Political Regimes

Those of you in my IS210 class may find the Polity IV data to be of use when writing your paper. Click on the image below to take you to the website, where (if you scroll down to the bottom) you can see the regime scores (between -10 and +10) for each country over many years. See the example at the bottom of this post.

Political Regime Types–Polity IV Dataset

Here’s an exampe of the history of movements in regime for El Salvador from 1946 until 2010. How many changes in regime does El Salvador seem to have experienced in the post-WWII period? What happened in the early 1980s?


Polity IV Score in El Salvador

Indicators and The Failed States Index

The Failed State Index is created and updated by the Fund for Peace. For the most recent year (2013), the Index finds the same cast of “failed” characters as previous years. There is some movement, the “top” 10 has not changed much over the last few years.

The Top 10 of the Failed States Index for 2013
The Top 10 of the Failed States Index for 2013

Notice the columns in the image above. Each of these columns is a different indicator of “state-failedness”. If you go to the link above, you can hover over each of the thumbnails to find out what each indicator measures. For, example, the column with what looks like a 3-member family is the score for “Mounting Demographic Pressures”, etc. What is most interesting about the individual indicator scores is how similar they are for each state. In other words, if you know Country X’s score on Mounting Demographic Pressures, you would be able to predict the scores of the other 11 indicators with high accuracy. How high? We’ll just run a simple regression analysis, which we’ll do in IS240 later this semester.

For now, though, I was curious as to how closely each indicator was correlated with the total score. Rather than run regression analyses, I chose (for now) to simply plot the associations. [To be fair, one would want to plot each indicator not against the total but against the total less that indicator, since each indicator comprises a portion (1/12, I suppose) of the total score. In the end, the general results are similar,if not exactly the same.]

So, what does this look like? See the image below (the R code is provided below, for those of you in IS240 who would like to replicate this.)

Plotting each of the Failed State Index (FSI) Indicators against the Total FSI Score
Plotting each of the Failed State Index (FSI) Indicators against the Total FSI Score

Here are two questions that you should ponder:

  1. If you didn’t have the resources and had to choose only one indicator as a measure of “failed-stateness”, which indicator would you choose? Which would you definitely not choose?
  2. Would you go to the trouble and expense of collecting all of these indicators? Why or why not?


install.packages("gdata") #This package must be installed to import .xls file

library(gdata) #If you find error message--"required package missing", it means that you must install the dependent package as well, using the same procedure.

fsi.df<-read.xls("http://ffp.statesindex.org/library/cfsis1301-fsi-spreadsheet178-public-06a.xls")  #importing the data into R, and creating a data frame named fsi.df

pstack.1<-stack(fsi.df[4:15]) #Stacking the indicator variables in a single variable

pstack.df<-data.frame(fsi.df[3],pstack.1) #setting up the data correctly

names(pstack.df)<-c("Total","Score","Indicator") #Changing names of Variables for presentation

install.packages("lattice")  #to be able to create lattice plots

library(lattice) #to load the lattice package

xyplot(pstack.df$Total~pstack.df$Score|pstack.df$Indicator,  groups=pstack.df$Indicator, layout=c(4,3),xlab="FSI Individual Indicator Score", ylab="FSI Index Total")

Digital Media and Political Unrest

Via the Oxford University Press blog (what a great idea!), Philip Howard assesses the link between digital (specifically, social) media and political unrest in the Middle East and north Africa. Although he cautions against running afoul of the common “correlation is not causation” fallacy, Howard does make an illuminating point about the impact of social media and civil society on the potential for a country to experience political unrest:

Digitally enabled protesters in Tunisia and Egypt tossed out their dictator. The protests in Libya have posed the first serious challenge to Gaddafi’s rule in decades and the crisis in that country is not over. Several regimes have had to dismiss their cabinets and offer major concessions to their citizens. Discontent has cascaded over transnational networks of family and friends to Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Ben Ali ruled Tunisia for 20 years, Mubarak reigned in Egypt for 30 years, and Gaddafi has held Libya in a tight grip for 40 years. Yet their bravest challengers are 20- and 30-year-olds without ideological baggage, violent intentions or clear leaders.

The answer, for the most part, is online. And it is not just that digital media provided new tools for organizing protest and inspiring stories of success from Tunisia and Egypt. The important structural change in Mideast political life is not so much about digital ties between the West and the Arab street, but about connections between Arab streets.

But a reasonable foreign policy question remains. If digital media changes the political game in countries run by tough dictators, who will fall next?

Here’s a handy chart that gives us an indication of the answer to that question:

Egypt’s Mubarak Seeks Dissolution of Government Amidst Mass Protests

In today’s session of IS 210 we analysed the concept of the state and also talked about the related political concepts of regime and government. We noted that they were conceptually distinct political phenomena with differing levels of institutionalisation–with the state being the most institutionalised, and the government being the least.

