Robert Dahl, Polyarchy. (1971).

Note: the structure of Dahl’s argument is probably a great model for answering any question on democracy.

 

Also, you can probably get away with reading chapters 1-3 & 10-11

 

_Main Argument:_ Dahl states the conditions under which transition from a hegemonic regime to a democratic regime is either impeded encouraged. The two dimensions upon which he measures democratisation are a) how free opponents of the government are to legally oppose the government (public contestation) and b) the proportion of the population able to participate in civic life (inclusiveness).

 

_Key Definitions:_

_Polyarchy:_ A regime that have been substantially popularised and liberalised, that is, highly inclusive and extensively open to public contestation (8).

 

_Method:_ Using a formal model, Dahl develops a set of axioms to predict regime behaviour; he then employs a classification of transitory political regimes (his dependent variable) within two axis: public contestation and inclusiveness (his independent variables).

 

 

== Notes ==

 

_Overall Summary:_

–     Dahl offers tentative conclusions concerning the historical sequences, economic bases, cultural patterns, political beliefs and degree of independence from foreign control that may be essential to the development of “polyarchies” such as the United States and the United Kingdom

–     The focus here is upon the conditions under which systems he designates as closed hegemonies, inclusive hegemonies, or competitive oligarchies are likely to develop into polyarchies, or intermediate variations thereof

–     The four types are derived conceptually from a formal model based upon two attribute-dimensions of democratization, namely, contestation (opposition) and inclusiveness (participation)

–     These dimensions are presumed to vary independently, so that closed hegemonies have at least three “paths” by which to change toward polyarchy: one via competitive oligarchy, another via inclusive hegemony, a third by direct jump

 

Dahl discusses the seven sets of conditions on which polyarchy depends:

(1) historical sequences,

(2) degrees of economic concentration,

(3) levels of socio-economic development,

(4) popular responses to objective inequalities and regime policies of alleviation,

(5) subcultural cleavages and party-system effectiveness at integration,

(6) foreign influence or domination,

(7) beliefs of political activists

 

– He compares polyarchies with nonpolyarchies by means of quantitative indices of economic development, inequality, and subcultural pluralism

– There is a strong relationship between polyarchy and low subcultural pluralism, but he also investigates the exceptions to this rule and is thus able to state a number of characteristics of subculturally divided polities that alleviate the negative effects of pluralism and strengthen the chances of polyarchy

 

 

=== Chapter 1: Democratization & Public Opposition ===

* Democracy is a political system that is responsive to all of its citizens

* Dahl’s definition is procedural, and depends on eight institutional guarantees that achieve the three following objectives

** Formulate preferences

** Signify preferences

** Have preferences weighted equally in conduct of government (see p.3)

* These can be seen as two main dimensions of democracy

** 1) Regimes vary on the extent to which these institutions are openly available _(Public Contestation / Liberalization)_

** 2) Regimes vary in the proportion of the population entitled to participate _(Inclusiveness)_

 

 

_Axioms_

* 1) The likelihood that a government will tolerate an opposition increases as the expected costs of toleration decrease

* 2) The likelihood that a government will tolerate an opposition increases as the expected costs of suppression increase

* 3) The more the costs of supression exceed the costs of toleration, the greater the chance for a competitive regime

 

Main question of the book: What circumstances significantly increase the mutual security of government and oppositions and thereby increase the chances of public contestation and polyarchy?

 

 

=== Chapter 2: Does Polyarchy Matter? ===

* “If the consequences of polyarchy were no different from those of non-polyarchy, or if the consequences were unimportant, there would be no reason to advocate a polyarchy rather than a one-party dictatorship – or the converse” (30)

 

 

=== Chapter 3: Historical Sequences ===

* Most common path has probably been competitive politics preceding participation

** Tolerance and mutual security are more likely to develop among a small elite sharing similar persepectives than among a large and heterogeneous collection – this is why the first path is more likely than the other two to produce stable transformations away from hegemony toward polyarchy

* Stable polyarchies and near-polyarchies are more likely to come out of a slow evolutionary process than the revolutionary overthrow of existing hegemonies

 

_Four Propositions About Evolution:_ [39-40]

–     The first path is more likely to produce security and tolerance

–     The first path is likely no longer open to most current hegemonies

–     Liberalisation of near-hegemonies will now risk failure as a result

–     Failure can be reduced if the path to liberalisation is accompanied by a search for mutual guarantees

 

How does one “inaugurate” or introduce & legitimise a competitive regime?

