They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy — myself.

— Suicidal Tendencies, Institutionalized

I was a discussant on an excellent panel on authoritarian legislatures at APSA 2013. If this is the state of the art in the study of authoritarian legislatures, we are in a good state.

One point that I’ve been mulling over since then is about who a regime’s “enemies” are. In three of the four papers, the focus is on citizens and movements outside of the regime itself. The regime needs to manage this (latent or actual) opposition, and at the same time, citizens and movements may try to use the regime’s own institutions to further their interests. In one of the four papers, though, the regime faces challenges from within its own ranks.

When we distinguish who an authoritarian regime’s enemies can be, we can see a bit more clearly that the “powersharing” function of authoritarian institutions is about managing internal challenges (“stuck me in an institution…to protect me from the enemy — myself”). The “cooptation” function of authoritarian institutions is about managing external challenges by bringing them somehow into closer contact with the regime.

One interesting direction for research would to be think about the strategic alliances between internal and external enemies and the conditions under which such alliances will emerge and succeed. In my own critique of recent work on authoritarian institutions, I used the example of Anwar Ibrahim: a former outsider who almost became the consummate insider (he was Deputy Prime Minister), but has since become the consummate outsider. His expulsion from UMNO was at least in part a strategic move on Mahathir Mohamad‘s part to forestall the possibility that Anwar would forge an alliance between some faction within UMNO and the country’s opposition. This “endogenous distinction between insiders and outsiders” seems ripe for exploration.

Comments 2

  1. Beef September 11, 2013

    O’Donnell & Schmitter (1986) was exactly about this interesting direction of research. Amazing how circular our field can be, no?

    • tompepinsky September 11, 2013

      Agreed! The “elite splits” approach of O’D and S, Higley and Burton, etc. was useful, but never pursued because it was hard to measure elite behavior in authoritarian regimes in a non-tautologous way. Here’s where I think some formalization might lead us forward.

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