In the midst of continuing mass demonstrations against his rule in Egypt, president Hosni Mubarak has asked the government to resign. Mubarak seemingly hopes that the government’s resignation will appease the demonstrators. What’s interesting from our perspective–as students of comparative government–is that Mubarak hopes to maintain his regime at the expense of the government. It is accurate to call the current leadership of Mubarak a regime, since the norms/rules associated with political authority at the national level have been institutioinalised over the course of the almost three-decade reign by Mubarak as Egypt’s president. The question then becomes will the protesters be satisfied with a change in government alone, or will they insist on a change in the nature of this authoritarian regime, which will obviously not be effected without the removal from office of Mubarak himself. As in the case of many authoritarian regimes, in Egypt it is also true that the autocrat is the regime himself.

Here’s more from the CBC on Mubarak’s latest moves:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he has asked the government to resign and promised reforms as protests engulf his country.

In a televised speech broadcast early Saturday local time, Mubarak used his first public comments since the unrest began to defend the security crackdown on demonstrations.

“I assure you … I’m working for the people…. as long as you’re respecting the law,” Mubarak said.

“We have to be careful of anything that would allow chaos,” he said.

At the same, Mubarak tried to speak to the demonstrators who have filled Egypt’s streets for days.

“I’ll always be on the side of the poor,” he said. “I am with bettering the economy.”

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades, has been facing the biggest pressure of his tenure.

Before the president spoke, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters defied a night curfew and some reportedly set fire to Mubarak’s party headquarters in Cairo. Flames were seen licking at the National Democratic Party headquarters shortly after 6 p.m. local time, though it was not immediately confirmed how the fire began.

The best real-time coverage of the political events in Egypt is, in my opinion, Al-Jazeera. You can watch live streaming coverage of Al-Jazeera here.

Failed States and the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index 2010

On Thursday, September 23rd we will begin to analyse the exceptionally important concept–the state. It will become strikingly obvious that a strong state is a necessary–but not sufficient–condition for political stability, political and personal liberty, democracy, and economic well-being. Conversely, citizens living in weak, failing, or failed states face lives of economic destitution, personal insecurity (think of Hobbes’ state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish, and short), and lack of basic rights and freedoms. The Fund for Peace publishes an annual index of failed and failing states. A quick look at the results over the last decade or so finds that the same dozen or so states are continually at the top of the list of failed/failing states. Here is a map depicting the results of the most recent index:

Notice the geographical concentration of failed states (in red). Why are the vast majority of the world’s failed states found in central Africa and southwest Asia?

What are the characteristics of failed states that distinguish them from more stable states? Maybe this video of life in Somalia will provide some clues:

The State and Democratization

The Polity IV data set code book, has a section entitled Indicators of Democracy and Autocracy (Composite Indicators), the authors write about the development of the state and the evolution of political participation as a corollary.  If you read it in tandem with this post on Max Weber’s view of the state and state legitimacy, you’ll begin to understand the nature of the state and why it has become the dominant contemporary form of political organization.

Three broad processes have reshaped the global landscape of state structures during the last two centuries One is an extraordinary expansion in the absolute and relative power of the state, a process that began i Europe. The new states created by the American and French revolutions marked the threshold between political world dominated by monarchies, whose claims to absolutism were belied by the fact that most social and economic life was autonomous from state control or extraction, and a political world in which state power was based on ever-widening control and mobilization of human and material resources exchange for broadened rights of popular participation. An integral part of this process was the development of bureaucracies with high capacities to regulate, tax, and mobilize people in the service of state policy. 

The second process was the transformation of the structures of political participation and legitimation. This transformation followed one of two paths, toward plural democracy or mass-party autocracy. The popular side of the bargain by which most West European rulers built state power in the nineteenth century was to acknowledge the right of widespread participation in policy making.  That right was given institutional expression in elected assemblies which could review, and sometimes initiate, public policy; in elections direct or indirect, of chief ministers; and in recognition of citizens’ rights to voice and act on political opinions. The concept of bargain is a metaphor for sequences of political crises and reforms in which these rulers granted rights for participation, however limited, to all significant social classes and groups, while simultaneously extending the state’s right and capacity to regulate, tax, and mobilize the human and material bases of state power. 

The process of political democratization had its own logic and dynamic which, in most of Western Europe, eroded all but a few symbolic vestiges of traditional autocracy (see for example Bendix 1978). Nonetheless, pressures to extend democratization have always contended with the self-interested desire of rulers to preserve and enhance their autonomy from political constraints. Theempires of Central and Eastern Europe–Germany, Russia, Austro-Hungary–implemented thetrappings but not the substance of effective democratic participation in the late nineteenth and early

Comparative Politics–Paper One Assignment

Here is the prompt for the first paper in Comparative. The state is an extremely important concept in comparative politics and we will refer to it and its characteristics again and again over the course of the semester. As such, it is important to develop a strong understanding of the state as a concept, and it is, therefore, the topic of the first paper assignment.

