What is ‘Political Decay’?

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In 1968, just as the United States’ war in Vietnam was reaching its apex, Huntington published Political Order in Changing Societies, which was a critique of the modernization theory which had driven much US policy in the developing world in the prior decade.

Huntington argues that, as societies modernize, they become more complex and disordered. If the process of social modernization that produces this disorder is not matched by a process of political and institutional modernization-a process which produces political institutions capable of managing the stress of modernization-the result may be violence.

In the 1970s, Huntington applied his theoretical insights as an advisor to governments, both democratic and dictatorial. In 1972, he met with Medici government representatives in Brazil; a year later he published the report “Approaches to Political Decompression”, warning against the risks of a too-rapid political liberalization, proposing graduated liberalization, and a strong party state modeled upon the image of the Mexican Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). After a prolonged transition, Brazil became democratic in 1985.

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Huntington frequently cited Brazil as.a success, alluding to his role in his 1988 presidential address to the American Political Science Association, commenting that political science played a modest role in this process.

Critics, such as British political scientist Alan Hooper, note that contemporary Brazil has an especially unstable party system, wherein the best institutionalized party, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party emerged in opposition to controlled-transition. Moreover, Hooper claims that the lack of civil participation in contemporary Brazil stems from that top-down process of political participation transitions.

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