POL 1101 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Path Dependence, Different Class, Liberal Democracy
SchoolUniversity of Ottawa
Course CodePOL 1101
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POL1101 – Introduction to Political Science
October 9, 2015
Different Types of States:
Of course states vary in many ways. Being able to distinguish different types of state, or, in
Judson & Rein’s terms - political regimes - is useful to understand the dynamics which might be
prevalent in some rather than others. We also need to understand and explain why it is that the
forms states take vary. To take a particularly important one, why are some states authoritarian
while others are democratic? At the most extreme, under what conditions do particularly nasty
regimes like fascist ones emerge? This is a good example where a normative concern - to
promote democracy and prevent tyranny, has prompted elaborate empirical research. There is of
course an assumption here - that it matters to people to live in a democratic system - that this
enables other goods to be achieved.
Looking at different types of state is also a key part of the subfield of political science known as
comparative politics. Classifying political systems is not new. We’ll see in a minute Aristotle
engaged in such an exercise. But it has moved a long way from simple classification to
explanation as to how and why states vary.
Note: for Aristotle, democracy was interpreted negatively. But this scheme for classifying states
lasted a long time. Hobbes used it in Leviathan, for example, although by then democracy is not
so negatively viewed.
Empire v. Republic
Empire vs republic - does a state merely rule itself, or seek to expand and dominate others?
Standard debate about Rome for example, and often invoked (US Empire for example at the
Contemporary Distinctions: democracy v. authoritarianism
• Democratic states
• Literally, ‘rule of the people’
– Mechanisms for popular participation and accountability
– Mechanisms for open debate
• Authoritarian states
– Lack of popular input to political decisions
– Government autonomy from popular control
Perhaps the most general distinction we make now is between democratic and authoritarian
states. These need to be defined in very minimal terms however, as they themselves vary so
much. Key question really is does the political system have means to ensure that the government
cannot act for any length of time contrary to popular wishes?
Note however there is an assumption in the distinction. It assumes in effect that because there is
no popular contorl and input, the government will act in an authoritarian (that is using it’s power
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in arbitrary fashion, governing through violence when it feels like it, not respecting the rule of
law, etc.). If we look back to Aristotle’s distinctions, in fact his point was precisely that
democracy - as majority rule - could indeed be authoritarian, as it enables minority rights to be
ignored and abused. Many opponents of democracy in the 18th and 19th century - when the
pressure for modern democracies was growing - effectively understood democracy to mean ‘mob
rule’ - I.e. highly authoritarian. This now conventional distinction in fact therefore tends to
assume that democracy means ‘liberal democracy’, which in fact should only be understood as
one sort of democratic rule.
Also interesting is the boundary. How would you classify Russia for example today? It has
elections, which seem not to be directly rigged. It has a constitution which limits presidential
power. But journalists opposing Putin/Medvedev do get murdered. And Putin has been effective
at getting round the constitutional limits to hang on to power.
Also to note - this is not the same as the distinction in Garner et al ch7 between strong states and
weak states. As Schwarzmantel put it in his review of pluralist theory, you shouldn’t confuse an
authoritarian state with a strong one. In fact often such states are authoritarian because they are
weak - they don’t have well-developed mechanisms for securing consent without coercion.
Democratic states are often therefore stronger than authoritarian ones.
Types of Authoritarianism:
• Absolute monarchies (e.g. 17th France)
• Military dictatorships/police states
– (Spain under Franco, Burma, Argentina 66-73 or 76-83)
• Theocracies (Iran)
• Oligarchic rule (Singapore)
– Fascism (Italy under Mussolini, Nazi Germany)
– State socialism (Soviet Union)
• Form of rule where the State’s power is omnipresent
• A single mass party alongside State institutions
• Official ideology favouring social transformation
• Extensive surveillance and terror systems
• Cult of the personality for the leader
• Intent to construct a ‘new man’
• Unusually heightened focus on ‘enemies of the state’ - inside and outside
Totalitarianism, at least for much of the 20th century, has been seen as a special case of
authoritarian rule. Special because it enabled extraordinary violence and oppression compared to
other authoritarian states (such as, say today’s Singapore which is authoritarian, but stable and
exhibits relatively low levels of such arbitrary rule). In other words, authoritarian rule can be
quite passive - it acts to prevent disruption to its rule but otherwise can leave people to get on
with their lives and can tolerate some mild dissent or difference of view. Totalitarian rule differs
in refusing this space for individual conscience or difference - hence totalitarian.
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