In the article, “Political development and political decay,” Samuel Huntington explores the conflict between political mobilization and institutionalization and the importance of institutional development concerning democratization. A common occurrence in much of the developing world is the fact that political participation is growing much more rapidly than formal political institutions. In many of the developing societies, the conflict between mobilization and institutionalization is an area of chief concern in politics. Despite the growing importance of political institutionalism, much of the literature written about the developing world tends to ignore the idea for the most part. Instead, political scientists tend to emphasize the processes of modernization and the idea of social mobilization and increasing political participation. Huntington argues that a more balanced view of contemporary politics in the developing world instead requires more attention to the growth of political institutions and that it is useful to distinguish political development from modernization and to instead identify political development with the institutionalization of political organizations and procedures. Additionally, Huntington states that rapid increases in political mobilization and participation instead undermine political institutions and lead to political decay

Samuel Huntington first explores the concept of political development as modernization. Even though definitions of political development are varied, most share two closely related characteristics. The first characteristic is that growth is synonymous with the idea of modernization. As such, political development is also defined as political modernization. The second is that there exist many ways to measure political development because modernization and development are broad topics that cover many different areas. Additionally, definitions of political development tend to itemize many different criteria. Even though the rules defining political development used are varied, the characteristics that make up political development are all features of the processes of modernization. Four categories occur in all of the definitions of political development. The first characteristic is that of rationalization, which highlights the focus on functional differentiation and achievement criteria. The second criteria are nationalism, which emphasizes nation-states and nation-building as fundamental aspects of political development. The third criteria are the idea of democratization, which is essentially a focus on competition and equalization of power. The last criteria are mobilization, which is a focus on political participation. Political participation stipulates that the greater the level development, the greater the level modernization. As such a higher level of modernization results in increased political mobilization and political participation.

Samuel Huntington then goes on to discuss some of the problems surrounding the definitions of political development. The first issue he identifies is that the identification of political development with modernization or with factors usually associated with modernization drastically limits the applicability of the concept. As modernization is defined in immediate terms, its relevance is thus limited to only modern nation-states or emerging nation-states. Development is identified with only one type of political system, rather than as a concept that can be used to characterize any political system. The second problem with many definitions of political development is that it is also broadened to include almost all politically relevant aspects of the modernization process. Additionally, there is a natural tendency to assume that political development is all a piece, that one thing that leads to positive results is compatible with another, often different thing. The third issue is that many definitions of political development fail to distinguish the empirical relevance of the components making up the definition. The gap between theory and reality also suggests a fourth difficulty in many concepts of political development. The difficulty is that there exist only one-way ideas and that their reversibility is not permitted. On the contrary, Huntington argues that any concept of political development should be reversible and that is should ideally define both political development and the circumstances in which political decay occurred.

Samuel Huntington next looks at political development as institutionalization. Huntington states that it is important to define political development as the institutionalization of political organizations and procedures. Such a characterization would separate development from modernization and can be applied to the analysis of political systems of any sort, not just modern ones. Additionally, it can be defined in reasonably precise ways which can be measured using qualitative means. As a concept, it suggests that movement can be in both directions and it focuses on the mutual interaction between the social processes of modernization and strengths and weaknesses of political structures in transitional, traditional, and modern societies. The strength of political organizations and procedures vary with their scope of support and their level of institutionalization. The scope is the extent to which the political organizations and procedures encompass activity in the society, whereas the level of institutionalization in a political system is defined by the overall adaptability, complexity, and autonomy of a political organization.

Samuel Huntington also states that an organization or procedure is more institutionalized if it is more adaptable to change. On the other hand, the less flexible and more rigid an organization is, it has a lower level of institutionalization. Adaptability is an acquired organizational characteristic and is a function of environmental challenge and age. For example, the more problems which have arisen in its environment and the older it is, an organization is more adaptable to change. Additionally, rigidity is more characteristic of young organizations than of old ones. On the other hand, experienced organizations and procedures are not necessarily adaptable if they have existed in a static environment. If an organization has developed a set of responses for dealing effectively with one type of problem, and if it is then confronted with a new issue, the organization might become a victim of its past successes and be unable to adjust to any new challenges. However, the first hurdle is the biggest one and success in adapting to one environmental challenge paves the way for successful adaptation to subsequent challenges. Some changes in an environment, such as changes in personnel, are inevitable for all organizations and other changes in circumstances may be produced by an organization itself.

