Unlike Twins?! Comparing Democracies and Autocracies.

How should Democracies deal with Autocrats? Panel Discussion revisited.

How to deal with autocrats was the leading question of the public panel discussion on Thursday night. After a quick introduction in recent developments of spreading autocracies throughout the world and the strengthening of mostly right-wing populist and extremist movements and parties within democracies by Oliver Schlumberger, the moderater Raphael Rauch discussed with the panelists their perception and evaluation of these developments.


He discussed with Alice Thomas, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Chief of ODIHR Legislative Support Unit; Steven Heydemann, Smith College / United States Institute of Peace, Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution. Steffen Kailitz, Hannah Arendt Institut für Totalitarismusforschung / Technische Unviersität Dresden, and Andreas Schedler, CIDE Mexico City.

One of the basic assumtions was that even though there are internal and external autocrats on cannot argue with and talk with, Democracies, Democrats and international institutions should engage in both, communication and putting forward the values of democracy.


Get your hands dirtier! Towards a unified theory of autocracy and democracy

In his keynote, Andreas Schedler outlined some cornerstones for unified theory building for democracies and autocracies. Stating that there is a qualitative divide between democracies and autocracies concerning  basic principles – equality and liberty versus opression and hierarchy – Andreas pointed out that both types of political regimes are inhabited by human beings. This is a reason and an anchor for unified theory building, he argued: There should be one theory to explain how humans act – even under different conditions on the meso- and macro level, micro foundations should be the same.

IMAG1131Even though different on the aggregate level, Andreas identifies real similarities between autocracy and democracy. There are autocratic practices in democracies as well as democratic practices in autocracies. E.g. there are peaceful challenges to rule in autocracies and there are violations of human rights in democracies as well.  As the micrologics of behavior are very similar, Andreas argues that both types of political regimes are essentially comparable. Elections look similar, but work differently in terms of vertical accounatbility and responsiveness. A unified theory of electoral accountability thus would ask when elections fail in terms of accountability and responsiveness.

But developing a unified theory faces difficulties: theoretical and methodological ones.

In terms of theoretical foundations, Andreas claims that many studies suffer from very simple hypotheses that are decoupled from deeper theorizing. Thus, we must do better in theory development and inetgrate broader aspects of social theory as an important basis of theories in comparative politics.

Methodologically spoken, testing theories is a tough challenge. We might be incapable to test these theories, because of a lack of good data on autocracies. There are structural obstacles like the shadow of opression and the opagueness of autocracies as such. Also, it is dangerous tot o do field research in autocracies, and „it is not worth dying for social sciences“. Andreas argues that we usually managed these problems by keeping our distance. Nevertheless, we do have at least some information from within those countries from ethnographic work, field research, interviews, some surveys, some event data. But most is desk research that leads to big distance between us and our objects, Andreas argued. And especially proxy variables are problematic in this context.

In this view, comparative autocracy studies face a long list of missing data. The microfoundations have been put to blackboxes and much of the available data (socio-economic, expert judgements,  thin event data) leaves out almost everything about things we are interested in: microfoundations of institutions, dynamics, citizen attitudes, elite attitudes and so on.

Citing Milan Svolik, Andreas claims that due to these theoretical and methodological problems, „the days of crossnational regression analysis are over“, as we have thin theory and thin evidence. His proposition then is: we need much more reflection on security, ethics, methodology, inferential uncertainties, field work and collaborative work with people wihin autocracies. We must get hands a bit dirtier, Andreas says, and stop  pretending to know things we cannot know!


If you want to follow the conference in social media (as you already do while reading in this blog) , or if you want to contribute to its online coverage:


Conference preparation is almost ready, the program is fixed, catering is ordered. We also agreed to have sunny 15°C at least on Wednesday.


Andreas Schedler holding Keynote

Andreas Schedler will hold the keynote on Wednesday, 15.03., 18:00 at the „Unlike Twins“-Conference. The keynote will be on: „Bridging the Divide: Building and Testing Theories across Regime Types“.

andreas-schedler-3-cutAndreas Schedler is Professor of Political Science at CIDE in Mexico City. At present, he is Visiting Professor at the Institute for Political Science, Eberhard Karls University Tuebingen.

Andreas is author of The Politics of Uncertainty: Sustaining and Subverting Electoral Authoritarianism (Oxford University Press, 2013). His current research focuses on the subversion of democracy by illiberal governments.

