The Limits of Convergence

Posted: October 31, 2013 at 2:59 pm, Last Updated: November 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm

The Limits of Convergence: Economic and military competition among states will increase the divergence between liberal and authoritarian regimes.

The extremely impressive fiscal performance of the liberal regimes of North Western Europe, during the early modern period (1600-1800) did not inspire a continent-wide dynamic of convergence towards liberal forms of governance. Kivanc Karaman and Sevket Pamuk (APSR August 2013) challenge the notion that exemplary performance inspires mimicry, a staple of Kantian liberal theory. While they concede that warfare was the principle driver of state consolidation, interstate competition stimulated divergence, not convergence to liberal representative government.

Although representative regimes in the West, such as Britain and the Netherlands, were effective at raising taxes so too were authoritarian regimes like was Austria and Russia in the East, and competition with the liberal West rendered their state structures more authoritarian, hastening bifurcation rather than convergence. This test of the connection of between resource mobilization and regime type has strong implications for understanding the dynamics among nations in the contemporary world. It suggests that heightened competition for resources caused by globalization might precipitate greater divergence between democratic and authoritarian systems. It suggests as well that aggressive efforts to isolate China, such as the recent US turn eastward, might be counterproductive, retarding China’s evolution away from authoritarian governance, consolidating its authoritarian tendencies.

Write to aschappe at aschapp1@gmu.edu