Samuel Huntington then states that an organization is more institutionalized if it is more complex in its structure and procedures. Complexity often involves both multiplications of organizational subunits and differentiation of separate types of organizational subunits. The greater the number of subunits, the greater the ability of the organization to secure and maintain the loyalties of all its members. An organization which has many purposes is better able to adjust to the loss of any one purpose than an organization which has only one purpose. The differentiation of subunits within an organization also may or may not be based along functional lines. Changes in the functions of the whole, however, are reflected by shifts in the power and roles of the subunits. Additionally, if the subunits are multifunctional, they have greater institutional strength, but they may also contribute less flexibility to the organization overall. For example, a political system with parties of social integration has less institutional flexibility than one with parties of exclusive representation. Huntington also points to the fact that relatively simple traditional political systems are often overwhelmed by the process of modernization, whereas more complex traditional systems are more likely to adapt to new demands. An example of a complex traditional political system that was able to adapt to new requirements was Japan, which adjusted its traditional political institutions to the modern world due to their relative complexity.

Samuel Huntington then looks at the concept of coherence and disunity. The concept of coherence and disunity stipulates that the more unified and coherent an organization is, the more it is more highly institutionalized. On the other hand, the greater the disunity of an organization, the lower the level of institutionalization. A level of consensus is often considered to a be a prerequisite of any social group. Additionally, an effective organization requires substantial consensus on the functional boundaries of the group and on the procedures for resolving disputes on issues which come up within those boundaries. The agreement among groups must also extend to those active in the system. Non-participants or those only sporadically and marginally participant in the system do not have to share the consensus and usually, do not share it to the same extent as the participants. An organization can theoretically be autonomous without being coherent and coherent without being autonomous. However, the two concepts are often closely linked together. Autonomy enables the organization to develop a style which becomes a distinctive mark of its behavior. Autonomy also serves to prevent the intrusion of disruptive external forces, though it does not protect against disruption from internal sources. Moreover, rapid or substantial expansions in the membership of an organization or the participants in a system tend to weaken coherence.

The dynamic between mobilization and institutionalization is also explored by Samuel Huntington. Social mobilization and political participation is rapidly increasing in much of the developing world, which is, per Huntington, directly responsible for the deterioration of political institutions in these areas. For example, Huntington concludes that rapid industrialization and urbanization create discontinuities which give rise to mass society. He uses the case of labor unions as an example. In areas and industries with high industrial growth, the creation and institutionalization of unions often lag, and mass political movements are likely to emerge among the workers. As unions are eventually organized, they are vulnerable to outside influences in their early stages. As such, the rapid influx of large numbers of people into a new organization provides opportunities for mass-oriented elites to penetrate the organization. Considering such factors, one can make the conclusion that economic growth results in higher political instability.

Huntington also states that mobilization may result simply from increases in communications, which can stimulate major increases in aspirations that may be only partially, if at all, satisfied. The result of such occurrences is a revolution of rising frustrations among the masses Increases in literacy and education may bring more political instability. For example, countries in Asia such as Burma, Ceylon, and South Korea are highly literate but are relatively unstable politically. Additionally, literacy does not necessarily stimulate democracy as well. For example, Cuba was the fifth most literate country in Latin America but was the first one to implement a communist political system. Increased communication may generate demands for more “modernity” than can be delivered and stimulate a reaction against modernity and activate traditional forces. Since the political arena is typically dominated by the more modern groups, increased communication may bring into the arena new, anti-modern groups and break the consensus exists among the leading political participants. It may also mobilize ethnic minority groups who were uninvolved politically, but who now acquire a self-consciousness and divide the political system along ethnic lines. Moreover, nationalism often stimulates political decay as opposed to national integration.

