Dissertation Title: Making Autocrats Accountable: Interests, Commitments, and Cooperation for Regime Change
Committee: Julia Lynch, Rudra Sil, Yuhua Wang, Ian Lustick, Bruce Desmarais
Summary: Under what conditions are groups pursuing regime change in authoritarian regimes able to cooperate to successfully engineer regime change? By examining an original dataset of Ottoman and French anti-governmental actors drawn from primary and secondary sources, this study uses historical analysis and longitudinal network analysis to analyze transitions from absolute to constitutional monarchy in the Ottoman Empire (1860-1908) and Bourbon France (1814-1830). Using this least similar systems design, this study measures the conditions conducive to cooperation for democratization between groups pursuing regime change. Traditional explanations argue that common interest in overthrowing authoritarianism should unite opposition groups in all cases. Yet, evidence suggests that groups are able to coordinate with one another and bring down authoritarianism only in some cases but not in others. The study argues that cooperation fails in many cases, because groups have disagreements on issues beyond regime change. I show that preferences are multi-dimensional; while actors might agree on one-dimension—regime change—they might hold strong commitments to competing preferences on other big issues, such as whether the state should be centralized or the role religion in politics, and are strongly committed to their own preferences. Until these other disagreements are resolved and commitments are sidelined, cooperation between opposition groups would be at best tactical in nature and cannot ascertain enduring regime change. Groups are able to form a unified oppositional movement and overthrow the authoritarian regime only after having revised their original commitments and objectives.
Evidence from the Ottoman and French cases suggests that preference revision is necessary for cooperation. The study identifies a remarkable similarity in the outcomes of the transition processes in the Ottoman Empire and Bourbon France, which unfolded in rather different geographic areas and time periods, engaging dissimilar groups of actors. Initially in both cases, groups opposing the autocrat wanted to replace the regime, but differed along other dimensions. In both cases, authoritarian entrenchment induced groups to revise their preferences. In France, actors became less committed to their positions on centralization and the use of violence and reached a consensus on establishing constitutional guarantees for basic liberties and checks and balances. In the Ottoman case, authoritarian entrenchment diminished the perceived importance of the role of religion in politics and whether to cooperate with secessionist groups, and actors reached an agreement on carrying out a revolution without foreign sponsorship to build a society of Turkish nationals. In both cases, having sidelined commitments and reached a consensus enabled opposition groups to rapidly overthrow the authoritarian regime—in three days in the French case and in three weeks in the Ottoman case. Thus, this study shows that regime change depends not only on destabilization of the status quo but also on potential challengers being willing to weaken their initial commitments so as to arrive at common strategies and preferences with respect to the new regime.