Introduction to Comparative Politics Paper 1

O’Neil writes that while many different types of political organization have existed throughout orld history, the

globe is now clearly demarcated by only one type of political organization–the state–that over the past few hundred years has displaced vitually all other political structures. Almost no inhabitable territory or people on the face of the earth is not claimed by some state.

For this paper, please select two states as the subject of your paper, one of which is s developed state and the other of which is a “Top-40” state on the Failed States Index (i.e. it falls in either the red or orange categories). Your task is to comparatively analyze the nature of the state in each of these two states. I want you to mostly describe (i.e., what, where, when, etc.), but also explain (how, why) the similarities and differences between the state in these two states by answering the following questions:

  • When was the state formed? How was it formed? That is, was it formed through revolution, secession, de-colonization, etc.
  • What is the nature of the current ruling regime (democratic, authoritarian), how long has this regime been in place, and does this state have a tendency to rotate types of regime frequently?
  • The nature of the government? Do governments tend to last? Are they replaced democratically?
  • Assess the nature of the legitimacy of the regime. Is the regime seen as legitimate? On which of the three Weberian ideal-types of legitimacy does the legitimacy of the regimes mostly rest?
  • Is this state centralized or decentralized?
  • Is the state strong and does it have high capacity? What kinds of evidence have you used to support the previous claim?
  • Lastly, is state autonomy high or low? Please explain.

Please use chapter 2 of the O’Neil book (Essentials of Comparative Politics) as a source for the paper. For information related to your specific states, you will have to consult at least 3 other academically reputable sources. Note that this means Google1 is not your friend here!! This will entail a trip down to the library by foot, or a virtual trip to the library’s electronic resources. In addition, pleaes avail yourself of the many posts on my link to resources that collect data on different aspects of the state. Finally, use the course page at the Library’s website for further sources to use, such as Country Watch.
Your paper should be 4 − 5 pages long, double-spaced on 8.5X11 − inch paper, with 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, and the sides. The paper must be written in Times Roman 12pt. The paper is due electronically via Digital Dropbox in Blackboard by the beginning of class on…

Rise and Fall of States

With the news of the collapse of the brokerage Bear Stearns, the pending collapse of Countrywide Mortgages, and other meltdowns sure to follow, the world financial system is currently in more dire straits than most believe. It reminded me of this series of paintings by Thomas Cole–the English-born American painter–titled “Course of the Empire”. He chose something from Byron (the poet, not my next door neighbor) to describe the series:

There is the moral of all human tales;
‘This but the same rehearsal of the past

First Freedom, and then Glory: when that fails
Wealth, vice, corruption

Notice the mountain in the background in each painting…


The Savage State


The Pastoral State


Consummation of Empire





Chinese Conceptions of “Rights”: From Mencius to Mao–and Now

Elizabeth has written the above-titled article, which has been published in the most recent issue of Perspectives on Politics. I will be adding this to the readings under the topic of democracy. I’ll adjust the syllabus on Blackboard accordingly and provide an electronic link to the full-text article on the electronic version of the syllabus. You can also link to the article here. [Updated: The link doesn’t work; go to Blackboard for the link.]

We will address the implications of “Asian values” for democracy and seek to understand the moral underpinnings of Chinses society (remember that we are not equating “Asian” with Chinese; Asia is a vast and heterogeneous continent), and whether western conceptions of democracy and human rights are necessary. How is political authority legitimized in Chinese society, according to Mencius, Confucius, and Mao? Here is the abstract to Perry’s article:

The recent explosion of popular protest in China, often framed as a demand for the fulfillment of “rights,” has captured widespread attention. Some observers interpret the protests as signs of a “moral vacuum.” Others see the unrest as signaling a powerful new “rights consciousness.” In either case, the protests are often regarded as a major challenge to the stability of the political system. In this article, an examination of Chinese conceptions of “rights,” as reflected in the ethical discourses of philosophers, political leaders, and protesters (and as contrasted with American understandings of rights), provides the basis for questioning prevailing assumptions about the fragility of the Chinese political order. For over two millennia, Chinese political thought, policy, and protest have assigned central priority to the attainment of socioeconomic security. As a result, the meaning of “rights” inChinese political discourse differs significantly from the Anglo-American tradition. Viewed in historical context, China’s contemporary “rights” protests seem less politically threatening. The Chinese polity appears neither as vacuous nor as vulnerable as it is sometimes assumed to be.