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Article

The concept of autonomy is one of the key concepts of political philosophy. It plays an important role in discussions of the limits of state coercion, in particular in arguments against paternalistic laws and policies, and in questions concerning the legitimacy and authority of the state. Although the term “autonomy” is used in different ways, a common understanding of the concept of autonomy relates to the idea of leading one’s own life: the autonomous person develops her own understanding of how her life should be and acts accordingly, without interference by others. Autonomy plays three main roles in political philosophy. First, autonomy provides a goal, to be realized through political means; this requires that the state protect people from interference with their autonomy, ensure the availability of sufficient resources, and foster the mental abilities necessary for autonomy. Not least, promoting autonomy can entail that the form of government be democratic, as citizens’ autonomy is best protected in a democratic regime. Next, autonomy can impose a set of constraints, limiting the legitimate use of coercion in realizing political goals. First, coercion can only be used for certain purposes. The most well-known constraint of this kind involves the rejection of paternalism: coercion may never be used to promote a person’s own good against her will. Next, there are constraints connected with the kind of justification that can be given for coercive actions: in order to be compatible with autonomy, these must be justified in ways that the coerced have actually accepted or could have accepted. Finally, autonomy can play a role in arguments about the grounds for political authority. Although authority and autonomy might seem to be inimical, autonomy can ground the right to command either through citizens’ consent or through their voluntary actions by which they become committed to follow a common set of rules. Autonomy can only play these roles if it is valuable, and there are several arguments why autonomy is valuable. First, there are instrumental reasons: the good both of individuals and of society is best served if people have a large degree of autonomy. Next, people have an interest in their choices and actions being their own, representative of who they are. Also, there is a strong symbolic and relational aspect to the right to autonomy: being denied this right is insulting and amounts to a denial of one’s equal standing. Finally, there might be an intrinsic value to autonomy, as only autonomy allows us to be fully human.

Article

Since around the 1950s, hundreds of articles have been published in social science that are concerned with the concept of authority and authoritarianism and how both relate to religion. Despite this tremendous volume of research, two camps have emerged that have failed to incorporate the ideas of the other. Psychologists contend that deference to authority is primarily a personality-driven variable and is often shaped by subconscious and undetected psychological processes that are unchangeable once established. In contrast, sociologists contend that authoritarianism is largely a product of interaction in a social environment. This perspective suggests that religion is one of many factors that help to shape the authoritarian outlook of individuals, along with political and economic variables. Neither of these approaches has managed to synthesize their perspectives into a unified whole. In addition, while many scholars have included some aspect of religion in their analysis, little scholarship has placed it at the center of the inquiry. As a result, there has been no well-defined and thoroughly tested theory of religious authority, despite the fact that authority has driven two of the most important recent religious movements in the United States: the Religious Right and the Emergent Church Movement. Several suggestions are offered as means to make measurable progress in the field of religion and regard for authority. One way forward is to generate and test a battery of questions that measures authority from a uniquely religious perspective. Another opportunity lies in scholars measuring the deference to authority levels that exist in different religious traditions. These comparisons could be between Jews and Catholics, or even inside the larger Protestant tradition. Finally, scholars should make a concerted effort to connect clergy with their congregations as a means to discern if perceptions of authority are congruent between a religious leader and his or her parishioners.

Article

Traditional leaders have a significant role in the social, political, and economic lives of citizens in countries throughout Africa. They are defined as local elites who derive legitimacy from custom, tradition, and spirituality. While their claims to authority are local, traditional leaders, or “chiefs,” are also integrated into the modern state in a variety of ways. The position of traditional leaders between state and local communities allows them to function as development intermediaries. They do so by influencing the distribution of national public goods and the representation of citizen demands to the state. Further, traditional leaders can impact development by coordinating local collective action, adjudicating conflicts, and overseeing land rights. In the role of development intermediaries, traditional leaders shape who benefits from different types of development outcomes within the local and national community. Identifying the positive and negative developmental impacts of traditional leaders requires attention to the different implications of their roles as lobbyists, local governments, political patrons, and land authorities.

