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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

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.