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Political Development and Political Decay

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2011

Samuel P. Huntington
International Affairs at Harvard
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Among the laws that rule human societies,” de Tocqueville said, “there is one which seems to be more precise and clear than all others. If men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the same ratio in which the equality of conditions is increased.”1 In much of the world today, equality of political participation is growing much more rapidly than is the “art of associating together.” The rates of mobilization and participation are high; the rates of organization and institutionalization are low. De Tocqueville's precondition for civilized society is in danger, if it is not already undermined. In these societies, the conflict between mobilization and institutionalization is the crux of politics. Yet in the fast-growing literature on the politics of the developing areas, political institutionalization usually receives scant treatment. Writers on political development emphasize the processes of modernization and the closely related phenomena of social mobilization and increasing political participation. A balanced view of the politics of contemporary Asia, Africa, and Latin America requires more attention to the “art of associating together” and the growth of political institutions. For this purpose, it is useful to distinguish political development from modernization and to identify political development with the institutionalization of political organizations and procedures. Rapid increases in mobilization and participation, the principal political aspects of modernization, undermine political institutions. Rapid modernization, in brief, produces not political development, but political decay.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1965

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1 Democracy in America (Bradley, Phillips edn., New York 1955), II, 118.Google Scholar

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12 Lerner, Passing of Traditional Society, chap.2.

13 For the reductio ad absurdum, see Khadduri, Majid, Modern Libya: A Study in Political Development (Baltimore 1963)Google Scholar, and Taylor, J. Clagett, The Political Development of Tanganyika (Stanford 1963).Google Scholar In the titles and content of both, “political development” has no analytical meaning. It is simply a synonym (euphemism?) for “political history.” Both books are good history, but they are not social science.

14 See, e.g., Esman, Milton J., “The Politics of Development Administration,” to be published in Montgomery, John D. and Siffin, William, eds., Politics, Administration and Change: Approaches to Development (New York 1965).Google Scholar Esman bases his analysis on the assumption that the political leaders of modernizing societies are motivated by the goals of nation-building and social-economic progress and not by desire for personal power, wealth, status, or the territorial expansion of their countries. This assumption has about the same degree of truth and usefulness in explaining politics in the contemporary “developing” areas as the assumption that Stalin's policies were devoted to building communism has to the explanation of Soviet politics in the 1930's.

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16 Almond, American Behavioral Scientist, VI, 6.

17 The concept of institutionalization has, of course, been used by other writers concerned with political development—most notably, S. N. Eisenstadt. His definition, however, differs significantly from my approach here. See, in particular, his “Initial Institutional Patterns of Political Modernisation,” Civilisations, XII (No. 4, 1962), 461–72, and XIII (No. 1, 1963), 15–26; “Institutionalization and Change,” American Sociological Review, XXIX (April 1964), 235–47; “Social Change, Differentiation and Evolution,” ibid., XXIX (June 1964), 375–86.

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23 Sills, David L., The Volunteers (Glencoe 1957), p. 266.Google Scholar Chap. 9 of this book is an excellent discussion of organizational goal replacement with reference to the YMCA, WCTU, Townsend Movement, Red Cross, and other case studies.

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31 Toynbee, Arnold J., A Study of History (Abridgement of Vols. I-VI by D. C. Somervell, New York 1947), 176–77.Google Scholar

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33 Holbert Turney-High, Harry, Primitive War (Columbia, S.C., 1949), 235–36.Google Scholar

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39 Daniel Lerner, “The Transformation of Institutions” (mimeo.), 19.

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59 Perhaps the closest contemporary model comes not from a social scientist but from a novelist: William Golding. The schoolboys (newly independent elites) of The Lord of the Flies initially attempt to imitate the behavior patterns of adults (former Western rulers). Discipline and consensus, however, disintegrate. A demagogic military leader and his followers gain or coerce the support of a majority. The symbol of authority (the conch) is broken. The voices of responsibility (Ralph) and reason (Piggy) are deserted and harassed, and reason is destroyed. In the end, the naval officer (British Marine Commandos) arrives just in time to save Ralph (Nyerere) from the “hunters” (mutinous troops).

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67 These are not, of course, the only ways of slowing mobilization. Myron Werner, for instance, has suggested that one practical method is “localization": channeling political interests and activity away from the great issues of national politics to the more immediate and concrete problems of the village and community. This is certainly one motive behind both community development programs and “basic democracies.”

68 Kornhauser, Politics of Mass Society, 150–58.

69 Pye, Politics, Personality and Nation Building, 114.

70 de Secondat, Charles, Montesquieu, Baron, Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des romains et de leur décadence, in Oeuvres, 1 (Paris 1828), 119–20.Google Scholar

71 William J. Foltz, “Building the Newest Nations: Short-Run Strategies and LongRun Problems,” in Deutsch and Foltz, eds., Nation-Building, 121.

72 Ibid., 123–24.

73 Washington Post, February 9, 1964, p. A-17.

74 See James S. Coleman, in Almond and Coleman, eds., Politics of the Developing Areas, Conclusion; Cutright, Phillips, “National Political Development: Its Measurement and Social Correlates,” in Polsby, Nelson W.Dentler, Robert A., and Smith, Paul A., eds., Politics and Social Life (Boston 1963), 569–82Google Scholar; von der Mehden, Politics of the Developing Nations, 54–64.

75 Ai Ssu-chi, quoted in Frederick T. C. Yu, “Communications and Politics in Communist China,” in Pye, ed., Communications and Political Development, 261–62.

76 Lenin, V. I., One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (The Crisis in Our Party), in Collected Works (Fineberg, and Jochel, trans., London 1961), 396–97.Google Scholar

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79 Pauker, World Politics, XI, 343.