The venue will be Alte Aula, Münzgasse 30, 72070 Tuebingen, one of the oldest buildings of Eberhard Karls University Tuebingen After the Keynote, there will be a reception where we will have the opportunity to discuss and socialize in a surroundig full of academic history.

Conference Program online

Having received many excellent proposals for panels and papers, the panel convenors and the local organization team have compiled the  updated conference program for March 2017. There will be 17 sessions with more than 70 presentations from internationally reknowned scholars of autocracy and democracy.

The conference will take place at the Eberhard Karls University Tübingen in the Rooms of the Theological Faculty, Theologicum, Liebermeisterstraße 12-18, D 72076 Tübingen from 15-17.March 2017.

You can either have a look at the program as a pdf-file or just scroll down for an overview of panels and presentations that deal with aspects of comparing autocracy and democracy:

Panel 1 – “Parliamentary Representation in Non-Democratic Regimes”

Chair:    Esther Somfalvy, IFSH – Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy. Presentations by:

  • Anja Osei (University of Konstanz): “Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Government-Opposition Interaction in the Authoritarian Legislature of Togo”
  • Daniel Stockemer (University of Ottawa): “(Democratic) Regime Change and the Representation of Women in Parliament”
  • Irene Weipert-Fenner (PRIF – Peace Research Institute Frankfurt): “Detectorand Agent of Change: The Autocratic Parliament in Mubarak’s Egypt”
  • Esther Somfalvy (IFSH): “Do Different Kinds of Regimes Represent Their Citizens Differently? Evidence from the Parliaments of Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic”
  • Kristin Eichhorn (Technical University Chemnitz): “Electoral Competitiveness and Turnout in Autocracies”

Panel 2 – „Macht Religion politische Systeme autokratisch?“ (Double Panel)

Chairs:    Gert Pickel, Universität Leipzig & Oliver Hidalgo, Universität Münster. Presentations by:

  • Oliver Hidalgo (Münster): „Religion als ‚autoritäres‘ Gegengewicht zur Demokratie? Theoretische und ideengeschichtliche Zugänge“
  • Christoph Trinn & Thomas Wencker (Heidelberg): “No State is an Island: Inter-Regime Cooperation in Transnational ConflictsSusanne Pickel (Duisburg): “Gods Own Country: Religion, politische Religion oder Religiosität als Spoiler of Democracy?
  • Marlene Mauk (Mainz): „Macht Religion Menschen autokratisch?“
  • Gert Pickel (Leipzig): „Verhindert der Islam Demokratisierung? Perspektiven aus der Sicht der politischen Kulturforschung“Cemal Öztürk & Toralf Stark (Duisburg): „Das ‚türkische Modell‘ in der Krise: Sind religiöse Individuen in der Türkei ‚genuine Demokraten‘? Eine Überprüfung  der Kompatibilität von ‚Islam‘ und ‚Demokratie‘ auf Grundlage der politischen Kulturforschung“
  • Jörg Baudner (Osnabrück): “From Religious to Populist Party (and Back)?”
  • Ludger Viefhues-Bailey (Syracuse): “Religion for the Illiberal State: The Example of Religious Liberty Laws in the U.S.”
  • Julia Gerlach (Leipzig): „Wie der Tempelberg in Jerusalem: Heilige Orte und russischer Diskurs um die Annexion der Krim“
  • Fabian Poetke (München): „Politische Anreize zur religiösen Aneignung der liberalen Demokratie: Das Fallbeispiel westdeutscher Bildungspolitik 1945-1965“

Panel 3 – “Same, Same but Different? Comparing the International Promotion of Democracy and Autocracy”

Chairs:    Julia Leininger, DIE – German Development Institute & the German Research Network External Democracy Promotion & Anna Lührmann, V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg, SWE. Presentations by:

  • Christoph H. Stefes & Betcy Jose (University of Colorado, Denver): “Contesting and Shaping International Norms: The Neglected Side of Autocracy Promotion”
  • Agnes Cornell (Aarhus University) & Anna Lührmann (University of Gothenburg): “The Role of Political Context in the Allocation of Democracy Aid”
  • Pavel Satra (Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg): “Autocracies’ Counterintuitive Delegation Preferences to International Human Rights Organizations”
  • Julia Bader (University of Amsterdam) & Christine Hackenesch (DIE – German Development Institute – DIE, Bonn): “What Drives Authoritarian Party to Party Interaction? The Chinese Communist Party and African Ruling Parties”
  • Tina Freyburg (University St. Gallen) & Julia Leininger (DIE – German Develop-ment Institute, Bonn): “Democracy Promotion Needs Democrats: How Societal Values Matter”

