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Personalism and Personalist Regimes: Theory and Comparative Perspective

Methodology
Institutions
WS18
Alexander Baturo
Dublin City University
Jakob Tolstrup
Aarhus Universitet

Abstract

In the post-Cold War period, many previously democratising countries have experienced authoritarian reversals and executive takeovers whereby incumbent leaders took over their regimes and gravitated towards personalist rule, including in Belarus, Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela or Uganda. This is particularly prevalent among presidential and semi-presidential regimes in which constitutional checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches are often subverted, in the words of Juan Linz, by “outstanding leaders” (Linz 2000, 63). Furthermore, with the military and party-based regimes in decline, alongside dominant party regimes personalist regimes have emerged as the predominant form of non-democratic rule. Personalist regimes are not a niche subject. Their numbers have grown not only in absolute but also in percentage terms, relative to other dictatorships. The recent estimates from Geddes, Wright and Frantz (2014) indicate that 43 per cent of all non-democratic regimes are personalist. In contrast, there were only 20 per cent of such regimes in 1975, at the start of what Samuel Huntington defined as the third wave of democracy (Huntington, 1991). Because of the dearth of rigorous empirical studies of the politics within personalist and personalising regimes, and because the all-important process of democratic breakdown --- particularly in countries with a presidential form of government --- so often culminates in the emergence of personalist regimes, a proper understanding of how they function, particularly their mechanisms of policy-making and elite management, is needed. Many personalist regimes play a very important role in global affairs. The unpredictable foreign policy of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, or more recently, the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 by Russia under Vladimir Putin are only notable examples. Furthermore, even though China has formally remained a party-based regime, the degree of personal power that its leader, Xi Jinping, was able to amass, as evidenced by policy and personnel decisions taken at the recent 2017 Communist Party of China Congress, is unprecedented. The fact that the leaders of the two most important non-democratic regimes in the world, i.e., of Russia and China, were able to diminish the autonomy of existing institutions and to a significant degree personalize their regimes, is alarming and requires an urgent examination. How do previously democratizing regimes acquire the characteristics of personalist regimes? How do leaders of nondemocratic regimes previously constrained by autonomous political parties and elite groups, emerge as personalist dictators? How do such rulers maintain personal control over institutions? More generally, how personalist regimes work? To answer these questions, the workshop will develop new theories of personalist rule and examine the comparative evidence drawn from single case studies and large-n analyses. The study of personalist regimes presents a unique challenge to empirically oriented scholars because of the role of leaders and informal arrangements in governance that are much more difficult to analyse than institutions. Much of the current literature on dictatorships however focuses on the role of political institutions (Gandhi, 2008; Geddes, 1999; Svolik, 2012). Scholars argue that dictators create institutions, such as legislatures and parties, as power-sharing mechanisms that in turn render their rule more durable. The study of institutions is also more amenable to cross-national research, while the role of leaders or that of latent political processes, is typically relegated to the residual, in the jargon of research design. Personalistic leaders, however, do not always rely on institutions. Instead, even if institutions exist, rulers also rely on patron-client networks and informal politics for governance. In personalist regimes the ability to predict or explain important policy initiatives – largely determined by the whim of one political actor – is limited. This brings a certain degree of idiosyncrasy and makes it difficult to model such regimes empirically. Indeed, in regimes where institutions do not work and policymaking may be determined by preferences of one political leader, scholars have, in terms of research design, an “N“ of 1. It is therefore not surprising that many scholars turn to political psychology or rely on the political biographies of personalist leaders to understand these regimes. The study of informal institutions and non-institutional sources of power such as patron-client networks, as well as of unwritten socially accepted rules “outside of officially sanctioned channels” more generally, is much more difficult than the examination of formal institutions (Helmke and Levitsky 2004, 727). This is not to argue that the existing theories of authoritarian politics do not illuminate the logic of rule in personalist regimes. Many comparative scholars place personalist regime as a distinct category of non-democratic rule (e.g., Escriba-Folch and Wright, 2015; Geddes, 1999). Such studies turn to cross-country comparisons and find that personalist regimes, because of the lack of constraints on their leaders and different political incentives, exhibit different behavior and outcomes from other non-democratic regimes. The majority of recent studies however compare personalist regimes with other regime categories in cross-country comparisons. At the same time, all regime types may differ in degrees of personal authority their rulers possess and in constraints institutions impose, that is, even party-based or military regimes will vary in the degree of personal power of their rulers. Personalization is therefore a feature, to a lesser or greater extent, of all political regimes (Svolik, 2012). Regime personalization can vary over time, often culminating in the extreme form of personalist rule referred to as sultanism (Brooker, 2000). Focusing on the breakdown of term limits as a proxy for the onset of personalism, Baturo (2014) proposed the argument centred on the costs and benefits of leaving office, in a comparative context. However, a ruler may acquire personal power over institutions without meddling with term limits; personalisation may also occur in regimes that do not practice tenure restrictions. Short of the by now canonical edited volume on