Institutional decay has also become a common phenomenon in many modernizing countries. Coups d’état and military interventions in politics are one index of low levels of political institutionalization and occur when political institutions lack autonomy and coherence. For example, eleven of twelve modernizing states outside Latin America which were independent before World War Two experienced coups or attempted coups after World War Two. Additionally, of twenty states that became independent between 1945 and 1959, fourteen had coups or coup attempts by 1963. Moreover, of twenty- four states which became independent between 1960 and 1963, seven experienced coups or attempted coups by the end of 1963. Instability in Latin America was also less frequent during the first half of the 20th Century than during the second half. In the years between 1917 and 1927, military leaders occupied the presidencies of the twenty Latin American republics 28% of the time. On the other hand, between 1947 and 1957, military leaders were in power 45% of the time. Additionally, seventeen out of the twenty countries of Latin America experiences coups or attempted coups in the years between 1945 and 1964 and only Mexico, Uruguay and Chile witnessed relative political stability.

Samuel Huntington argues that differences that exist in mobilization and institutionalization suggest four ideal types of politics. For example, modern and developed civic polities are characterized by high levels of both mobilization and institutionalization. On the other hand, primitive polities have low levels of both mobilization and institutionalization. Contained polities are highly institutionalized but have low levels mobilization and participation. The dominant political institutions of contained polities may be either traditional, such as monarchies or modern, such as political party systems. If they are the former, such polities may have great difficulties in adjusting to rising levels of social mobilization. The traditional institutions may ultimately collapse, and the result would be a corrupt polity with a high rate of participation but a low level of institutionalization. This type of polity characterizes much of the modernizing world. For example, many of the more advanced Latin American countries have achieved comparatively high indices of literacy, per capita income, and urbanization, though their politics remains notably underdeveloped. Distrust and hatred have produced a continuing low level of political institutionalization. In reverse fashion, a country may be politically highly developed, with modern political institutions, while still very backward in terms of modernization. An example of a country with a strong level of political development, but lacking a high level of modernization is India. For example, India was characterized by low levels of development throughout the 1950s, but had a high level of political development when compared to many countries in Asia and Europe.

Samuel Huntington also looks at the relationship between political institutions and public interests. A society with weak political institutions lacks the ability to curb the excesses of personal and parochial desires. Without strong political institutions, society lacks the means of defining and realizing its common interests. The capacity to create political institutions is the capacity to create and follow public interests. Traditionally, the public interest has been approached in three ways. The public interest has been identified either with abstract and substantive values and norms such as natural law, justice, or right reason; or with the specific interest of either individuals, groups, and classes. Additionally, it has been defined with the result of a competitive process among individuals or groups. The problem with these approaches is to arrive at a definition which is concrete and general. On the other hand, what is concrete in most cases lacks generality and what is general lacks concreteness. One approach to solve this problem is to define the public interest in terms of the concrete interests of the governing institutions. A society with highly institutionalized governing organizations and procedures is, in this sense, more able to articulate and achieve its public interests. The public interest, in this sense, is not something which exists in natural law or the will of the people. Instead, it is whatever strengthens and forms governmental institutions. The public interest is also created and brought into existence by the institutionalization of government organizations. In a complex political system, many governmental organizations and procedures represent many different aspects of public interest.

Samuel Huntington looks at the strategies of institutional development. If decay of political institutions is a widespread phenomenon in the “developing” countries and if a major cause of this decay is the high rate of social mobilization, it encourages political scientist to incorporate these tendencies into any model of political change which we employ to understand the politics of such areas. If effective political institutions are necessary for stable and eventually democratic government, it encourages us to suggest strategies of institutional development. In suggesting strategies of institutional development, we should recognize the fact that psychological and cultural characteristics of peoples differ markedly and with them their abilities at developing political institutions. Additionally, we should recognize that the potentialities for institution-building differ between societies, but that political institutions can be built ins all societies. Two methods of furthering societal development are that anything which slows social mobilization creates conditions favorable to the preservation or institutions, and that strategies can be applied directly to the issues of institution building.

In conclusion, Samuel Huntington looks at the connection between political mobilization and institutionalization and the importance of institutional development concerning democratization. Huntington argues that modernization and rapid political mobilization result in political decay as opposed to the growth of political systems and increased political stability. Additionally, Huntington looks at the differing definitions of political modernization and concludes that all definitions share several common elements. Huntington also underscores the importance of political scientists and sociologists alike to examine the importance of the development and growth of political institutions in the developing world.

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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