Panel 4 – “State Spending and Taxation in Democracies and Autocracies: Comparing Patterns of Resource Management“

Chairs:    Thomas Richter & Christian von Soest, beide GIGA – German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg. Presentations by

  • Christian von Haldenwang (DIE – German Development Institute, Bonn): “What Impact Does Political Regime Durability Have on Public Revenue Collection?” and “Does the political resource curse affect public finance? The vulnerability of tax revenue in resource-rich countries”
  • Ane Karoline Bak Foged (Aarhus University): “Taxation, Revenue Bargains and the Effect on Accountability Institutions in Developing Countries
  • Anne Mette Kjær & Marianne Ulriksen (Aarhus University): “The Unexplored Side of Fiscal Contract Theory: Revenue Bargains and Public Policy Provisions in Africa”
  • Thomas Richter (GIGA – German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg): “Taxation and the Formation of Political Institutions: An Explorative Analysis”
  • Rachel Beach (University of Aarhus): “Benin & Togo: the Unlike Twins of Revenue Mobilization in West Africa“
  • Solveig Richter (University of Erfurt): “Competing for Power and Money. State Capture and Limited Political Competition in Transition Countries”

Panel 5 – “Dimensions of Authoritarianism” (Double Panel), Intertional Aspects, Identity, State and Regime

Convenors & Chair:   Ahmad Maati & Oliver Schlumberger, University of Tübingen; Andreas Schedler (CIDE, Mexico City / University of Tübingen).Presentations by:

  • Marianne Kneuer, Thomas Demmelhuber, Tobias Zumbrägel, Raphael Peres-son Natalia Afanasyeva (University of Hildesheim & University of Erlangen): „Regional Organizations as Transmission Belt and Learning Room of Authoritarianism: Comparative Perspectives and Empirical Evidence”
  • Steven Heydemann (Smith College, Northampton): “Democracy Promotion, Institutions, and Authoritarian Resilience”
  • André Bank (GIGA – German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg): “Authoritarian Learning and Transnational Diffusion”
  • Morten Valbjørn (University of Aarhus): “What Is So Sectarian about Sectarian Politics? Identity Politics and Authoritarianism in a New Middle East”
  • Ahmad Maati (University of Tübingen): “Exclusivist Identity Formation, the State, and Authoritarianism“
  • Oliver Schlumberger (University of Tübingen): Authoritarian Resilience and the State in the Arab World“

Panel 6 – “Challenging the Churchill-Hypothesis Policy-Performance in Democracies and Autocracies in Comparison” (Double Panel)

Chair:       Stefan Wurster, Technical University Munich. Presentations by:

  • Henriette Müller (New York University, Abu Dhabi): “Understudied Parallels: Political Leadership and Economic Growth Across Regime Types”
  • Tobias Rommel (University of Zurich): “Political Regimes and Foreign Investment Liberalization”
  • Marlene Jugl (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin): “Small Is Democratic – or Monarchic? Population Size, Regime Type and State Performance”
  • Sebastian Stier (GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences): “Internet diffusion and Regime Type: Temporal Patterns in Technology Adoption“
  • Eda Keremoglu-Waibler (Universität Stuttgart): “Does Consultative Decision-Making Matter for Citizens’ Welfare in Authoritarian Regimes?”
  • Sebastian Ziaja (Research Center for Distributional Conflict and Globalization, Heidelberg University): “The Democratic Civil Peace Revisited: Assessing the Predictive Power of Political Regime Indicators”
  • Romy Escher & Melanie Walter-Rogg (Universität Regensburg): „Does the Choice of the Democracy Measure Matter in the Analysis of the Relationship between Democracy and Global Public Good Provision? The Case of Climate Policy Performance”
  • Aron Buzogány (BOKU Vienna, Institute of Forest, Environmental, and Natural Resources Policy): “Comparing Clean Energy Transitions over the Regime Divide”

Panel 7 – “Bridging Comparative Politics and Area Studies”

Chairs:    Patrick Köllner, GIGA – German Institute of Global and Area Studies / University of Hamburg  & Andreas Mehler, Arnold Bergsträsser Institute and University of Freiburg. Presentations by:

