211 Years of Political Evolution in 60 Seconds — New and Improved!!

The heat maps used in the animation I posted yesterday plotted change over time in counts of countries in each cell of a two-dimensional space representing different kinds of politcal institutions. Over the 211 years in question, however, the number of countries in the world has grown dramatically, from about 50 in 1800 to well over 150 in 2011. For that reason, a couple of commenters wondered whether we would see something different if we plotted proportions instead of counts, using the size of the total population as a denominator in each cell. Proportions better fit the ideas behind a fitness landscape, so I added a line to my code and gave it a whirl. Here’s what I got:

To my eye, there aren’t any big differences in the patterns we see here compared with the ones based on counts. Re-watching the animation today, though, here are a few other things that caught my attention:

  • The predominance in the mid-1800s of intermediate forms combining authoritarian selection with highly polarized political participation—what Polity calls “factionalism.” This peak in the middle left of the heat maps shows how popular mobilization generally led to competitive elections, and not the other way around. As historian Sean Wilenz wrote, “Democracy is never a gift bestowed…It must always be fought for.” It also reminds us that popular mobilization was initially quite polarized in the “developed” world (ha!), just as it often is poorer countries today.
  • The wide variety of intermediate forms present in the early 1900s. Here we see a bunch of cases in the upper left-hand quadrant, combining authoritarian selection procedures with open and well-regulated participation. This is a combination we almost never see nowadays. It looks like there were some interesting experiments occurring in the wake of the industrial explosion that occurred in richer countries in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
  • The sharp bifurcation of the fitness landscape after World War II. Before the war, the peak in the lower left-hand corner representing closed dictatorships had shrunken, and there seemed to be more action in the upper left and lower right quadrants. After the war, the peak in the lower left rose again and remained there until around 1990. This pattern makes clearer that the evolution of the past two centuries has not been a steady march toward democracy. It’s interesting—and potentially chilling—to contemplate how much the fitness landscape of the past 70 years might have differed had World War II taken different turns.
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  1. tiagopeixoto

     /  October 8, 2012

    Reblogged this on DemocracySpot.

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