Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, August 16, 2018

No respect from the "first world"

Is the evaluation of African cities by "first world" standards legitimate? What does it tell us about the evaluated and the evaluators?

Lagos ranked among 'world's worst cities' to live in
Seven out of the 10 least liveable cities in the world are in Africa, according the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) annual survey.

The league table ranks 140 cities on a range of factors, including political and social stability, crime, education and access to healthcare.
Carefully selected Lagos street scene
Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, was ranked 138 - two slots ahead of the bottom of the league table which is held by Syria's war-torn capital, Damascus (140).

It was closely followed by Zimbabwe's Harare (135), Libya's Tripoli (134), Cameroon's Douala (133), Algiers in Algeria (132) and Senegal's Dakar (131).

Johannesburg gained the rank of 86, making it the most livable of African cities.

The annual report says cities in the Middle East, Africa and Asia account for the ten-lowest scoring cities where "violence, whether through crime, civil insurgency, terrorism or war, has played a strong role".

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

More on philosophical liberalism

So I discovered that The Economist is doing a whole series on "Liberal Thinkers." The first one, which I missed in the throes of moving, was about John Stuart Mill. In future weeks the essays will be about John Maynard Keynes, "Schumpeter, Popper, and Hayek," "Berlin, Rawls, and Norzick," and "Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche." Look for them.

Against the tyranny of the majority
Above all, though, like all liberals Mill believed in the power of individual thought. His first big work, “A System of Logic”, argues that humanity’s greatest weakness is its tendency to delude itself as to the veracity of unexamined convictions. He renounced shibboleths, orthodoxies and received wisdom: anything that stopped people thinking for themselves.

He wanted them to be exposed to as wide a range of opinions as possible, and for no idea or practice to remain unchallenged. That was the path to both true happiness and progress…

As Richard Reeves’s biography makes clear, Mill thought the coming industrial, democratic age could enable human flourishing in some ways, but hinder it in others…

Yet Mill was even more taken by the philosophical argument for free trade. “It is hardly possible to overrate the value, in the present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar.” This applied to everyone: “there is no nation which does not need to borrow from others.”…

As democracy spread, he anticipated, ideas would clash. He supported the Reform Act of 1832, which, as well as extending the franchise, did away with “rotten boroughs”, constituencies with tiny electorates, often controlled by a single person. He praised France’s move in 1848 to institute universal male suffrage. Each voter’s views would be represented—and each would have reason to be informed. Participation in collective decision-making was for Mill part of the good life.

For the same reason he was an early proponent of votes for women. “I consider [sex] to be as entirely irrelevant to political rights as difference in height or in the colour of the hair,” he wrote…

EXCERPT

Mill believed that society was advancing. But he also foresaw threats. Capitalism had flaws; democracy had an alarming tendency to undermine itself…

Mill loved the idea of a country founded on liberty, but he feared America had fallen into precisely this trap. Americans displayed “general indifference to those kinds of knowledge and mental culture which cannot be immediately converted into pounds, shillings and pence.”…

Democracy itself threatened the free exchange of ideas in a different way. Mill thought it right that ordinary people were being emancipated. But once free to make their own choices, they were liable to be taken in by prejudice or narrow appeals to self-interest. Give the working classes a vote, and chaos could result…

That in turn might cramp society’s intellectual development, the views of the majority stifling individual creativity and thought. Those who challenged received wisdom—the freethinkers, the cranks, the Mills—might be shunned by “public opinion”. Expertise could be devalued as the “will of the people” reigned supreme.

The upshot was frightening. Paradoxically individual freedom could end up being more restricted under mass democracy than under the despotic sovereigns of yore…

One solution was to give educated voters greater power. In this dispensation, people who could not read or write, or who had received the 19th-century equivalent of welfare benefits, would not get a vote…

Although that approach looks snobbish, or worse, Mill was enlightened for his time. Indeed, he would have approved many of the social changes in the 21st century, including the universal franchise and women’s rights…

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What's a liberal?

In the second of a series about liberals and liberal philosophy (the first was about John Stuart Mill), the editors of The Economist offer their understanding and prospects of de Tocqueville. It's good (even with some editing) for FRQs or debates.

De Tocqueville and the French exception
The gloomiest of the great liberals worried that democracy might not be compatible with liberty

HE IS the most unusual member of the liberal pantheon. Liberalism has usually been at its most vigorous among the Anglo-American middle classes. By contrast, Alexis de Tocqueville was a proud member of the French aristocracy… Tocqueville believed that liberal optimism needs to be served with a side-order of pessimism. Far from being automatic, progress depends on wise government and sensible policy…
Alexis de Tocqueville
He broadened the liberal tradition by subjecting the bland pieties of the Anglo-American middle class to a certain aristocratic disdain; and he deepened it by pointing to the growing dangers of bureaucratic centralisation. Better than any other liberal, Tocqueville understood the importance of ensuring that the collective business of society is done as much as possible by the people themselves, through voluntary effort, rather than by the government.