  • Patrick Köllner (GIGA, Hamburg), Ariel Ahram (Viriginia Tech), Rudra Sil (Uni-versity of Pennsylvania): “Comparative Area Studies: What It Is, What It Can Do?”
  • Christian von Soest (GIGA, Hamburg) & Alexander Stroh (University of Bayreuth): “Comparing across World Regions: Assets and Pitfalls”
  • André Bank (GIGA, Hamburg): “Comparative Area Studies and the Study of Middle East Politics after the Arab Uprisings”
  • Sophia Schubert (FU Berlin) & Alexander Weiß (HSU Hamburg): “Bridging Political Theory, Comparative Politics and Area Studies: A Plea for Global-transcultural Democracy Research”

Panel 8 – “Why Wrong Is Right: Justifying Exclusion and Repression in Autocracies and Democracies”

Chairs:    Maria Josua & Julia Grauvogel, GIGA – German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg. Presentations by:

  • Aurel Croissant, David Kuehn, Tanja Eschenauer (Heidelberg University): “The ‘Dictator’s Endgame’: Explaining Military Behavior in Nonviolent Anti-Incumbent Mass Protests”
  • Dag Tanneberg (University of Potsdam): “What is dead may never die … How Restrictions and Violence Defeat Direct Action Campaigns”
  • Jonas Wolff (PRIF – Peace Research Institute Frankfurt): “Justifying Civic Space Restrictions: Does Regime Type Matter?”
  • Holger Zapf (University of Göttingen): “Framing Protest: Delegitimizing Contention in Tunisia before and after 2011”
  • Ani Sarkissian (Michigan State University): “Defining ‘Normal’ Religion: How State Bureaus of Religion Help Governments Manage Opposition and Retain Political Power”

Panel 9 – “Disentangling the State-Regime Nexus” (Double Panel)

Chairs:    Thomas Altmeppen & Mirjam Edel, University of Tübingen Presentations by:

  • Thomas Altmeppen (University of Tübingen): “Blinded by the Light? Michael Mann and the Problem of Conceptual Confusion in the Study of States and Regimes”
  • Dan Slater and Christopher Haid (University of Chicago), Ferdinand Eibl (King’s College, London), and Steffen Hertog (LSE, London): “War Makes the Regime: Rebellion Type and the Origins of Authoritarian Regime Types”
  • Maya Tudor (Oxford University): “Disentangling States and Regime Sequencing in Postcolonial India and Pakistan”
  • Julia Leininger (DIE – German Development Institute, Bonn): “Eroding Democracy by Building the State: A Comparative Analysis of Mozambique”
  • Rachel Sigman and Steven Wilson, (V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg): “State Capacity Types and Regime Outcomes”
  • David Anderson (Aarhus University): “Political Dilemmas in State-Building: Why Germany and Argentina Finally Settled for Democracy while Thai Democracy is Still Struggling“
  • Alexander Schmotz (King’s College, London): “Revolution Gone Awry: Popular Uprisings, Regime Breakdown, and State Failure“
  • Matilde Thorsen, Alexander Taaning Grundhold, and David Ulrichsen (Aarhus University): “Motivated and Able to Make a Difference for the Poor? The Compli-mentary Effects of Democracy and State Capacity in Promoting Human Develop-ment”

Panel 10 – “Welfare-Production-Regime Triangle: Comparing Welfare State and Capitalism in Democracies and Autocracies”.

Chairs:    Daniel Buhr & Markus Trämer, University of Tübingen. Presentations by:

  • Markus Trämer (University of Tübingen): “Which institutional complementarities underpin authoritarian economies and welfare systems? China, Vietnam and Laos”
  • Aline Grünwald (SOCIUM – Research Center on Inequality and Social Policy Bremen): “The historical roots of old age pension systems in democratic and nondemocratic regimes around the world”
  • Daniel Buhr (University of Tübingen): n.n.
  • N.N.

Panel 11–“Rule of Law vs. Rule by Law: How Do Autocracies & Democracies Govern?”

Chairs:    Mirjam Edel & Rolf Frankenberger, University of Tübingen. Presentations by:

  • Michael Hein (Humboldt Universität, Berlin): “The Codification of Constitutional Entrenchment Clauses in Democracies and Autocracies”
  • Jörn Knobloch (University of Potsdam): “Rule of Man Not Rule of Law: Practical Foundations of Authoritarian Regimes and the Impact of Law”
  • David Andersen & Agnes Cornell (Aarhus University):“Political Regime Dynamics and State Impartiality”
  • Mirjam Edel (University of Tübingen): “Which Role of Law? Conceptualizing Legal and Judicial Aspects of Political Repression”

 Panel 12 – “Concept Formation and Explorative Methods: What and How Can MethodsContribute to Regime Classification in Comparative Politics?

