A Proposal for a Dissertation
On the Explanation and Prediction of
Radical, Extraordinary Politics: After Structural and Institutional Explanations
Eric Drummond Smith
This dissertation is an attempt to establish several things. I will establish that there is an underlying unity among the causes of most types of ‗radical‘ domestic politics. Accordingly, it will include a review of the major theories regarding the causes of revolution, wars of secession, civil wars, genocide/politicide, regime-type changes, and ethno-national wars, as well as a review of the literature on the causes of radical political movements. I will establish a justification for the amalgamation of these theories into a single metatheoretical approach in which I confirm that there are two primary types of politics, politics-under-rules (which I will refer to as ordinary politics) and the politics of rule transformation using non-rule-based behavior (which I will refer to as extraordinary politics). I will demonstrate that the deterministic theories of structuralists and institutionalists are, alone, inadequate to predict shifts from ordinary to extraordinary politics. I will additionally establish that that by reemphasizing the causal role and predictive utility of political ideology, or more specifically, the transformation of values, identities, and legitimacy we should be able to better predict when ordinary politics will become extraordinary politics
II. On Ordinary and Extraordinary Politics
I would like to clarify a point before diving into the subject at hand. Conflict studies has, in political science, long been divided between two sub-fields. The theorists of comparative politics have laid claim to the internal or domestic conflict, that is to say revolution, civil war, genocide, and so forth, while theorists of international relations have asserted rights to interstate modes of warfare. I question both the validity and utility of this dichotomy, for reasons that will become clear throughout the course of this
dissertation. Therefore, though this is a paper on politics-within-states, and therefore by rights a work of comparative politics, I will readily and repeatedly employ literature and theories form the field of international relations.
International relations theorists have long recognized and accepted that, in principle at least, there were two kinds of politics: the politics of anarchy and the politics of the state. States, assert realists, are bastions of order, establishing laws and/or rules under which political, social, and economic competition and cooperation are governed and resources are allocated. States survive either through the maintenance of legitimacy or through the maintenance of tyranny; they are perceived as just, perceived as strong, or both.
Outside of states, or rather among them, there is anarchy. Anarchy is not the absence of order so much as it is the absence of legitimacy—all order is the product of
strength. In the international sphere rules are non-existent; they are nothing more than a manifestation of the will or wills of the leading power or powers. Accordingly, in a state of anarchy all states are believed to attempt to transform the rules of the game to suit their needs by whatever means possible.
The essential similarity of tyrannical states to the state of anarchy is too obvious to be missed. Both patterns of behavior are govern by virtually the same dynamic—might
equals right. The implications of this similarity are obvious as well—the ―distance‖
psychologically and practically between tyranny and anarchy is virtually nil—the latter
merely requires the appearance of actors willing to contend with the dominant power or powers. Alternatively, when a ―legitimate‖ state fails to be effective, it is already in a
condition similar to anarchy, or at least substantially more similar to anarchy than a
functioning state. As the literature review to follow will demonstrate, virtually every theorist of attempted radical systemic transformations and extraordinary politics, regardless of type, will concur with this simple premise.
That said, the process of transforming from any order, be it legitimate and
ineffective, tyrannical but strong, or ineffective and tyrannical, into another order varies substantially from the pattern(s) of ordinary politics. Of course, noting that the transformation of rules may be conducted while observing rule-based behavior—indeed,
this is a constant state of affairs in any political-economic-social system—it is ordinary.
Yet sometimes a group or a set of groups will consider the pre-extant system incapable of rule-based reform and will pursue political goals through means that are extraordinary,
that is to say in direct violation of existing, orthodox rules. This phyla of extraordinary politics includes a host of behaviors, including revolutions, civil wars, genocides, ethno-national wars, wars of secession, and so forth.
III. On Radical, Extraordinary Politics
Radical, extraordinary politics are those politics in which one or more parties have come to the conclusion that ordinary politics will not or cannot achieve goals they believe to be necessary and/or just—they are, in other words, the product of failing ideals,
identities, and conceptions of legitimacy.
When particular rules or leaders are not seen as the source (or at least the only source) of illegitimate and/or ineffective systemic behavior—rather the system itself,
including its justifying principles and many or all of its structures and/or institutions, is seen as illegitimate and/or ineffective—the nature of extraordinary politics changes.