personalism by Chehabi and Linz (1998), the comparative literature lacks studies that examine the politics within personalist regimes, their emergence and maintenance. The proposed workshop, Personalism and Personalist Regimes: Theory and Comparative Perspective, is the first comprehensive examination of the logic of personalist rule, personalist leaders and personalist regimes in theory and in comparative context. First, it proposes to examine the concepts of personalism and regime personalization --- the acquisition of personal power of political leaders --- across different political regimes and over time. The focus is on regime personalisation as the process permits us to calibrate and treat personalism as dynamic concept (Baturo and Elkink, 2016). Indeed, we intend to examine not only established personalist regimes, e.g., those of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, Niyazov in Turkmenistan, or Gaddafi in Libya, but also political regimes where political leaders have emerged as dominant political leaders, i.e., personalist regimes in the making, such as those of Putin in Russia (e.g., Baturo and Elkink, 2014) or Xi Jinping of PRC. Second, the focus on personalism and regime personalisation --- as opposed to personalist regimes as such --- will also allow us to look at different dimensions of personalisation, such as the blurring of private and public lines and corruption, elite management and institutionalisation, the problem of term limits and succession, the politics of the cult of personality, among other things. In other words, the workshop will invite theoretical and empirical papers on different aspects of non-democratic politics, to outline the multidimensionality of political change in personalist regimes. In summary, the proposed workshop will draw together the team of prominent international scholars who specialise in the politics of comparative democratization and nondemocratic regimes in general. It will also draw those who are country and regional experts in the politics of particular personalist regimes, whether historical or contemporary. As the brief discussion of the state-of-the-art literature above suggests, the study of non-institutional aspects of politics is challenging. Furthermore, the existing political science bias toward cross-national research leads the omission of many important questions that can only be addressed through the rigorous examination of politics within non-democratic regimes. The workshop will be the first comprehensive theoretical and empirical examination of personalism, personalist regimes, and the regime personalisation process. We propose to study the micro-logic and causal mechanisms of the onset of personalist rule using both the large-n and in-depth single-case study evidence, in the best tradition of comparative politics. The workshop will build on several prominent strands of literature. First of all, it will contribute to the literature on dictatorships generally (e.g., Blaydes, 2010; Brownlee, 2007; Bueno de Mesquita et al., 2003; Escriba-Folch and Wright, 2015; Gandhi, 2008; Svolik 2012). As was argued in the recent review on dictatorships, despite impressive advances in cross-national studies of various institutions in dictatorships (e.g., Brownlee, 2007; Gandhi, 2008), methodologically sound, based on detailed knowledge and careful data analyses, studies of politics within authoritarian regimes are rare (Pepinsky, 2013). In particular, there are no studies that apply rigorous empirical analyses to understand the mechanisms used by rulers to establish their personalist regimes, how they communicate their dominance and indispensability, how members of ruling coalitions coordinate around their rulers. Apart from the by now canonical edited volume on personalism by Chehabi and Linz (1998), the comparative literature compares the effects of personalist rule across other types of non-democratic regimes and lacks studies that examine the politics within personalist regimes, their emergence and maintenance. This workshop addresses this gap. In fact, our ambition is to re-examine and re-visit the arguments about nondemocratic and sultanistic regimes in Chehabi and Linz (1998) twenty years on. As a result of the proposed workshop, we envisage a possible special issue in one of the leading comparative politics journals, e.g., the Journal of Comparative Politics, or an edited book volume. The research outcomes from the workshop will also be of interest to policy community. How can democracies understand the mechanisms behind domestic and foreign policies of such regimes as those of Russia, Venezuela or Uganda, and design their own foreign policies toward these regimes? It is more important than ever that scholars, policy makers and other stakeholders better their understanding of such regimes. Indicative References: Baturo, Alexander. 2014. Democracy, Dictatorship, and Term Limits. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan University Press. Baturo, Alexander and Johan A. Elkink. 2016. “Dynamics of Regime Personalisation and Patron-Client Networks in Russia, 1999--2014.'' Post-Soviet Affairs. 32(1): 75-98. Baturo, Alexander and Johan A. Elkink. 2014. “Office or Officeholder? Regime Deinstitutionalization and Sources of Individual Political Influence.” Journal of Politics 76(3): 859–72. Blaydes, Lisa. 2010. Elections and Distributive Politics in Mubarak’s Egypt. New York: Cambridge University Press. Brooker, Paul. 2000. Non-Democratic Regimes: Theory, Government, and Politics. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Brownlee, Jason. 2007. Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization. New York: Cambridge University Press. Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, Alastair Smith, Randolph M. Siverson, and James D. Morrow. 2003. The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge: The MIT Press. Chehabi, Houchang and Juan Linz. 1998. Sultanistic Regimes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Escriba-Folch, Abel and Joseph Wright. 2015. “Human Rights Prosecutions and Autocratic Survival.” International Organization 69: 343-373. Gandhi, Jennifer. 2008. Political Institutions under Dictatorship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Geddes, Barbara. 1999. “What Do We Know about Democratization after Twenty Years?” Annual Review of Political Science 2 (1): 115–144. Pepinsky, Thomas. 2013. “The Institutional Turn in Comparative Authoritarianism.” British Journal of Political Science 44(3): 631-653. Svolik, Milan. 2012. The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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