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Article

Erica Frantz

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 40% of today’s countries are still ruled by dictatorship. And yet, compared with 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.

Article

Antonin Lacelle-Webster and Mark E. Warren

Even as most citizens of electoral democracies remain strongly committed to democratic values, most electoral democracies are suffering from democratic deficits that are eroding their legitimacy. There are deficits of inclusion, as elected governments often poorly represent those who are less educated or less wealthy or who belong to ethnic, religious, racial, or other minorities. There are deficits of deliberativeness, as governments fail to learn from experts and everyday citizens alike. And, increasingly, there are deficits of collective capacity, often the result of governments that are gridlocked by polarization and unable to marshal the political resources to address tough problems, such as climate change and migration. Democracies do, however, reinvent themselves, often by supplementing the legacy institutions of electoral democracy with innovative ways of deepening democracy. Among the most promising innovations are citizens’ assemblies, a kind of deliberative minipublic comprised of lay citizens selected through near-random methods to represent a broader public. These bodies are typically tasked with learning and deliberating about a problem and providing recommendations. In contrast to sitting legislatures, citizens’ assemblies are typically convened for a single issue or purpose, and they are closely defined in their mandate. As of 2020, there were over 20 cases of citizens’ assemblies, covering a range of issues (e.g., electoral reform, climate change, abortion, and urban planning), enabling some generalization about their capacities and promise. Owing to their high degree of representativeness of ordinary citizens, their capacities to learn and deliberate, and their abilities to break through difficult or gridlocked issues, citizens’ assemblies have considerable promise to address democratic deficits and to deepen democracy when they are carefully inserted into the political ecologies of modern democracies.

Article

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.

Article

Ludvig Beckman

Democracy is a term that is used to denote a variety of distinct objects and ideas. Democracy describes either a set of political institutions or an ideal of collective self-rule. Democracy can also be short for a normative principle of either legitimacy or justice. Finally, democracy might be used to denote an egalitarian attitude. These four uses of the term should be kept distinct and raises separate conceptual and normative issues. The value of democracy, whether democratic political institutions or democratic self-rule, is either instrumental, non-instrumental, or both. The non-instrumental value of democracy derives either from the alleged fairness of majority rule or from the value of the social relationships enabled by participation in democratic procedures. The instrumental value of democracy lends support from a growing body of empirical research. Yet, the claim that democracy has a positive causal effect on public goods is inconclusive with respect to the moral justification of democratic institutions. Normative reasons for democracy’s instrumental value must instead appeal to the fact that it contributes to equality, liberty, truth, or the realization of popular will. Democracy as a principle of either political legitimacy or justice is a normative view that evades concerns with the definition and value of democracy. Normative democracy is a claim about the conditions either for legitimacy or justice of either public authority or coercion. Debates in normative democracy are largely divorced from the conceptual and empirical concerns that inform studies of democracy elsewhere. The boundaries of the people entitled to participate in collective decisions is a question that applies to all four uses of democracy. The boundary question raises three distinct issues. The first is the extent of inclusion required among the members of the unit. The second is if membership in the unit is necessary for inclusion or if people that are not recognized as members are on certain conditions also entitled to participate. The third and final issue concerns the boundaries of the unit itself.

Article

Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule. Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate. Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.

Article

Samuel Freeman

Liberalism in politics is associated with nonauthoritarianism, the rule of law, constitutional government with limited powers, and the guarantee of civil and political liberties. A liberal society is tolerant of different religious, philosophical, and ethical doctrines and allows individuals to freely form and express their conscientious convictions and opinions on all matters and live according to their chosen purposes and life paths. In economic terms, liberalism is associated with an unplanned economy with free and competitive markets, as well as private ownership and control of productive resources. The basic institutions that are characteristic of a liberal society are constitutionalism and the rule of law; equal basic rights and liberties; formal equality of opportunity; free, competitive markets with private property in means of production; government’s obligation to provide public goods and a social minimum; and the fiduciary nature of political power to impartially provide for the public good. Liberals interpret these basic institutions differently. Classical liberalism regards extensive property rights and economic liberties as basic, while libertarians see all rights as property rights and as absolute. High liberalism regards economic liberties as subordinate to personal and political liberties and subject to regulation, with redistribution of income and wealth to mitigate gross inequalities and provide all citizens with adequate resources to guarantee the worth of their basic liberties and opportunities.