Rather than merely exist in the spaces allowed by unsatisfactory ordinary or orthodox
politics (or ordinary economics or culture as well), leaders may attempt to transform the system as a whole—that is to say engage in radical, extraordinary politics.
Consider the different circumstances at work in ancient Rome. Under the Empire, coups, that is to say the simple replacement of emperors with other emperors, were relatively common. These attempts were never revolutionary in any sense. They did not try to change the political, economic, or social arrangement of society, nor did they try to change the basis of legitimacy, for instance the mythological Caesarean relation to Venus (this was done in a time of relatively internal stability and without any sort of intrigue, being justified on a legal principle of cuis regio, euis religio, that is to say whatever the
religion of the ruler, so it is with the ruled). On the contrary, the transformation of the Roman Republic into an Imperium was a radical transformation involving a series of war and the creation of fundamentally new bases of legitimacy, organs of governance, and substantially changing concepts such as citizenship and property rights vis-à-vis the central state.
. The acceptable means and the desired ends of the practitioners of radical extraordinary politics vary in every case and are highly dependent on the socio-historical circumstances in which the orthodox system is rejected (see below for more detail). They are, in other words, not predictable theoretically, at least beyond the elementary logical premise that no human or group of humans will ever attempt to become anything they cannot conceive of. Socio-historical conditions limit the options available to any given set of ‗rebels,‘ though sometimes multiple contestants simultaneously reject the orthodox system, pursuing divergent ends through divergent means, leading to trilateral or multilateral contests.
Below the key theories of the causes of the various genres of extraordinary politics are reviewed. Afterwards, these theories will be compared and contrasted. Upon establishing the linkage between these means/ends sets I will extrapolate these into a meta-theory on the causes of all extraordinary politics. Additionally, I will discuss the weaknesses associated with the consistent overemphasis of structures and institutions as predictors of extraordinary politics.
IV. Classical Theories of Radical, Extraordinary Politics
Virtually all contemporary theories of revolution and other types of radical extraordinary politics assert that the root of radical change lies primarily in socioeconomic causes. High socioeconomic inequity, sudden jumps in socioeconomic inequity brought on by changes in the market or changes of technology, or sustained economic failure, especially in terms of subsistence, are the most popular guises that the economic explanation of system collapse.
Classical and early modern precedents to our understanding of extraordinary politics abound. Both Plato and Aristotle, two thinkers known best for their disagreements, concurred that revolution had its roots in poverty (Tanter and Midlarsky 1967: 269). Tacitus understood regime change in republics and democracies to be the result of a series of rational decisions in which citizens accept the transfer of their power to an authoritarian center in exchange for guarantees of security and standard-of-living guarantees. Classical Chinese thinkers, including Kung Fuzi (Confucius), held to the notion of the Mandate of Heaven, assuming that if the Emperor and his bureaucrats failed to govern effectively or morally the people would rightly overthrow the throne and a new emperor would be ‗chosen‘ by Heaven (Tian) to restore good government. Later Thomas
Hobbes would argue fiercely that while revolution is absolutely never conscionable, it can inevitably be expected when rulers becomes overtly tyrannical. Early liberal thinkers such as Locke would insist that revolution was justifiable not only on grounds of deprivation of life and liberty, but also of property (both real and potential).
It is with the work of Thomas Malthus, however, that we begin to see the first attempt to create a systematic understanding of the sources of conflict as a product of
socioeconomic processes and arrangements. Malthus asserted that when a population increases in size in the absence of natural mechanisms for restraint (for instance predatory animals) then that population ultimately exceeds the natural carrying capacity of the territory that population exists upon. Under such conditions there are a limited number of possible outcomes. A first option is that the society will not increase in inequity, but will rather ration food and key resources—the result being that the entire
population will be weakened in its responsive power, precipitating an unbounded die-off in the event of any serious unpredicted crisis, be it plague, natural disaster, invasion, and so on. Such disasters, it should be noted, may become more likely in the instance of overpopulation/resource underdevelopment because of increased population density, lower resource availability for behaviors and infrastructure that are not immediately
necessary, the higher environmental damage that accompanies overpopulation/resource underdevelopment, and the weakened station of the state vis-à-vis its neighbors. Second, the population can attempt to acquire more of the necessary resources by force, either colonizing new territories (i.e. moving significant portions of the population into those
territories, thus relieving population pressures) or exploiting them. Third, and most relevant to the discussion here, elements of the population may attempt to guarantee their
access to resources while depriving others of their full share—in other words, inequity
will increase. The result will be either a die-off of those without adequate resources or civil conflict in an attempt to force a redistribution of resources, conflict that ultimately decreases population pressures. Of particular interest here is that conflict is a product of politically constructed socioeconomic inequality, a concept that later becomes a hallmark in the work of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.