Article

Intergovernmental relations in Latin America present a varied sample of both institutional determinants and actual dynamics. Constitutional structures regulate whether countries have a federal or a unitary system of territorial distribution of power and stipulate the territorial levels of government. Thus, constitutions structure the number of vertical and horizontal intergovernmental relations. Actual dynamics, however, depend on policy prerogatives that establish subnational authority vis-à-vis the national administration. These prerogatives, usually understood in terms of power, responsibilities, and resources, shape the territorial balance of power within a country. Power, responsibilities, and resources can be combined to apprehend the degree of authority in the hands of regional governments. Such authority is analytically organized into two dimensions: the regional power of self-rule and the power to share rule with national decision makers. This distinction helps to explain that the trend toward increasing regional authority is mostly a product of decentralization and devolution politics that have enhanced self-rule, rather than reforms that advance the shared rule dimension. Nevertheless, neither constitutional structures nor new regional policy prerogatives are the only determinants of the dynamics of intergovernmental relations. Informal institutions, such as subnational coalitions and local political clientelism, are particularly relevant to understanding the actual balance of power between national and subnational governments and among subnational arenas.

Article

Arjan H. Schakel and Emanuele Massetti

European integration and regionalization have been parallel processes over the past five decades, leading to a multilevel governance system where decision-making powers are allocated across European, national, and regional governments. The upshot of both processes is that regional governments have gained representation within European Union (EU) institutions and they have gained the ability to affect EU policy through domestic institutions. Regional governments are involved in the EU policymaking process at the EU level through two institutions: via their representatives in the Committee of the Regions and via the participation of their ministers in the Council of Ministers. Similarly, regional governments are institutionally involved with EU affairs within the member states through three institutional channels: formulation and implementation of EU Cohesion Policy, intergovernmental meetings between national and regional governments to coordinate EU affairs, and subsidiarity monitoring of EU legislation by regional parliaments. The analysis shows that the EU’s multilevel governance system is highly asymmetric. Regional involvement in EU affairs through EU and domestic institutions is mainly restricted to powerful regions which can be predominantly found in the populous, federal, and regionalized member states from Western Europe. In addition, the analysis reveals that regional impact on EU policy is far more apparent within the member states than at the EU level. Furthermore, regional governments prefer to impact EU affairs through or in collaboration with their member state governments rather than bypassing them.

Article

Desmond Dinan

On June 20, 1950, representatives of six countries (Belgium, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) met in Paris to launch what became the first intergovernmental conference in the history of European integration. The outcome, after a year of difficult negotiations, was an agreement to establish the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), signed in Paris on April 18, 1951. Based on the Schuman Declaration of May 1950, the Paris Treaty established a High Authority of a “supranational character,” with responsibility for managing a common market for two key industrial sectors. The Coal and Steel Community was a political as much as an economic undertaking. It institutionalized a new departure in relations between France and West Germany and helped cement a postwar peace settlement in Western Europe, within the broader framework of an emerging transatlantic system.

Article

Sharath Srinivasan and Stephanie Diepeveen

From global amplifications of local protests on social media to disinformation campaigns and transformative state surveillance capabilities, digital communications are changing the ways in which politics works in Africa and how and with whom power accrues. Yet while digital information technology and media are relatively new, the role of communication in state power and resistance on the continent is not. The “digital revolution” provokes us to better account for this past to understand a rapidly changing present. From language and script, to print and broadcast, to mobile applications and digital databases, how information is circulated, processed, and stored is central to political power on the African continent. The story of political change in Africa cannot be told without attention to how power manifests with and through changes in the technologies that enable these communication practices. A communication technology perspective on the study of politics in Africa provides a more sober analysis of how power relations circumscribe the possibilities of political change than more normative approaches would. Even so, a communication approach allows for social and ideational factors to mix with material ones in explaining the possibilities of such change. Communication technologies have been central to what political actors in Africa from the precolonial past to the early 21st century can and cannot do, and to how political change comes about. Explorations across time, political era, and technological development in Africa allow us to unpack this relationship. In the precolonial period, across forms of centralized and decentralized political organization, oral communication modalities reflected and enabled fluid and radial logics of authority and power relations. Changes in moral and practical ideas for political organization occurred amid early encounters with traders and Islamic scholars and texts and the movement of people to, from, and within the continent. Colonialism, which heavily focused on narrow extractive aims, required alien central authorities to overcome the vulnerability of their rule through knowledge production and information control. Equally, the same communication technologies valued by colonial authority—intermediaries, print, radio—became means through which resistance ideas circulated and movements were mobilized. In independent Africa, political aims may have changed, but communication infrastructures and their vulnerabilities were inherited. The predicament facing postcolonial governments had a communications dimension. Later, their ability to forge rule through control and allegiance had to contend with a globalizing information economy and demands for media pluralism. A communications perspective on the history of power on the African continent therefore guides a fuller understanding of change and continuity in politics in a digital age by drawing attention to the means and meanings by which legitimacy, authority, and belonging have continued to be produced and negotiated. Transnational configurations of information flows, global political economy logics of accumulation and security, and communicative terrains for contesting authority and mobilizing alternatives have been shown to possess both distinctly new characteristics and enduring logics.

