FEBRUARY 27, 2012: Topic 3: Political Regimes
What is a political regime? A political regime is, in effect, summarizing or
representing the political rules of the game. What a regime defines and presents are
rules that allocate power and authority among political offices and authority. It is a
means through which power and authority are allocated.
Formal rules implied codification- in the form of a constitution. You can also have
informal rules—conventions or norms that shape political expectations and
behaviours. What constitutions do is separate day-to-day politics from large kinds of
political principles. A constitution insulates or separates extraordinary and
ordinary politics. A constitution is a mechanism that takes issues and sets them
aside for the authority of a political regime.
A regime sets out the rules of the game, but doesn’t necessarily play the game. In
day-to-day politics the rules are challenged or questioned.
There is nothing in this working definition, which tells us over whom these rules are
to legitimately apply. A regime doesn’t have built into it the recognition of
boundaries within which regime rules are to be applied. This ambiguity we can
resolve in both theory and practice: The regimes that interest us are typically
associated with state. Regimes sit atop states, and states have a territorial
More formal definition of a regime (from the work of Siaroff): What Siaroff
described as essential to a regime is what the regime specifies as the method of
selection of government and representative assembly (competitive elections are not
the only selection mechanism- ex. Coups, royal prerogative). Every regime has, built
into it, a method of selection. The second dimension of a regime is that a regime sets
out the mechanisms of political representation- formal and informal. Siaroff adds a
3 dimension- a regime specifies mechanisms of repression and sets out the
legitimate use of force or violence by political authority (he is interested in
answering under what kind of rules does a regime use violent or non-violent
coercion against citizens).
We want to distinguish a regime from particular incumbents in office, and
distinguish from a regime that supports incumbents. We want to separate a regime
from the public policies that a particular incumbent government adopts. A regime is
not a government; there is something more basic about a regime. A regime sets the
rules under which political actors compete. A regime is not intrinsically bounded.
How do we define different types of regimes? Roughly speaking, the 3 authors have
a shared understanding of what a regime is, but they each have a different typology
to classify cases.
Alan Siaroff reading: Looking for a system of classification of regimes. He wants to
classify all contemporary political regimes. It is an account of regime from 2007 and
there are 192 regimes he wants to classify some fashion. His classification scheme
needs a typology that is jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive of all cases. This
is a property you want a typology to have. It contains enormous variation, but he
wants to reduce this to simple types.
The basic distinction he draws in between democracy and autocracy. It is a very
simple continuum. In the middle are more fine-grained descriptions of regimes.
Within these two types he makes two basic distinctions: democracy boils down to liberal democracy and electoral democracy. Autocracies are either semi-liberal or
This is a “Static typology.” It is a checklist of characteristics of various types of
regimes, so the characteristics are very important. The empirical exercise is seeing
which cases exhibit these characteristics and to slot them into types. This is an
argument about regimes that is not interested in the causes or origins of regimes
(classification, not explanation).