Specifically, Engels and Marx assert that technological changes serve as catalysts for systemic change. As human beings develop new technologies, physical and social, different socioeconomic classes are able to gain greater wealth and power relative to the other classes. Dominating classes, which have vested socioeconomic and political interests and powers in the system as it contemporarily exists, perceive their interests as threatened by upstart classes. Rationally, these dominant classes react by attempting to suppress the upstart classes—thereby creating conditions that mirror those found in the
third response to Malthusian crisis listed above. The result is that, in most cases, extraordinary and often violent political means are necessary to readjust the political and socioeconomic arrangements of society. Even if the initial efforts to suppress change are successful, a socioeconomic/political system cannot survive without adjusting to the new technological realities (and the new relational arrangements dictated by these technologies). Either the system will be forcibly changed from the outside by systems that did readjust—a key point of Lenin‘s work—or inevitably the resources available to
the upstart class will allow them, at some point, to take power, integrating the best parts of the former system with those of the new system. Progress and revolution may
therefore be considered inevitable and inexorably linked not merely to socioeconomic change but to socioeconomic inequity and competition.
V. Twentieth Century Theories of Radical, Extraordinary Politics and Relevant Theories from International Relations
The key, unifying element in the work of most Twentieth Century theorists on revolution, regardless of their ideological/metatheoretical bent is their general agreement that revolution is a response to socioeconomic inequality, creating scarcity among particular classes and subpopulations. These include Russett (1964), Paige (1975), Tanter and Midlarsky (1967), Disch (1979), Skocpol (1976, 1979a, 1979b), Somers and Goldfrank (1979), and Midlarsky (1982)—all of whom emphasize land inequality in
particular. This emphasis on land inequality reflects the fact that most large-scale ―social‖ revolutions (populist, bottom-up) have occurred in states that had not yet
modernized. Furthermore, at least heretofore, most developed states have proven themselves more than capable of sustaining the fundamental needs of most of their population as pointed out by Inglehart et al. (2004: 5). Key exceptions include those
domestic radical, extraordinary political events transpiring during the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World, a series of events that facilitated the collapse of democracy in several states. Whether or not this will remain the case remains to be seen, especially if market economies ultimately decline or collapse, resulting in adequately significant poverty and/or income inequality to spark a revolution, as Habermas (1975) and Lindblom (1977) suggest is possible.
Brinton (1952) suggests that the key uniformity among most revolutions is that immediately preceding a revolution the quality of the socioeconomic system surges upward, while Davies (1962) states that that revolution results from a sharp decline in
quality of life immediately following a long-term improvement in the socioeconomic system. This in turn leads us to the work of Tanter and Midlarsky (1967: 271) who state that the key element in revolution formation is not simply poor circumstances, but rather a ―legitimacy gap.‖ Revolution, thus, is a behavior that results from a rational assessment of the variance by a key sector or key sectors of society between that sector‘s socioeconomic aspirations and its and its expected or real socioeconomic receipts.
Sakata and Hall (1956) added a three-point theory to the literature on the underlying causes of radical, top-down extraordinary politics. Specifically, their work was based on the conditions that allowed and drove certain Japanese elites, specifically members of the growing bourgeoisie, the Imperial bureaucracy, and the petit samurai, to
participate in the Restoration and the Meiji Reformation. First, Sakata and Hall assert that throughout the Nineteenth Century the dominant elements of the Imperial state had gradually slid into a state of stagnation as the result of an obsession with ceremony, precedence, and heredity to such a degree that the lower echelon of the bureaucracy on the one hand became alienated from the upper reaches of the state and on the other gradually accumulated most of the state‘s real power. In other words, the empowerment of a bureaucracy whose interests are notably different from those in which formal legitimacy is vested is a key potential precedent of top-down revolutions. Secondly, the late-Tokugawa period was plagued with economic weakness—a hallmark of radical,
extraordinary politics as theorized by virtually every major theorist. Finally, the Shogunate was plagued with the threat of Western invasion and, due to the former two conditions, proved entirely ill-equipped to respond to that threat—again, a key element
motivating many instances of dissent in the work of latter writers.