Chairs:    Toralf Stark, Universität Duisburg-Essen & Rolf Frankenberger, University of Tübingen. Presentations by:

  • Sebastian Ziaja (Heidelberg University) & Martin Elff (ZU Friedrichshafen)“Latent Dimensions, Latent Classes and Method Factors in Political Regime Data”
  • Seraphine F. Maerz (Central European University, Budapest): “The Conditions of Authoritarian Persistence: Classifying Autocratic Regimes by Applying Fuzzy-Set Qualitative Comparative Analysis”
  • Christoph Mohamad-Klotzbach & Oliver Schlenkrich (Universität Würzburg): “The State-Regime Nexus: A Political Culture-Perspective”
  • Ani Sarkissian (Michigan State University) & Karrie Koesel (University of Notre Dame): “Religion and the Authoritarian Toolkit”


Joint Call for Papers

The conference date comes closer. Meanwhile, many scholars contributed to the call for panels, so that we were able to compile an interesting table of panels. The conference will comprise 14 panels addressing various aspects of the discipline and the comparison of democracy and autocracy. We encourage scholars of comparative politics and neighboring disciplines to contribute to the discussion and propose papers focusing on key aspects of the panels.

Here you can find the Joint Call for Papers.

The Panels will adress the following aspects:

  1. Parliamentary representation in non-democratic regimes (Katharina Buck, Esther Somfalvy)
  2. Macht Religion politische Systeme autokratisch? (Gert Pickel, Oliver Hidalgo)
  3. “Same, same but different? Comparing the International Promotion of Democracy and Autocracy” (Double Panel) (Julia Leininger, Anna Lührmann)
  4. State Spending and Taxation in Democracies and Autocracies: Comparing Patterns of Resource Management (Thomas Richter, Christian von Soest)
  5. Political Competition in Democracies and Autocracies (Johannes Gerschewski, Aiko Wagner)
  6. Challenging the Churchill-Hypothesis Policy-Performance in Democracies and Autocracies in Comparison (Stefan Wurster)
  7. Bridging Comparative Politics and Area Studies (Jürgen Rüland, Patrick Köllner)
  8. Why Wrong Is Right: Justifying Exclusion and Repression in Autocracies and Democracies (Maria Josua, Julia Grauvogel)
  9. Rente, Revenue und Regime: Zum Nexus von Staats-finanzierung, Gesellschaft und politischer Herrschafts-ordung (Philip Fehling, Stefan Peters)
  10. “Disentangling the State-Regime Nexus” (Double Panel) (Thomas Altmeppen, Mirjam Edel)
  11. Welfare – Production -Regime Triangle: Comparing Welfare State and Capitalism in Democracies and Autocracies (Daniel Buhr; Markus Trämer)
  12. Rule of Law vs. Rule by Law. How Autocracies and Democracies govern. (Rolf Frankenberger, Mirjam Edel)
  13. Concept formation and Explorative Methods: What and how can methods contribute to Regime Classification in comparative politics? (n.n., Rolf Frankenberger)
  14. Political Education and Comparative Politics (n.; Siegfried Frech)

Technical Information
Panels (90 minutes) include up to four individual papers. (If the number of papers makes it necessary, there might be the opportunity for double-panels). Conference languages are German and English. Conference participants therefore should be ready to receive German and English presentations at the conference. Paper givers should please stick to the panels working languages that are indicated in the CfPs.

Deadline for submitting paper proposals is November 20, 2016.

Paper Proposals shall not exceed a length of 800 words. Please send your paper proposal directly to the panel convenors (see addresses in the calls) and please cc: the conference organizers: rolf.frankenberger@uni-tuebingen.de

Panel Chairs will decide on the acceptance of papers until November 30, 2016. The conference program will be published until December 10, 2016.


Call for Panels – Unlike Twins?!

As discussed in the previous contribution, Comparative Politics as a discipline is at the crossroads and the question of how to compare rises again. In order to discuss theoretical and methodological developments as well as new challenges, the section „Comparative Politics“ of the DVPW organizes a conference from 15.-17. March 2017 at the Institute of Political Science, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen.

The conference „Unlike Twins?! Comparing Democracies and Autocracies“ aims to be a platform for bringing together scholars in order to discuss recent developments and challenges related to the systematic comparison of democracy and autocracy. This includes a critical reappraisal of existing concepts, methods, and findings, as well as the discussion of new perspectives in comparative politics. The two main objectives thus are to capture the state of the art of the discipline and to assess the (old and new) challenges we face when we compare different political regimes, such as autocracy and democracy.