Article

Massimo Renzo

Political obligation refers to the idea that there is a duty to obey the law as well as to support one’s state in a number of other ways—for example, by promoting its interests, by defending it when attacked, by voting, and, more generally, by being an active citizen. These duties can be very demanding and seriously interfere with one’s capacity to autonomously choose how to lead one’s life. As such, their existence deserves close scrutiny. The main attempts to justify the existence of political obligation appeal to the ideas of consent, fair play, gratitude, natural duties of justice, and associative obligations. Each of these theories is shown to struggle either with underinclusiveness or with overinclusiveness. It is normally thought that all and only the citizens of a given state have a duty to obey its laws and support its political institutions, but none of the classic theories seem to be able to justify a duty of this kind. In light of this, two responses are available: one is to give up the idea that there is political obligation, thereby becoming a “philosophical anarchist”; the other is to revise the traditional understanding of political obligation.

Article

Religious nationalism, or the fusion of religious and national identities and goals, is an increasingly salient aspect of nationalism. Rather than secular nationalism simply replacing religious identities and allegiances, religious and national identities coexist and even reinforce each other. Such religious nationalism becomes a powerful force in buttressing popular religiosity and attitudes, empowers religious organizations in influencing policy across a wide range of domains, and shapes the patterns of inter- and intra-state violence. The two implications of these findings are that we should invest in better measures and operationalization of religious nationalism and reconsider the logics of state- and nation-building.

Article

Presidents derive support from electoral endorsement at the polls, but once in office, how they exercise power is also determined by the checks other actors impose on the presidency. By design, the presidential system was intended to function within a carefully conceived structure of checks and balances. As the executive branch in a system of separation of powers, the presidency was granted veto power over the lawmaking process. Congress and the judiciary were in turn granted prerogatives to check the executive in its own realm of action. Latin American presidential systems, however, have equipped presidents with extraordinary capacities, setting incentives in a different direction, where presidents often take the place of the most determinative decision maker within the political system. Juan Linz came to believe that presidentialism was not conducive to stable democracy (Linz, 1990), and his influential work spearheaded an era of studies that ultimately contradicted his arguments and led research in a new direction, while the third wave of democracy brought about stable yet unbalanced presidential systems. In order to understand the incentives that underlie this newfound stability, a deeper understanding of the institutional arrangements that govern it is necessary, and key among these, those structured around the legislative process. The institutions that make up the Latin American presidency as it stands in the early 21st century define incentives that lay out its unique character and distinct form of concentration of power. These can be organized into three sets: (a) elections, (b) lawmaking, and (c) cabinet management. Considering the institutions, and practices, that govern these three areas and how they vary across countries provides the building blocks to understanding the complexity of the presidency in Latin America. Whether presidents are elected indirectly via an electoral college or through direct votes by citizens, the specification of the type of majority required to win the presidency, the length of terms, and whether reelection is allowed are details that, when combined in diverse ways, present politicians and citizens with different sets of incentives to govern their behavior. These arrangements underwent different reforms over the turn of the 21st century. The institutions surrounding the lawmaking process are chief in lending the Latin American presidency its reputation of centralizing power, as constitutions are packed with arrangements that blur the separation of powers. Presidential legislative proposal power, presidential control of the legislative agenda through constitutional urgency authority (fast-track), variations in the veto prerogative, variations in override requirements, the delimitation of areas to exclusive presidential proposal rights, restrictions on congress to increase spending, and constitutional decree authority; all of these work to extend the legislative capacities of presidents, enabling them to counter the will of congress in ways unthinkable to the Founding Fathers when they first created this system. Latin American presidents also face challenges in managing cabinets, which in some cases are a fundamental component to articulate coalitions in the legislature—much like in parliamentary systems. Partisan dynamics come to life in the cabinet, and cabinets may work as important tools to manage otherwise fragmented party systems. Finally, understanding the influence of gender on presidential systems presents a promising avenue of research.