Political Sociology: A Reader

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Political Modernization: The Single-Party System

Rupert Emerson


The problem of modernization, be it political or otherwise, arises from the fact that a few of the world's societies have in the last centuries forged ahead to achieve riches and power which enabled them to overrun most of the rest of the world, establishing their imperial domination. To counter this power by coming to a level of equality with it and to secure their share of the more ample life which had now become possible, other peoples found themselves confronted by the necessity of rebuilding their societies on the model of those who had both stolen a lead and often the other peoples' countries as well. The most decisive push in this direction came as an unintended by-product of imperialism and more particularly of colonial rule.

It is startling to remember that the entire range of the last great forward surge of Western imperialism and its demise are embraced within the lifetime of anyone who has now reached the age of eighty or beyond. A conventional date for the beginning of this wave of imperialism is the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 which formally opened the scramble for Africa. Its end is marked by no such specific event but it follows close after World War II, although the forces working to overturn Western imperialism were obviously gathering in the interwar decades. The opening phases of the anti-colonial drive are marked by the independence in Asia of the Philippines and India, and in Africa of Morocco and Tunisia, the Sudan and Ghana, promptly followed by the extraordinary liberating sweep of 1960.

Save for scattered and isolated colonial dots on the map and the gravely threatening mass of southern Africa which remains white-dominated, the colonial era has come to an end with amazing suddenness and finality. Despite the warnings in some quarters against the threat of neo-colonialism, a

recrudescence of colonialism in anything even remotely reminiscent of its familiar guise is profoundly unlikely. It is indicative of the change which has taken place that it has become one of the major preoccupations of the United Nations, now largely in the hands of the new countries, to see that every vestige of colonialism vanishes. Where in the very recent past imperial power was a proud symbol of greatness and strength it has now been translated into evidence of sin which must be immediately eradicated. Disinterested observers are inclined, however, to the view that, while exceptions must be made on both sides and the weighting of the scales is difficult, territories under Western colonial rule, for all its evils and shortcomings, have made a more effective advance toward modernization than have comparable countries which somehow managed to evade becoming dependencies.

An examination of the problems of political modernization requires no elaborate survey of the early stages of Western imperialism, but two or three points may be singled out which have a significant bearing on the main theme. An essential ingredient of the contemporary problem is that with the rarest of exceptions training for self-government on modern lines is a very recent matter. It is, of course, true that some of the contacts of the European powers with southern Asia, from which empires later developed, date back to the beginning of the seventeenth century or even earlier. The connections of the British with India, of the Dutch with Indonesia, and of the Spanish with the Philippines were old‐ established by the time the partitioning of Africa got under way. In that part of the world the renewed burst of imperialism which characterized the three or four decades preceding World War I was largely an extension or consolidation of earlier imperial activities and acquisitions, involving both a rounding out of territorial holdings and an intensification and rationalization of European rule and economic exploitation. The modern colonial system which set the stage for a take-over by the presently independent governments was in good part a product of this

From Rupert Emerson, "Political Modernization: The Single‐ Party System," Monograph Series in World Affairs, Monograph No. 1 (Denver: Department of International Relations, University of Denver, 1963-1964), pp. 1-30. Reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author.


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