Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Causes Regimes To Change

So LTG's post about the Neo-Cons banging the war drums for "regime change" in Iran has inspired me to post something about what causes regime change and democratization.

Political scientists have done a lot of research on this subject. Much of it has its roots in research by people like Samuel Huntington who also did work for the government advising them about how to establish a stable regime in South Vietnam (so that worked out). His most influential book among political scientists is Political Order in Changing Societies. The premise of Huntinton's early work was that democracy didn't matter - the emphasis was stability and order. Democratization was not that important as a goal. This book was a product of the times (the Cold War) in which the US government was more concerned with preventing regime change (especially preventing Communist take overs) than fostering it. He also wrote about the "Third Wave" of democratization. But this work did not meet the standard for rigor in the discipline at the time nor did it provoke the controversy of his later work. Huntington's last book before he died was the infamous "Clash of Civilizations." A lot of Republicans LOVE this book. It seems to argue that conflict between different cultures is inevitable. Many neo-cons use the arguments in this book to justify their (as Dr. S. pointed out) quasi-religious faith in military conflict as a means to achieving regime change. But even here they miss the point. Huntington is arguing that the conflict will continue regardless of the identity of the leadership. Huntington was arguing (and I disagree) that conflict between the West and the Muslim world is inevitable and persistent. Regime change won't effect it.

I prefer other approaches in political science. Researchers who have focussed on democratization and revolutions. Some of the prominent figures in this literature are Gabriel Almond, Barrington Moore, Theda Skocpol, who wrote at about the same time as Huntington. They took a more sociological approach to the problem emphasizing varying combinations of economics, culture and institutional structures. The interest in institutions really started to kick in the 80s and later with researchers like Joel Migdal, Juan Linz and Robert Putnam. Migdal emphasize the role of the state and its relationship to civil society. Linz argued that presidential systems were inherently unstable in new democracies. Robert Putnam argued that corrupt and ineffective institutions were likely to be found in combination with societies in which civic engagement was low.

There are also works that have made the argument that oil is bad for democracy. The best example of this research (in my opinion) is Michael Ross. He has produced a number of good articles that show that not only does dependence on oil exports hinder democratization, it appears to have a significant and negative impact on women's rights.

These are not the only researchers in this area. There are others that some might think are important that I left out because I'm not trying to produce a solid academic lit review here, just a list of friendly suggested readings. But the bottom line from this list of authors is that democratization is extremely complicated. None of the researchers that I know of (not even Huntington) have ever argued that all you need to do to establish a democracy in a country is invade and remove the dictator and watch democracy rise up by divine right (Bush's view).

John Bolton is held up by the neo-cons as an expert in international politics. But his training is in Law not political science. His ignorance about the complexities of democratization is perhaps a symptom of that training. He has a position and he argues forcefully for it but he seems never to have actually researched or read the research of others who approach the problem from a perspective of hypothesis testing.


Anonymous said...

I think Thomas Dye simplified the theory of democracy in his book, the Irony of Democracy. The main point being that democracy is highly elitist..."elites in America generally believe that the best defense against mass action motivated by mass disaffection from politics is upward mobility." Dye covers many of the same standard topics as typical--mass communications, political parties and ideologies, elections, interest groups, the presidency, the bureaucracy, the Congress, the courts, federalism, civil rights, and national security--but it is "uncommon" in that it is guided throughout by the theoretical understanding that the elites, not the masses, govern the United States (just like all societies). In addition to describing how elite theory explains the institutions and dynamics of American politics, they contrast their perspective with classic democratic theory and modern pluralist theory. I think where we find ourselves, on a global level, is our upward mobility has been greatly diminished and we are being governed by the great minority and now, we have all seen behind the curtain. Bolton's views are, well, insane in my opinion. I think Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, Rice et al, have all lost their capacity for reason and to be in positions of great power, with that mentality, is very the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad. WW

The Law Talking Guy said...

I am just as interested in learning what causes a moment of change to occur. What causes some protest movements to succeed in toppling a government with "people power" or a "velvet revolution," and why do other such movements fail? I am fascinated by the way these moments with their opportunities for dramatic change suddenly occur or fail to occur. Broader sociological or economic theories have to give ground in these specific times, I think, to very specific actions, people, and words. I think it is crucial to understand that the explanation for why a specific uprising fails or succeeds will take place at a much more individual and cultural level than broader explanations of whether the country ultimately transitions to democracy or not. The mechanics of revolution interest me more than the macro-analysis of the evolution of regimes.

Regime change as a policy option, I think, has to be understood as advocating specific actions to overthrow an existing government. For this reason, I am interested in the micro-study of revolutionary movements. The fall of the Tsars, for example, is overdetermined by various theories. But why 1905 failed and 1917 succeeded, and why the result was Bolshevik tyranny rather than anotehr form of government - this is a different sort of historical inquiry.

