Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Weakspots of Despotism.

The theorist of non-violent resistance Gene Sharp has been credited as the major intellectual influence on the Arab Spring. It was seminal book From Dictatorship to Democracy that has been cited as the principle inspiration for the grass-roots uprisings all over the Middle East and democratic movements elsewhere. Let's be careful not attribute too much to Sharp, the revolutionary explosion came out of certain socio-economic conditions in the region. We shouldn't exaggerate the role of external sparks, the democratic movements of the Middle East were endogenous. To suggest otherwise risks the reinforcement of Orientalist illusions of a primitive Arab rabble, 'It had to be our revolution really, they couldn't have done it on their own!' But it was interesting to flick through Sharp's book and I recommend it. In regard to political power it cites the following sources:

1. Authority, the belief among the people that the regime is legitimate, and that they have a moral duty to obey it;
2. Human resources, the number and the importance of the persons and groups which are obeying, cooperating, or providing assistance to the rulers;
3. Stills and knowledge, needed by the regime to perform specific actions and supplied by the cooperating persons and groups;
4. Intangible factors, psychological and ideological factors that may induce people to obey and assist the rulers;
5. Material resources, the degree to which the rulers control or have access to property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, and means of communication and transportation; and
6. Sanctions, punishments, threatened or applied, against the disobedient and non-cooperative to ensure the submission and cooperation that are needed for the regime to exist and carry out its policies.

Sharp notes that each of these sources in turn presupposes a degree of acceptance of the regime, whether it just be submission or complicity, which is not guaranteed. This is very interesting with regard to the section on the weaknesses of dictatorships, which lists the following weaknesses:

1. The cooperation of a multitude of people, groups, and institutions needed to operate the system may be restricted or withdrawn.
2. The requirements and effects of the regime's past policies will somewhat limit its present ability to adopt and implement conflicting policies.
3. The system may become routine in its operation, less able to adjust quickly to new situations.
4. Personnel and resources already allocated for existing tasks will not be easily available for new needs.
5. Subordinates fearful of displeasing their superiors may not report  accurate or complete information needed by the dictators to make decisions.
6. The ideology may erode, and myths and symbols of the system may become unstable.
7. If a strong ideology is present that influences one's view of reality, firm adherence to it may cause inattention to actual conditions and needs.
8. Deteriorating efficiency and competency of the bureaucracy, or excessive controls and regulations, may make the system's policies and operation ineffective.
9. Internal institutional conflicts and personal rivalries and hostilities may harm, and even disrupt, the operation of the dictatorship.
10. Intellectuals and students may become restless in response to conditions, restrictions, doctrinalism, and repression.
11. The general public may over time become apathetic, skeptical, and even hostile to the regime.
12. Regional, class, cultural, or national differences may become acute.
13. The power hierarchy of the dictatorship is always unstable to some degree, and at times extremely so Individuals do not only remain in the same position in the ranking, but may rise or fall to other ranks or be removed entirely and replaced by new persons.
14. Sections of the police or military forces may act to achieve their own objectives, even against the will of established dictators, including by coup d'etat.
15. If the dictatorship is new, time is required for it to become well established.
16. With so many decisions made by so few peole in the dictatorship, mistakes of judgment, policy, and action are likely to occur.
17. If the regime seeks to avoid these dangers and decentralizes controls and decision making, its control over the central levers of power may be further eroded.

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