Interested scholars of Political Science are encouraged to contribute to this conference by proposing panels. You can find the complete call for panels here:

2017 Call for Panels – Unlike Twins?!

To approach these topics we welcome panels that address one or more of the following issues:

  • Theoretical and conceptual aspects of comparing political systems
  • Methodological aspects and methods of democracy‐autocracy comparisons
  • Power and rule
  • Policies in a comparative perspective
  • Political Culture, Political Education and Political Systems

Even though many of the questions raised are theory‐driven, contributions focusing more on the theoretically informed presentation and reflection of empirical findings on one or more of the topics are more than welcome.


Comparative Politics at the crossroads?

Coming from attempts to compare political systems as the “means by which societies consciously formulate and pursue collective goals in their domestic environments”[1] from a systems theory and functionalist perspective, aspiring general explanations of political life, the discipline experienced a quick differentiation and specialization of theoretical, methodological, thematic and regional approaches over the previous six decades. Today, Comparative Politics is engraved by theoretical and methodological pluralism and most of the contemporary theoretical approaches aim at medium range explanations. There is a (vastly peaceful) co-existence of different theoretical approaches. This includes the ontological dualism of positivism and constructivism. The growing body of empirical methods used in Comparative Politics reflects this plurality. Single case studies, more or less rigorous small-n comparative designs, medium and large-n studies come along with methods ranging from content analysis to process tracing, from anecdotal evidence to discourse analysis, from QCA to statistical clustering and regressions. Multi-level analyses and mixed-method approaches complete the broad variety of methods.

In other words, Comparative Politics nowadays answers specific rather than general questions. On the one hand, this specialization allows for in-depth analysis and potentially strong causal inference. On the other hand, it limits the scope of theoretical explanations. Even though theoretical and methodological pluralism foster creativity and innovation, Comparative Politics as a discipline buys a whole bunch of problems with it, like theoretical, thematic and geographic fragmentation, questions of conceptual stretching and concept travelling, and even parochialism.

This holds especially true, when looking at the heart of Comparative Politics: the identification, classification, and comparison of different political systems. In fact, the core categories democracy and autocracy themselves are still theoretically and empirically contested concepts. In addition, they both often have been treated like “unlike twins”. Systematic comparisons between these species have frequently been eschewed, and fundamental questions of what is comparable, how to compare best, and which specific challenges come with such comparisons, remain open. In the previous decades, a clear focus of the highly differentiated comparisons in the disciplines subfields lay on democracies rather than on autocracies. This is partly due to the “western” nature of comparative politics as a discipline, but there are also other reasons for this. It might be also because of the ability to generate more reliable and valid data on these more open societies. Another main reason can be found in the ontological bases of Comparative Politics: Following argumentations rooted in systems and modernization theory as well as normative preferences for democracies, autocracies often were seen as less differentiated, pre-modern political systems. Thus, many of the approaches to assess regime types and their transformation asked for conditions, mechanisms and reasons of and for democratization instead of investigating the logics of autocratic rule in its own right.

Yet, empirical findings though showed the need for more in-depth analysis of internal logics of autocracies, as some of them proved highly resilient during the four waves of democratization. It is only in recent years that comparative research on autocracies skyrocketed. A fast growing body of literature investigates in autocratic institutions, power, legitimation, policies and so on. As a result, comparative politics now can draw much more differentiated pictures of how authoritarian regimes function, succeed, and fail in terms of regime persistence.

Now, the question of how to compare rises again. Mainly driven by sub-fields and area-studies, more and more attempts to compare the “unlike twins” autocracy and democracy in a more systematic way have been pursued. However, as the above-mentioned fragmentation has led to highly specialized approaches, there now seems to be a lack of guiding frameworks for comprehensive research. And apart from macro quantitative and area-related comparisons there is hardly any systematic comparison between democracy and autocracy. This development brings comparative politics back to its roots in the “systems analysis of political life” (David Easton) and leads to the insight that a more comprehensive framework might be necessary for the new challenges of comparing autocracy and democracy. But is the orientation backwards a solution for analyzing and comparing the highly complex political systems in their environment? Don’t we buy all of the problems linked with general theory again – like a lack of explanative and prognostic power, too abstract analytical level – that  were supposed to be overcome by modern comparative politics?  What are new developments in theories, methods, and thematic challenges?

[1] Almond, Gabriel / Powell, G. Bingham (1966): Comparative Politics. A developmental approach. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, p.6