  1. Evolution: the new regime is inaugurated by the incumbents
  2. Revolution: the new regime is inaugurated by revolutionary leaders
  3. Military Conquest: the new regime emerges from the conquest of the old with help from a polyarchy/near-polyarchy
  4. Ground-up evolutionary process: the local population have a peaceful transition
  5. Ground-up revolutionary process: the local population have a national independence movement

*The fourth and fifth options have been made unavailable because of the end of colonialism; the third option is just unlikely (44)

 

 

=== Chapter 4: The Socioeconomic Order: Concentration or Dispersion ===

Axioms:

* 4) The likelihood that a government will tolerate an opposition increases as the resources available to the government for suppression decline relative to the resources of an opposition

* 5) The likelihood that a government will tolerate an opposition increases with a reduction in the capacity of the government to use violence or socioeconomic sanctions to suppress an opposition

 

* Polyarchy is unlikely without a pluralistic social order

* Polyarchy cannot be maintained where the military is accustomed to intervening in politics

* Polyarchy can exist in a country with a decentralized economy, regardless of the form of ownership

* Polyarchy is unlikely to exist in a country with highly centralized direction of the economy, regardless of the form of ownership

 

 

=== Chapter 5: The Socioeconomic Order: Level of Development ===

* Chances for political competition do depend on the socioeconomic level of the society

* An advanced economy automatically generates many of the conditions required for a pluralistic social order

 

 

=== Chapter 6: Equalities and Inequalities ===

* Affects the chances for hegemony or political competition through 2 intervening variables:

** The distribution of political resources and skills

** The creation of resentments and frustrations

* Polyarchies are extremely vulnerable to the effects of extreme inequalities

 

 

=== Chapter 7: Subcultures, Cleavage, Patterns, and Governmental Effectiveness ===

* There are some conflicts that a competitive political system does not manage easily, and perhaps cannot handle at all

 

 

=== Chapter 8: The Beliefs of Political Activists ===

* Polyarchies probably need a much wider spread belief in the value of the system than hegemonic orders do

* Massive treatment here of beliefs, how they are acquired, etc.  Look closer if you are interested in political behaviour stuff

 

 

=== Chapter 9: Foreign Control ===

* 1) Foreigners may impact any of the factors described in the previous chapters

* 2) Actions of foreigners may drastically alter the options available to a regime without necessarily altering the form of the regime

* 3) People in one country may deliberately seek to use their resources to impose a particular kind of political regime on another country

 

 

=== Chapter 10: The Theory: Summary and Qualifications ===

* Dahl attempts to assign weights to some of the variables – this is a theoretical project

 

 

=== Chapter 11: Postscript: Some Implications for Strategies of Change ===

* In a short concluding chapter, Dahl lists the conditions (grouped into general categories) favouring polyarchy. These are:

  1. a)     Mutual guarantees & Tolerance
  2. b)     Meaningful executive authority
  3. c)     Preventing fragmentation (i.e. vis-à-vis political parties)
  4. d)     Local Governments :somewhat autonomous units below the national government

 

 

_Critique:_ While Dahl’s contribution to the democratic literature is formidable, his attempt to push abstract terms into finite categories (i.e. “fully hegemonic regimes”) may lead to the misuse of both the terms themselves and a “lumping in” of highly differentiated cases into broad categories – especially the “middle categories” such as “Competitive at the national level, hegemonic within subnational organisations” that may cover too broad a range of cases.

 

_Critique:_ A second limitation is that no atttempt is made to assign weights to the seventeen explanatory variables. Theoretically, the set of relationships posited by Dahl can be interpreted as a multiple regression equation. But, once again, the insufficiency of the data constitutes the big obstacle