Authoritarian Constitutionalism
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Authoritarian Constitutionalism

Comparative Analysis and Critique

Edited by Helena Alviar García and Günter Frankenberg

The contributions to this book analyse and submit to critique authoritarian constitutionalism as an important phenomenon in its own right, not merely as a deviant of liberal constitutionalism. Accordingly, the fourteen studies cover a variety of authoritarian regimes from Hungary to Apartheid South Africa, from China to Venezuela; from Syria to Argentina, and discuss the renaissance of authoritarian agendas and movements, such as populism, Trumpism, nationalism and xenophobia. From different theoretical perspectives the authors elucidate how authoritarian power is constituted, exercised and transferred in the different configurations of popular participation, economic imperatives, and imaginary community.
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Chapter 4: Infrastructural power and its possibilities for the constitutional evolution of authoritarian political systems: lessons from China

Michael W. Dowdle


Investigations into comparative constitutionalism, particularly authoritarian constitutionalism, are hampered by the fact that, for the most part, we lack a theory of constitutional evolution. We can tell where a constitutional system stands on an authoritarian–liberal spectrum in the here and now, but we have little idea about how to tell if or how it might evolve in the future. Using China as a case study, this chapter suggests what we might look for in trying to evaluate the evolutionary potential of an authoritarian constitutional system. It proposes that (one of) the keys for this potential is a rarely investigated aspect of constitutionalism which, following Michael Mann, it will call ‘infrastructural power’. Infrastructural power lies in the routinization of governmental functions; it can be catalyzed through such processes as functional differentiation, bureaucratization and professionalism. The basic claim is that such routinization of this sort promotes what is often called ‘positive freedom’. As people continually exploit this freedom, they can trigger – even in authoritarian systems – a dynamic of ‘runaway legitimation’ that progressively and spontaneously constrains the prerogative capacities of politics.

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