular or anti-religious national ideologies. (2) Some countries support religion, but countries that support a religion often also want to influence and control that religion. In fact, control is a nearly inevitable consequence of support. (3) Politicians often fear religion’s potential political power and seek to keep it in check. (4) Autocratic governments often seek to restrict any aspect of civil culture they cannot control, and this includes religion. On the other hand, regulation is costly. It requires resources that can be used elsewhere, so regulating religion represents a decision to use resources despite these costs.
Buddhists constitute a majority of the population in peninsular Southeast Asia, but the largest concentration of Buddhists lives in East Asia. The delay between the times the Buddha gave his teachings and they were transcribed in written form and the adoption of the latter through centuries in countries with vastly different cultures hampered the development of a unified Buddhist political thought. Two major trends within Buddhism aspire to influence contemporary politics: “Buddhism for the human realm,” a reform movement originating in Republican China, and “engaged Buddhism,” which is a contemporary international network of activists rather than a systematic body of thought. The three major schools of Buddhism do not differ fundamentally on matters of doctrine, so the variety of Buddhist political orientations has more to do with the historical and national circumstances of the religion’s diffusion. Buddhism has expanded out of its country of origin, India, where it has almost disappeared but remains an important source of soft power. The Mahayana school has spread to China, where it has developed an eschatology that has inspired rebellions through history. The Theravada school has spread to Southeast Asia and has provided a source of legitimation for many rulers. The colonial era brought a key change, as lay Buddhists and monastics inspired many nationalist movements. Only six governments give a “special place” to Buddhism in their constitutions, but other countries with large Buddhist populations feel its influence on politics through the sangha. In countries of the Theravada tradition, monastics play an important role in politics, whereas in countries where the Mahayana school prevails lay associations mobilize Buddhists. Very few Buddhist political parties have emerged and only in Japan has one endured in a coalition government. In Southeast Asia, the politics of Buddhism is often associated with nationalist intransigence, in contrast to the peaceful and tolerant image of the religion’s politics promoted by many of its exiled leaders in the “engaged Buddhist” network.