International Handbook on Informal Governance
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International Handbook on Informal Governance

Edited by Thomas Christiansen and Christine Neuhold

Acknowledging that governance relies not only on formal rules and institutions but to a significant degree also on informal practices and arrangements, this unique Handbook examines and analyses a wide variety of theoretical, conceptual and normative perspectives on informal governance.
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Chapter 8: On Informal Politics in East Asia

Lowell Dittmer


Lowell Dittmer INTRODUCTION Although informal politics has been operational at least since formal politics (and probably a lot longer), it is more frequently analyzed in its particular concrete manifestations than in the abstract. While it is nearly certain that informal politics antedated formal politics developmentally speaking, analytically the opposite is the case – institutionalized, ‘formal’ politics has been far more thoroughly analyzed than its antecedent. True, Aristotle made a superficial analysis of factionalism in his critique of Plato’s Republic, and Max Weber distinguished between personal loyalty and ‘modern loyalty’, but on the whole informal politics has been unduly neglected (Gerth and Wright Mills, 1958; Coby, 1988). Why so? Could it be because like art, science imitates life? We find one of the distinctive qualities of informal politics to be well-nigh universal in political life – that it is regarded (when it is regarded at all) with a certain opprobrium: this is, after all, the seamy side of politics, and the less said about it the better. And partly perhaps because, as an eo ipso less ‘rational’ form of activity, it is presumptively less regularly patterned, less conducive to rational analysis, and far less easy to research as it tends to be hidden. That said, informal politics may represent a clear instance of the drawbacks of not maintaining a clear distinction between fact and value, for if the informal dimension has a causal impact on political outcomes surely it should be seriously considered, however ‘irrational’ or morally repugnant.1 Just as a failure to...

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