Complexity and the Limits of Revolution: What Will Happen to the Arab Spring?
- 1.7k Downloads
The recent social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa has deposed dictators who had ruled for decades. While the events have been hailed as an “Arab Spring” by those who hope that repressive autocracies will be replaced by democracies, what sort of regimes will eventually emerge from the crisis remains far from certain. Here we provide a complex systems framework, validated by historical precedent, to help answer this question. We describe the dynamics of governmental change as an evolutionary process similar to biological evolution, in which complex organizations gradually arise by replication, variation, and competitive selection. Different kinds of governments, however, have differing levels of complexity. Democracies must be more systemically complex than autocracies because of their need to incorporate large numbers of people in decision-making. This difference has important implications for the relative robustness of democratic and autocratic governments after revolutions. Revolutions may disrupt existing evolved complexity, limiting the potential for building more complex structures quickly. Insofar as systemic complexity is reduced by revolution, democracy is harder to create in the wake of unrest than autocracy. Applying this analysis to the Middle East and North Africa, we infer that in the absence of stable institutions or external assistance, new governments are in danger of facing increasingly insurmountable challenges and reverting to autocracy.
KeywordsMiddle East Democratic Government External Intervention Autocratic Government Governmental Change
We thank Greg Lindsay, Karla Z. Bertrand, Dominic Albino, Urbano França, and Yavni Bar-Yam for editorial assistance, Lawrence E Susskind, Robert H. Bates, and Dietrich Rueschemeyer for helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported in part by AFOSR under grant FA9550-09-1-0324, ONR under grant N000140910516.
- 2.Becker, J., & Goldstone, J. A. (2005). State development after revolutions - Rapid state building or transforming existing structures under pressure? In M. Lange & D. Rueschemeyer (Eds.), States and development: Historical antecedents of stagnation and advance (pp. 183–210). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- 3.Michels, R. (2001). Political parties: A sociological study of the oligarchical tendencies of modern democracy. Ontario: Batoche Books.Google Scholar
- 4.Rueschemeyer, D. (2005) Building states: Inherently a long-term process? An argument from theory. In M. Lange & D. Rueschemeyer (Eds.), States and development: Historical antecedents of stagnation and advance (pp. 143–164). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- 5.Weede, E., & Muller, E. N. (1997) Consequences of revolutions. Rationality and Society, 9, 327 (1997).Google Scholar
- 6.Acemoglu, D., & Robinson, J. A. (2006). Economic origins of dictatorship and democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- 7.Foran, J., & Goodwin, J. (1993). Revolutionary outcomes in Iran and Nicaragua: Coalition fragmentation, war, and the limits of social transformation. Theory and Society, 22, 209 (1993).Google Scholar
- 9.Goldstone, J. A. (1998). The encyclopedia of political revolutions. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly.Google Scholar
- 10.Rueschemeyer, D. (2010, October). On the state and prospects of comparative democratization research. Comparative Democratization Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA-CD) Newsletter, 8, 1.Google Scholar
- 13.Lagi, M., Bertrand, K. Z., & Bar-Yam, Y. (2011, August 10). The food crises and political instability in North Africa and the Middle East. arXiv:1108.2455.Google Scholar
- 14.Bar-Yam, Y. (2005). Making things work: Solving complex problems in a complex world. Cambridge, MA: NECSI Knowledge Press.Google Scholar
- 16.Bonner, J. T. (1988). The evolution of complexity by means of natural selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- 18.Bar-Yam, Y. (2002). Complexity rising: From human beings to human civilization, a complexity profile. In Encyclopedia of life support systems. Oxford: UNESCO/EOLSS.Google Scholar
- 19.Ashby, W. R. (1956). An introduction to cybernetics (Chap. 11). London: Chapman & Hall.Google Scholar
- 20.Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking Penguin.Google Scholar
- 24.Boix, C., & Svolik, M. (2011). The foundations of limited authoritarian government: Institutions and power-sharing in dictatorships, Working paper.Google Scholar
- 27.Marshall, M. G., & Marshall, D. R. (2011). Coup d’Etat events, 1946–2010: Codebook. Center for Systemic Peace.Google Scholar
- 28.Marshall, M. G., Jaggers, K., & Gurr, T. R. (2012). Polity IV project: Political regime characteristics and transitions, 1800–2010. Center for Systemic Peace.Google Scholar
- 29.Gleditsch, K. S. (2008). Modified polity P4 and P4D data, version 3.0. http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~ksg/polity.html.
- 31.Huntington, S. P. (1968). Political order in changing societies. London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar