A few months ago I wrote about Samuel Finer’s contribution to our understanding of government. Well, there was a point to it: on November 3rd the University of Manchester is honouring him with a conference on the “Development of Government”, through which we aim to discuss Finer’s lasting relevance for current debates on government retrenchment here in the North, public sector reform in the South, and the role of governance indicators in the new SDG global agenda. I will be a presenter on the PSR panel, flanked by far more eminent people than myself, and the programme promises to deliver an engaging day of actual conversation (how un-academic!). Sign up here if you are interested in attending, and keep an eye on the Effective States blog for further information about Samuel Finer and the conference.
Scholars of comparative politics have spent decades arguing over how to classify regimes around the world. To begin with, despite what the media and political rhetoric would have us believe, there are many shades of democracy and autocracy: presidential, parliamentarian or plebiscitarian democracies; strong-man, military, or single-party autocracies, and so on. But what Huntington termed the “third wave” of democratization led to a panoply of countries worldwide that moved away from dictatorship but did not quite reach the standards of democracy. Scholars in American political science wrote about “hybrid regimes”, using such labels as”competitive authoritarianism”, “electoral authoritarianism”, “illiberal democracy” – a veritable cottage industry of typologies which some authors called “democracy with adjectives”.
A core feature with this endless typological debate is its focus on the regimes of the last 50 years or so since decolonization. If you want to learn about regimes in a historical, comparative way you have to look elsewhere, and there are hardly better elsewheres than Samuel Finer‘s massive The History of Government from the Earliest Times (1997). Continue reading Palace, Forum, Church, Nobility (Finer on Government)