Tocqueville’s liberalism was driven by two forces. The first was his fierce commitment to the sanctity of the individual. The purpose of politics was to protect people’s rights (particularly the right to free discussion) and to give them scope to develop their abilities to the full. The second was his unshakable belief that the future lay with “democracy”. By that he meant more than just parliamentary democracy with its principle of elections and wide suffrage. He meant a society based on equality.

Many members of Tocqueville’s class thought that democratisation was both an accident and a mistake—an accident because cleverer management of the old regime could have prevented the revolution in 1789, and a mistake because democracy destroyed everything they held most dear…

The great question at the heart of Tocqueville’s thought is the relationship between liberty and democracy. Tocqueville was certain that it was impossible to have liberty without democracy, but he worried that it was possible to have democracy without liberty. For example, democracy might transfer power from the old aristocracy to an all-powerful central state, thereby reducing individuals to helpless, isolated atoms. Or it might make a mockery of free discussion by manipulating everybody into bowing down before conventional wisdom…

[H]e was the first serious thinker to warn that liberalism could destroy itself. Tocqueville worried that states might use the principle of equality to accumulate power and ride roughshod over local traditions and local communities. Such centralisation might have all sorts of malign consequences. It might reduce the variety of institutions by obliging them to follow a central script. It might reduce individuals to a position of defencelessness before the mighty state, either by forcing them to obey the state’s edicts or making them dependent on the state’s largesse…

[T]he United States represented democracy at its finest… His real wish was to understand how America had combined democracy with liberty so successfully. He was impressed by the New England townships, with their robust local governments, but he was equally taken by the raw egalitarianism of the frontier.

Why did the children of the American revolution achieve what the children of the French revolution could not? The most obvious factor was the dispersal of power. The government in Washington was disciplined by checks and balances. Power was exercised at the lowest possible level—not just the states but also cities, townships and voluntary organisations that flourished in America even as they declined in France. The second factor was what he called “manners”. Like most French liberals, Tocqueville was an Anglophile. He thought that America had inherited many of Britain’s best traditions, such as common law and a ruling class that was committed to running local institutions.

America also had the invaluable advantage of freedom of religion. Tocqueville believed that a liberal society depended ultimately on Christian morality. Alone among the world’s religions, Christianity preached the equality of man and the infinite worth of the individual. But the ancien régime had robbed Christianity of its true spirit by turning it into an adjunct of the state. America’s decision to make religion a matter of free conscience created a vital alliance between the “spirit of religion” and the “spirit of liberty”. America was a society that “goes along by itself”, as Tocqueville put it, not just because it dispersed power but because it produced self-confident, energetic citizens, capable of organising themselves rather than looking to the government to solve their problems.

He was not blind to the faults of American democracy. He puzzled over the fact that the world’s most liberal society practised slavery, though, like most liberals, he comforted himself with the thought that it was sure to wither. He worried about the cult of the common man. Americans were so appalled by the idea that one person’s opinion might be better than another’s that they embraced dolts and persecuted gifted heretics…

It is worth adding that the threat to liberty today does not stem just from big government. It also comes from big companies, particularly tech firms that trade in information, and from the nexus between the two. Gargantuan tech companies enjoy market shares unknown since the Gilded Age. They are intertwined with the government through lobbying and the revolving door that has government officials working for them when they leave office…

China is an example not of democracy allied to liberty but of centralisation allied to authoritarianism. Its state and its pliant tech firms can control the flow of information to an extent never dreamed of. Increasingly, China embodies everything that Tocqueville warned against: power centralised in the hands of the state; citizens reduced to atoms; a collective willingness to sacrifice liberty for a comfortable life…

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Cozy retreat for the Chinese elite

Most of this is historical trivia, but it also offers clues about how the elite in China rule.

Where China’s top leaders go in summer and in secret: a brief history of Beidaihe
When state radio reported on Wednesday that Premier Li Keqiang met United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa in Beidaihe, it was the clearest confirmation that the annual summer gathering of China’s most influential politicians was taking place at the northern Chinese seaside resort.

It was Chairman Mao Zedong, one of the key founders of the People’s Republic in 1949, who initiated senior party and government officials in Beijing to work at the famed seaside town of Beidaihe as early as 1953.
Mao at Beidaihe
Instead of the capital, all crucial meetings in the summer were held in Beidaihe from then on. In August 1958, party elites headed by Mao made two key decisions during an expanded meeting of the party’s Politburo held in the resort…

The closed-door meetings were suspended for nearly two decades in the aftermath of the outbreak of the notorious Cultural Revolution in 1966.

Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping came to power after Mao’s death and decided to resume the annual gathering in 1984.

Party elders and most members of the party’s decision-making Politburo gathered in Beidaihe to come up with the party’s new leadership a few months ahead of its five-yearly national congress, which brought major power reshuffles in late 1987.

Deng was effectively pulling the strings behind the scenes in power plays within the party even when he held no key position except the head of the Central Military Commission with the People’s Liberation Army…

Former President Jiang Zemin followed the rule set by the party’s revolutionary veterans after Deng’s death in 1997.

