Category Archives: Governance
For a fleeting moment during the final decade of the twentieth century, the general trajectory of conflict across the world seemed clear. With the Cold War over, the number of interstate wars was in free-fall and the dominant form of violence was internal, within fragmenting states no longer propped up by their superpower sponsors. The age of ‘total war’ between states had thus been largely superseded by a wave of civil conflicts, often characterised as ‘new wars’, fought for the most part in rural hinterlands and widely considered as limited in scope and scale.
Over a decade into the new millennium, however, the trajectory now looks far from straightforward. Like international wars, civil wars too have been steadily declining in number. Yet from Colombia to Cairo, Brazil to Baghdad and Kenya to Kandahar, each month brings new manifestations of what Arjun Appadurai (in)famously termed the ‘implosion of global and national politics into the urban world’. Although riots, gang crime, and terrorist attacks have afflicted cities for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, the increasing ubiquity of such events – even if not ‘wars’ in any conventional sense – suggest that the hallmark of the contemporary period is one of rising ‘urban conflict’ rather than ‘peace’. (more…)
In his landmark study of the civic traditions of Italy, Robert Putnam showed how differences in the norms and patterns of behavior that drove societies in northern and southern Italy had profound influence on development outcomes, governance, innovation, and the prospects for democracy. As he explained,
Some regions of Italy, we discover, are blessed with vibrant networks and norms of civic engagement, while others are cursed with vertically structured politics, a social life of fragmentation and isolation, and a culture of distrust. These differences in civic life turn out to play a key role in explaining institutional success.
These patterns are deep-seated, and can be traced back as much as a millennium. Governments had come and gone. Economies had evolved tremendously. Lives had changed enormously, especially in the last few decades. But the basic underlying dynamic that drove how people interacted with each other, how officials behaved, and how government acted retained an important essence that had deep influence. Path dependence was hard to break. Why? (more…)
The below are excerpts from an article originally appearing in World Politics Review.
The conditions for revolt or revolution to spread throughout society are reasonably well established: First, the national government must be closed to broad participation or popular control. Second, the government must be weakened by some sort of crisis. This crisis may be a material one, such as a military or development failure, fiscal distress, sustained inflation or sharp spikes in food prices. Or the crisis may be ideological, as when a government seeks to impose an ideology that is widely opposed by its own elites, or when a government is seen as compromised by identification with foreign enemies. Or it may be a succession crisis that leads elites to shift allegiances and contend for power in a coming leadership change. Several of these items may combine to create a widespread sense of uncertainty and anxiety about the future.
In such periods of social anxiety, a great deal depends on which groups are willing to support the regime and which groups still perceive the leadership as legitimate. Governments that are perceived as just and effective generally retain the support of key elites and thus popular groups; they are therefore quite resistant in the face of . . . challenges. On the other hand, states that are widely considered ineffective or unjust by their population rapidly lose key supporters and can succumb with astounding quickness in the face of challenges — as in the Philippines in 1986, the Soviet Union in 1989 and Tunisia and Egypt in 2010-2011. (more…)