restricted access 1. Background to the Study of Political Capacity
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CHAPTER 1 Background to the Study of Political Capacity Most of the change we think we see in life Is due to truths being in and out of favor. -Robert Frost, "The Black Cottage" Until the early 1950s, comparative political analysis usually involved the rather narrow study of foreign governments. Comparative studies were limited in at least two important ways. First, they were primarily configurative. They placed considerable emphasis on the history of formal constitutional arrangements and political institutions, in the hope of illuminating the distinctive characteristics of particular nation-states. Second, they were restricted to a small number of states. Typically, a text on comparative government was actually a description of selected aspects of political life in the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and, after the Second World War, the Soviet Union. These two limitations produced a literature that emphasized the importance of case studies and that discouraged attempts to generalize from those cases. The implicit purpose of the study of comparative government was not actually to compare or to generalize about political life, but rather to gain some sense of what political life was like in a few other European countries. Minimally, such a sense might help foster a broader understanding of what American political life was all about. But the case studies emphasized cross-country differences rather than similarities and seldom added up to anything resembling a cumulative body of knowledge (Eckstein 1963). Indeed, that was not their goal. In the last thirty years, however, much of this has changed. The major impetus for this change was the process of decolonization initiated after the Second World War and the concomitant rise of the "new states," commonly known as the Third World. Although the Indian subcontinent was hardly the first area to achieve independence (consider Latin America), the partition and decolonization of India and Pakistan was most notable in this regard, for two reasons. First, the [To view this We[W, refer to the print version of this title.] 2 Power without Force British Empire was, as of the mid-1940s, by far the largest empire. Second, India was the "crown jewel" of that imperial estate. The decolonization of India set in motion forces that ultimately led to the dismantling of the rest of the British Empire, along with the other empires (Smith 1978; Fieldhouse 1982; Low 1982).1 This process accelerated throughout the 1950s, and the year 1960 saw more declarations of national independence than any other single year before or since. It is easy to forget that at its founding in 1945, the United Nations had only 51 charter members. In the years since, this figure has more than tripled, so that currently, well over 150 states are members of the United Nations. And an overwhelming majority of these are in the Third World. The changes have been so pronounced that today "colonies" are generally regarded as illegitimate. "Nationalism " is now, for better or for worse, the dominant political ideology (Gellner 1983). The United Nations charter specifies the right of national self-determination as the major political right. It is important to understand that this is a modern right peculiar to the twentieth century. It is also important to recognize that democratic ideology was the crucial ingredient that helped both to legitimize nationalism and to undermine colonial rule. The major grievance with colonial rule was that it did not derive from or represent the people it governed (Emerson 1960, 243). As a result, one way of undermining the legitimacy of the metropoles was to demand democratic institutions . This demand was also a powerful resource for indigenous elites, who used it to legitimize their own status as representatives of the indigenous population (Emerson 1960, 242-43; Young 1976, chap. 3; Collier 1982, 32-33). The result was that there were no new states "in which the elites who demanded independence did not, just prior to their success, believe that self-government and democratic government were identical" (Shils 1964, 103). Decolonization obviously introduced major problems. For the former colonial powers it was not clear how sovereignty should be transferred in a peaceful manner. Although few colonies had been obtained peacefully (to understate the case), the imperial powers did seem concerned after 1945 that they at least give the appearance of exiting in an orderly manner. The Europeans felt that if they had to leave, then, in Mackenzie's words, "it must be with honour, honour 1. For an interesting systematic analysis of the precipitants of decolonization, see...


Subject Headings

  • Legitimacy of governments.
  • Power (Social sciences).
  • Political development.
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