That summer, all key reshuffles of the next Politburo, and Jiang’s five-yearly work report draft, to be presented at the Communist Party national congress late in the year, were deliberated among party elders and political heavyweights at Beidaihe before they gave their blessing…
Politburo HQ in Beidaihe

By the time Xi Jinping took the party’s helm in late 2012 – even though he had two living predecessors who might have watched over his shoulder, during a general decline of party elders’ influence and Xi’s consolidation of power – the political significance of the Beidaihe gathering, now described as the leadership’s retreat, has ebbed.

The source close to a party elder said: “Unlike the practice in 1980s and 1990s, in which there was at least one issue or two scheduled to be discussed in Beidaihe, nobody knows for the time being whether there is any agenda or meeting in the resort, although party elites are supposed to be all there to spend their summer holidays.”

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

Fewer people expect the Mexican inquisition

Americans seem to assume that the adversarial system of enforcing laws (used in the USA, Canada, and the UK) is "normal." It's not, but more countries are trying it out. Mexico is slowly making changes.

Judging Latin America’s judges
ONE morning this year, in a windowless modern courtroom, Jorge Alberto Rodríguez faced justice. He was accused of driving a stolen car with changed number plates. The judge began by explaining his rights to him. His lawyer then tried to trip up the policemen whom the prosecution had produced as witnesses. To no avail: after an adjournment to allow a missing defence witness to appear via video link, the judge found Mr Rodríguez guilty. That seemed to square with the evidence. Having been on bail for the nine months since his arrest, he was given a suspended jail sentence of five years and fined 15,000 pesos ($800).

Such a trial could have taken place in a British magistrate’s court. In fact, it was in Mexico City. The case was conducted under a radical judicial reform. This replaces an inquisitorial model, long the norm in Latin America, under which judges investigated and evidence was all in writing… The new system has taken more than a decade to roll out and is more expensive. But it has several advantages. Fewer defendants are remanded to overcrowded jails, cases are heard more quickly and the prosecution must publicly prove its case. Under the old system, judges relied on confessions (often extracted by torture).

Yet the reform is much criticised. Its introduction has coincided with a big rise in violence in Mexico. Although this was caused mainly by the fragmentation of criminal gangs and their move into new lines of business, many politicians blame the reform instead. Judges and prosecutors are insufficiently trained in the new ways and many are going back to “old practices”…

Mexico’s experience is not unique. Since the 1990s the main focus of judicial reform in Latin America has been on criminal procedures. In all, 15 countries have made the switch to the adversarial system. This is an improvement, but not a panacea…

Many Latin American countries have reformed their economies, electoral systems and welfare states. But establishing the rule of law is much harder. Courts depend on many other actors, especially police and prosecutors, as well as politicians and citizens. Judicial reform nearly always involves trade-offs, especially between independence and accountability. And better procedures do not in themselves create better judges or justice…

Judicial reform in Chile, as well as Mexico, has produced some improvements... But public vigilance has to be sustained if a reformed judicial system is not to lapse into bad ways…

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Control social media

The great Chinese firewall is well known. Who's in charge of maintaining it? Why a protege of Xi Jinping. Is guanxi any different from the links between members of political elites elsewhere?

Beijing names new internet watchdog as China keeps door closed to global tech giants
China has officially named Zhuang Rongwen as the new chief of the agency supervising China’s internet.
Zhuang Rongwen
The announcement that Zhuang would replace Xu Lin as head of the Cyberspace Administration of China confirms a report by the South China Morning Post last week, which also said that President Xi Jinping was seeking to shake up the country’s propaganda and censorship wings.

Xu, a former aide to Xi in Shanghai, is expected to become the party’s new international propaganda chief, sources told the Post last week…

Zhuang, in his new role as China’s cyberspace tsar, will be a key figure for global technology giants trying to get a foothold in the market of about 800 million online users…

China still bans a long list of social media platforms and websites from accessing the China market, including Twitter, Google, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook…

Zhuang, 57, who earlier worked under Xi in the province of Fujian, is rising quickly in the official hierarchy…

Zhuang’s career path had little to do with ideology control before his promotion to the cyberspace administration in 2015 as a deputy director…

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Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


Just The Facts! is available. Order HERE.

Amazon's customers gave this book a 5-star rating.







The Comparative Government and Politics Review Checklist.



Two pages summarizing the course requirements to help you review and study for the final and for the big exam in May. . It contains a description of comparative methods, a list of commonly used theories, a list of vital concepts, thumbnail descriptions of the AP6, and a description of the AP exam format. $2.00. Order HERE.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Absence of blog posts

If you've noticed the absence of posts here during the past week, think about what has dominated the news. Events relating to comparative politics in Mexico, Nigeria, and China just haven't made the editorial cut recently. While Russia and the UK have been in the news, it hasn't been for things that are relevant to comparative politics (in major ways).  

Well, and I've been on an informal vacation and lost in the throes of moving from one house to another.

Things will pick up. And meanwhile, search the index.