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.
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.
James Stacey Taylor
The first question that is often raised in a discussion of the ethics of voting is whether or not there is a duty to vote. The view that there is a duty to vote is supported by two main arguments. The first holds that since the value of democratic governance is high persons should vote to preserve stable democracy. The second is that there is a duty to vote because if nobody voted the effects would be disastrous. The first of these arguments is criticized by Jason Brennan, who holds that since each individual vote will play little to no role in preserving stable democracy nobody has a duty to vote. The second is criticized by Loren Lomasky and Geoffrey Brennan, who argue that it is incomplete unless its supporters can show that democracy needs everyone to vote to continue. The question of whether there is a duty to vote naturally leads to the question of whether it is permissible for persons to vote in their own self-interest. Jason Brennan argues that persons should only (morally) vote for candidates or policies that they are justified in believing would promote the common good. It is unclear, however, what “the common good” consists of. This discussion of the morality of voting in one’s self-interest leads to the question of whether voting for a politician because she has made campaign promises is morally analogous to a voter selling her vote. In discussing this issue it is important to distinguish between the “restricted” defense of markets in votes (that the purchased votes are to be cast in favor of what the buyer is justified in believing is the common good) and the “unrestricted” defense of such a market (that purchased votes can be cast in any way the buyer pleases). Much of this discussion focuses on the morality of unrestricted markets in votes. Christopher Freiman has offered four main arguments in favor of such a market: (1) that it will make both the buyer and the seller better off; (2) that it is required by respect for voter liberty; (3) that it is relevantly similar to other practices that are currently allowed, such as logrolling; and (4) that it would enable electoral outcomes to better express voter preferences. None of these arguments are persuasive. The first is based on illicitly inferring from the claim that persons would voluntarily buy and sell votes if a market were allowed to the claim that they would thereby desire that this market be allowed. The second argument is flawed because if some persons would prefer that a market not be allowed, this could provide a sufficient reason to restrict their liberty by precluding them from selling their votes. The third argument overlooks important disanalogies between votes traded between voters, and votes traded between legislators. The fourth argument is based on the implausible assumption that vote sellers would not misrepresent their political preferences in a market for votes.
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.