Anonymous said...

To your question LTG, we have been in a period of global discontent at election times in various parts of the world...ever since Bush 41's new world order...we have had riots after elections...Mexico in August of '06, protesting a crooked election. France in May of '07, violent riots after Sarkozy's is when people finally wake up to what has happened to them, the betrayal of their own elected officials and when the corruption finally pushes out where everybody can see it, that is the time when change occurs, when the masses wake up. The real question for me is, why didn't we in the US riot and react like the Iranians in the 2000 election?...but in a peaceful way, we woke up in 2008. WW

Raised By Republicans said...

Yes, WW, there was a literature in political science in the 60s (see Robert Dahl and your man Dye for example) that focussed on elites.

LTG, your question was the focus of work by Adam Przeworski. His book, Democracy and the Market examines the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe as well as democratization movements in South America. He argues that the driving force is the strategic interaction of protestors, reformers within the government and the hard liners.

Sussanne Lohman also has done some work on who decides to go out into the streets and demonstrate and what implications it has.

"Broader sociological or economic theories have to give ground in these specific times, I think, to very specific actions, people, and words."

I don't understand your distinction between theory and "specific actions, people and words."

The Law Talking Guy said...

The distinction, RBR, is the difference between predicting whether a country will move towards democracy or, on the other hand, whether this particular uprising will succeed. Broader economic theories of democratization aren't designed to tell us whether the Iranian uprising will succeed in the next three weeks.

Raised By Republicans said...


I guess my question is directed at the implicit dichotomy between theory and individual events. Good theory incorporates individual events as inspiration and evidence.

The problem in predicting the future of a currently ongoing uprising - like we see in Iran - is that existing research, including the theoretical stuff, shows us how enormously complex the situation is.

Based on that research we can make probabilistic predictions about the near term and long term future in Iran based on our knowledge about the myriad of relevant factors present in Iran.

For example, Iran has an oil dependent economy. That's not good news for the long term prospects for democracy in that country.

On the other hand, there seems to be a divided elite running Iran with hardliners and reformers both competing for power. That could be good news in the medium term.

On the other other hand, the hardliners seem to have demonstrated already their preference for cracking down over compromise with the reformers (many of whom are currently in prison). That's very bad news in the short run.

Furthermore, the demonstrators in the street don't seem to have much in the way of organizational wherewithal. That is, while there are enthusiastic crowds in the streets, there doesn't seem to be anything like a union leadership, a revolutionary council, a faction in the military or a political party there to provide leadership or an alternative government in waiting.

All of these points I'm making now are derived from theoretically grounded research. That is why I don't understand the suggestion that we must abandon theory to be able to understand a specific incident.

USwest said...

We shouldn't abandon theory. Not only do we construct new theory from current events, but theory slso provides us a framework with which to anlayze current events.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I wasn't suggesting we abandon theory, but that we recognize its limitations. The focus of macro-theories about democratization is quite different than a more "micro" theory about when and how specific uprisings happen or whether they succeed. I think that subject is largely unexplored outside of the sort of "regional experts" that get a lot of play in some circles but a lot of derision in many poli sci departments.

There is some research in this area, but it tends to the postmodern. It talks about narratives of change, the use of language, and framing of events. Some of the same research is directed at understanding why something like a Rwanda genocide seems to happen spontaneously. What causes almost spontaneous mass movements of people? Why do some succeed and others fail? The answer is probably that tactical and strategic decisions get made by those involved that either work or don't. That's what we mean by a fluid situation.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, are you suggesting that all revolutions are sui generis and so cannot be explained by theories that are based on broad comparisons of similar phenomena? If not, then I'm not sure I follow your "macro theory" vs "micro theory" distinction in the context of your earlier statements.

The "regional" experts that you say are subject to derision in political science departments are not all so focused on the event at the expense of comparison as you seem to think. The best regional research incorporates both a substantial understanding of developments in their preferred region and a solid knowledge of theory and hypothesis testing.

As for why a specific uprising succeeds or fails, I suggest LTG look to theories of revolution and apply them to the specific cases he is interested in. That is, I suggest he reason from the general to the specific (there are some problems with this but it can be done productively).

The Law Talking Guy said...

I note you are now talking theories of revolution rather than theories of democratization. Big change, no?

Raised By Republicans said...

Not really given the nature of our debate about theory and "specifics." Both the democratization and revolution literatures have similar combinations of theory, comparative evidence and country or region specific knowledge. What's more there is significant overlap and cross-fertilization between the two literatures.