There is No Such Thing as "Absolutism" in Political Reality: A Weberian View

Aug 2013
613
Pomerium
#11
You can do a lot with 60% of the vote. In most countries in most instances that would equate to totalitarian power. The type (even if we look at Donald Trump as an example at 55.7% of the vote) escaping politics for a second that was used to stack the United States Supreme court with Republican leaning judges maintaining a stranglehold on 2 of the 3 parts of the seperations of powers and a near stranglehold on the legislative branch allowing almost total bias of outcomes. 60% or 55% even 120% There really isn't much difference.
They have a lot to learn from totalitarian regimes: they mustn't allow their detractors in the media and academia to make so much noise; they must deny their domestic population easy access to contents (in print and online alike) created by foreign based detractors; ...
 
Oct 2012
3,308
Des Moines, Iowa
#12
Yes, my point is that in every single state, even ones like North Korea, political power rests on some kind of consensus between multiple parties. It is physically impossible for any ruler, as an individual, to hold an absolute monopoly on political power. Even well-established autocratic rulers are always vulnerable to conspiracies by prominent parties, as we saw in Zimbabwe last year when Robert Mugabe was dethroned.
I just saw in the news that Omar al-Bashir, the leader of Sudan, has been deposed in a military coup (seemingly in support of mass civilian protests). Like Mugabe, Bashir was also a well-entrenched autocratic ruler with several decades' worth of political experience, but that proved insufficient. I think this also supports the thesis that I have put forward.
 
Apr 2018
951
Upland, Sweden
#13
There is no such thing as absolutism
Good analysis!

From your analysis it could well be deduced that some earlier, more sensible constitutional theorists have a point, and that the main dividing line is not between "absolute" and "democratic" or somesuch but rather between government that is responsible to something - and government that is not. What is called absolute power here is often instead opaque and dishonest wielding of power, that is not held accountable in a predictable manner to anyone or anything. Likewise there is a similar dividing line between power that is wielded in an arbitrary fashion and power that is wielded according to some kind of established prejudice, be that legal, religious, moral cultural or whatever.

That is not to say that there is a "perfectly responsible" government - all government must have a certain degree of independence, or it cannot be able to govern. The question rather becomes, will whatever agglomeration of interests it is that effectively governs have the interests of the nation at heart or will it serve to perpetuate other interests.

I think the reason we Westerners like to speak of "absolute power" is because European political history (excepting the 16 - 18th centuries) has traditionally been aristocratic rather than anything else, and there has also been arguably more congruence between established formal political rules and actual wielding of political power. There is an idea that power must be limited, somehow, by someone, in a predictable manner. There has also been a real decentralization of power in the form of dispersed property ownership and lack of clear monopoly on violence for much of European history. Coming from this background, starting with the Greeks, the Republican Romans (with an interregnum in the Empire maybe) and then back to Feudal Europe where you have a very decentralized structure, in some ways similar to the ancient city states of the Greeks... it is perhaps understandable that terms like "absolute" are used.

But I agree with you. It is not descriptive of an adequate social reality. There is a corresponding case to be made that the American Federal Government is much more powerful than any 18th century European monarch, looking at the sheer amount of influence they have over peoples' lives and the sheer amount of resources at their disposal (which they are really allowed to command with limited or no challenge!). The same could be said for any modern, western supposedly democratic state.


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A slight complication of your point could be religion and it's influence. Simply put: people are not entirely power-maximizing "rational" actors. Not even statesmen or faceless bureaucrats, necessarily. At least not in all regimes, at all times in history. But that is another discussion.
 
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