Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Discussing Neopatrimonialism and Patronal Presidentialism in the Central Asian Context

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Discussing Neopatrimonialism and Patronal Presidentialism in the Central Asian Context

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article first introduces the recent theoretical advances achieved through the concept of neopatrimonalism. Next, it links neopatrimonialism to the concept of patronal presidentialism, which has been used in the Eurasian space. It then analyzes the societal and economic mechanisms of these patronal regimes, deconstructs the links between patronage and "clan politics," and insists on the hybrid character of the norms and legitimacies of these regimes, thereby asserting that there is room for change and innovation. It concludes by discussing the cumulative knowledge offered by this special issue examining Central Asia.

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The concept of patrimonialism is both multidimensional and multidisciplinary. Its origins lie in Max Weber's sociology of domination and legitimacy, which defines three types of authority: traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational bureaucratic. According to Weber, institutions are the impersonal source of individual bonds in Western democracies, while the separation of public and private does not exist in ancient or medieval patrimonial societies. (1) In the 1960s, African independence revived debates on "modern patrimonialism" and the personal rule that seemed to define many sub-Saharan African regimes. (2) In 1973, following the work of Guenther Roth on "modern patrimonialism," Shmuel Eisenstadt proposed to employ the prefix neo- in order to dissociate a patrimonialism based on the traditional legitimacies from contemporary regimes that rely on more diverse mechanisms of legitimation, for example, taking into account the influence of external actors and a more binding international legal system. (3) Although this addition makes sense at the empirical level, it has remained controversial because the border between "traditional" and "modern" is slippery.

By the 1970s, the concept of neopatrimonialism quickly gained quasi-hegemonic status in the study of sub-Saharan Africa, largely through the work of Jean-Francois Medard. However, the term became a kind of catch-all concept, "in danger of losing its analytical utility" (4) and encompassing very diverse and sometimes poorly defined phenomena. In their seminal work Democratic Experiments in Africa, Bratton and van de Walle have advanced the discussion by stating that neopatrimonialism, unlike patrimonialism, co-exists with rational-legal legitimacy. The success or failure of transitions in sub-Saharan Africa must therefore take into account contingent factors like military interventions, political protests, and pro-democratic opposition, as well as international dependence. (5) More recently, the reflections of Erdmann and Engel have demonstrated that neopatrimonialism can be defined primarily by its conflicting norms. It is based on the close interaction between patrimonialism (all power relationships are personal relationships) and legal-rational bureaucratic domination (the distinction between the public and the private formally exists and is accepted, even if it is not respected). (6) Neopatrimonialism is therefore defined primarily by the hybridity between two logics of domination and legitimacy, a characteristic--hybridity--that is also found within the debates on the post-Soviet space that interest us here. (7)

The concept of neopatrimonialism is multidimensional because it is multidisciplinary, which may explain its catch-all character, but also guarantee its heuristic scope. A product of political science, neopatrimonialism also spread to economics and has ventured into the lands of anthropology and sociology--neopatrimonial practices as an extension of patriarchal domination beyond the boundaries of kinship. The dominant economic reading has emphasized the weight of neopatrimonial practices in order to understand the poor performance of many developing countries, or even their underdevelopment, the so-called "low" equilibrium or poverty trap. (8) The concept also has been frequently used in the debate over rentier economies, as rent-seeking and neopatrimonial practices are mutually reinforcing patterns toward non-productive economic activities. …

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