Article

Ryan J. Tonkin

Taxation is perhaps the most important mechanism for realizing a conception of distributive justice. It also confronts citizens with the coercive power of the state in an immediate way. Yet there exists no widely accepted theory of tax justice. This is partly explained by the protean character of modern taxation: taxes allocate resources, create incentives, fund public goods, address collective action problems, and more. As well, claims about fair taxation always implicate technical and practical considerations alongside their normative dimensions. Historically, experts in the technical and practical (such as economists and policymakers) have more readily engaged this tangle of considerations than experts in normative theory (such as philosophers), although that is beginning to change. The results of the engagement are fragmentary and often inconsistent. However, the fragments can be roughly sorted into two broad approaches to questions of tax justice. The first approach assesses taxation as an institutional interference with a pretax allocation of resource entitlements. It conceives of the collective tax burden as a social invoice that must be fairly distributed across that pretax allocation. Thus, various principles of distribution follow: the tax burden should be distributed according to ability to pay, or benefits received, and so on. But the second approach argues that the project of fairly distributing the tax burden is misconceived for two reasons. First, it is myopic in its assessment of particular taxes without considering how those taxes fit within the broader institutional arrangement. Second, it presumes an existing allocation of resource entitlements with which taxes interfere. In a modern state, however, taxes are antecedent to, and so already presumed by, any allocation of entitlements. Instead of attending to a fair distribution of an illusory tax burden, the second approach conceives of taxation as constructive social architecture. Accordingly, it holds that taxes should be assessed in terms of their contribution to a distribution that satisfies the appropriate principles of justice, whatever those principles may be.

Article

LGBT people have gone from being a “politics” to a “people” from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st. They were mostly excluded from public life, and reduced to their sexuality. And when they weren’t reduced, they were restricted. Legislatures, not only failed to protect LGBT people from discrimination, but created new barriers for them under the guise of “protecting” the presumed heterosexual and cisgender basis of society. In America, the Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA) and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) are the most consequential examples of legislative action that treats LGBT people as morality issues rather than citizens. As LGBT people have gone from the margins to the center of public life, however, their political status changed. LGBT people are no longer a sexuality—but a constituency. There is an undisputed electoral connection. Legislators act on behalf of LGBT constituents in symbolic and substantive ways ranging from membership in LGBT caucuses in their chambers, to voting for bills that clearly help LGBT citizens in specific ways. They also exert pressure on representatives for whom they share no electoral connection, and who are not themselves LGBT. These allies act for LGBT citizens because they it aligns with ideological beliefs in justice and equity. This growth in activity has not only been limited to the US Congress, but has also occurred in US state legislatures and around the world. Activity has not always been synonymous with success, as the US Congress’s long struggle to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that is inclusive of all aspects of the “LGBT” umbrella demonstrates. Nevertheless, LGBT voters are no longer “an issue”, but a part of the polity. Now that “LGBT” is an established political group there are serious questions that need to be addressed about what is being represented—and why it matters.

Article

Rational choice theory may seem like a separate theoretical approach with its own forbidding mathematics. However, the central assumptions of rational choice theory are very similar to those in mainstream political behavior and even interpretive sociology. Indeed, many of the statistical methods used in empirical political behavior assume axiomatic models of voter choice. When we consider individual voting behavior, the contribution of rational choice has been to formalize what empirical political scientists do anyway, and provide some new tools. However, it is when we consider collective voting choice—what elections mean and what kind of policy outcomes result—that rational choice leads to new, counterintuitive insights. Rational choice also has a normative dimension. Without voter rationality the traditional understanding of democracy as popular choice makes little sense.