Most people in human history have lived under some kind of nondemocratic rule. Political scientists, on the other hand, have focused most efforts on democracies. The borders demarcating ideal types of democracies from nondemocracies are fuzzy, but beyond finding those borders is another, arguably greater, inferential challenge: understanding politics under authoritarianism. For instance, many prior studies ignored transitions between different authoritarian regimes and saw democratization as the prime threat to dictators. However, recent scholarship has shown this to be an error, as more dictators are replaced by other dictators than by democracy. A burgeoning field of authoritarianism scholarship has made considerable headway in the endeavor to comprehend dictatorial politics over the past two decades. Rather than attempting to summarize this literature in its entirety, three areas of research are worth reviewing, related to change inside of the realm of authoritarian politics. The two more mature sets of research have made critical contributions, the first in isolating different kinds of authoritarian turnover and the second in separating the plethora of authoritarian regimes into more coherent categories using various typologies. How do we understand authoritarian turnover? Authoritarian regimes undergo distinct, dramatic, and observable changes at three separate levels—in leaders, regimes, and authoritarianism itself. Drawing distinctions between these changes improves our understanding of the ultimate fates of dictators and authoritarian regimes. How do we understand the diversity of authoritarian regimes? Scholarship has focused on providing competing accounts of authoritarian types, along with analyses of institutional setup of regimes as well as their organization of military forces. Authoritarian typologies, generally coding regimes by the identities of their leaders and elite allies, show common tendencies, and survival patterns tend to vary across types. The third research area, still developing, goes further into assessing changes inside authoritarian regimes by estimating the degree of personalized power across regimes, the causes and consequences of major policy changes—or reforms—and rhetorical or ideological shifts.
R. Douglas Hecock
The open economic policies Latin American countries adopted in the wake of the debt crisis of the early 1980s were expected to bring a variety of benefits. Trade liberalization and privatization make domestic firms more competitive, and deregulation helps to create an efficient business climate. Notably, such policies are also likely to spur foreign investment seeking new opportunities, and Latin American countries did indeed begin to see large inflows in the 1990s. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is thought to be particularly complementary to economic development. Compared to portfolio investment in stocks and bonds, FDI consists of the construction or purchasing of physical assets including manufacturing facilities, retail outlets, hotels, and mines. FDI should spur local economic activity and bring with it jobs and technology transfers. Furthermore, because divestment takes planning and time, direct investment is relatively long-term, so investors are expected to display greater commitments to the economic and political futures of their hosts. As a result of these substantial potential benefits, a body of scholarship has emerged to try to understand the political dynamics of FDI. Is investment more likely to flow to democratic or authoritarian regimes? Are direct investors seeking countries with few labor protections and weak environmental regulations or are they attracted to public investments in human capital? Do they eschew governments with poor human rights records or do they see abusers as potential partners in managing a compliant workforce? What are the effects of FDI flows on the political contexts of their hosts? Among others, these questions have received significant scholarly attention, and while we have learned a great deal about the behavior and effects of FDI, considerable potential remains. Having received massive inflows averaging more than $100 billion between 2000 and 2017 and consisting of countries with broadly similar development trajectories, Latin America offers a rich landscape for such analysis. In particular, finer-grained examinations of FDI to Latin American countries can help us understand how it might affect political systems and which types of investment best complement national development projects. In so doing, studies of FDI flows to Latin America are poised to make major contributions to the fields of international political economy, development studies, and comparative politics.
Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.
There have been three waves of scholarship on military coups d’état (or simply “coups”)—the unconstitutional replacement of chief executives by military officers—since the 1960s. The first used case studies to explore why the military overthrows governments. One of its central findings was that military uprisings were an integral part of political succession in many countries. A second wave produced the “aggregate studies” that were the first to deploy cross-national databases to identify the measurable features that distinguished more from less coup-prone political systems. These studies revealed, among other things, that coups proliferated in places with a history of instability. The third and current wave of scholarship takes advantage of the development of statistical software for limited dependent variables—then unavailable, now commonplace—to recast the quantitative research on coups. Two core findings have survived disconfirmation since the start of the third wave. First, higher income countries have fewer coups, though the effects are small (and become even weaker when models only contain developing countries). Second, “political legacy effects” mean that the probability of a coup declines with time since the last military uprising. Much of the latest wave of research pinpoints factors—like coup proofing, less inequality, or the end of the Cold War—that reduce the probability of a coup. The development of ever more sophisticated statistical techniques to divine the causes of instability, nevertheless, relies on off-the-shelf data sets and coup catalogs whose validity—properly understood as accuracy—is questionable. Only a greater attention to accuracy and complementary methods promise to produce a comprehensive account of why the military topples governments in some, but not in other, places.