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

Political Terror Scale

Authoritarian regimes use both “carrots” and “sticks” in order to control their citizens. The “sticks” approach encompasses everything from surveillance to outright physical brutality.  While the use of physical terror to undermine the bodily integrity of their citizens by authoritarian regimes is fairly well known, it is also evident that democracies are not immune to using this form of control over their populations.  Almost by definition, authoritarian regimes terror-prone, but how much more so than democracies. You can fine the answers to this at the Political Terror Scale website, where they have a set of interesting interactive maps.

How is “political terror” defined?  Well, they have created a scale (from 1-5) which is an indicator of the level of political terror citizens in a country face in any given year. The definitions for each of the categories is below.

El Salvador during the 1980s was ruled by a military regime, which used to death squads to “disappear” its internal opponents.  U2 took note:

rating scale Political Terror Scale Levels
Level 5 : Terror has expanded to the whole population. The leaders of these societies place no limits on the means or thoroughness with which they pursue personal or ideological goals.
Level 4 : Civil and political rights violations have expanded to large numbers of the population. Murders, disappearances, and torture are a common part of life. In spite of its generality, on this level terror affects those who interest themselves in politics or ideas.
Level 3 : There is extensive political imprisonment, or a recent history of such imprisonment. Execution or other political murders and brutality may be common. Unlimited detention, with or without a trial, for political views is accepted.
Level 2 : There is a limited amount of imprisonment for nonviolent political activity. However, few persons are affected, torture and beatings are exceptional. Political murder is rare.
Level 1 : Countries under a secure rule of law, people are not imprisoned for their view, and torture is rare or exceptional. Political murders are extremely rare.

Totalitarianism and 1984

This week we are addressing authoritarianism and totalitarianism.  As mentioned in the textbook, totalitarian regimes are extremely odious, but fortunately are also relatively rare.  There are a couple of regimes today than can safely be characterized as totalitarian–North Korea and Burma.

Totalitarian regimes are characterized by the desire on the part of rulers for complete control of all of the state, civil society and economy.  There is much overt violence and other forms of both cooptation and coercive control.  Take a look at these two video clips of the film adaptation of George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, and see if you can think of how many characteristics of a totalitarian regime you notice.

Nicolae Ceausescu and the Cult of Personality

Today in introduction to comparative we discussed various coercive tactics available and generally used by authoritarian and dictatorial leaders.  One of them is the cultivation of a “cult of personality.”  Nobody was better at it than the late (executed) Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.  This clip from youtube is a treasure as it shows the dictator’s last public speech; within hours both he and his equally loathsome spouse, Elena, had been executed.

Note a couple of things; first, the dramatic banners, huge photographs of the ruling couple, and other similar accoutrements of the public celebrations of a totalitarian regime.  Note also the massive crowds. In totalitarian systems (as opposed to authoritarian ones), every thing is politicized and one’s presence at events such as this would be expected.  Apathy is not allowed, and it is considered reactionary.

The second fascinating phenomenon is when the crowd (or portions thereof) begins to whistle and jeer its disapproval while Ceausescu is speaking.  The voice on his face as he realizes that he has lost the crowd is absolutely fascinating.  Rarely in history is an event like this captured for posterity.