Modern Political Systems

Submitted by admin on Sun, 08/21/2016 - 22:43

I once did a long essay on mythology and politics – I have used the mythology parts elsewhere on the site, so this is the survey of modern political systems (with a mention of their unusual mythical dimensions, which may not be especially useful, but it makes a change from the usual familiarity)
All page references are for quotes from "Theories of the State" by Dunleavy and O'Leary, MacMillan Press, 1987, They are both profesors at LSE.


This is an attempt at rigorous and scientific analysis of society and economics, begun by Marx and Engels in the 18th Century. Some typical statements are that "Marx and Engels ….. completely accepted that human history is purposeful or 'teleological'" (p. 206) "The executive of the modern state ….. is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie. Elsewhere they describe the state simply as 'a body of armed men' imposing the will of a dominant class on the rest of society by force" (p. 209). Marxism as a practical political system is now generally discredited following its corruptions into Stalinism, and the breakdown of the Eastern bloc. Despite the rigorous dialectic of Marxism, which challenged the other bodies of political theory to be equally rigorous, there are a number of fairly obvious statements which can be made about the 'mythic levels' of Marxism:-

The Central Idea of Marxism is of a classless society "From each according to his means, to each according to his needs", that is, with equal and abundant distribution of all the necessities of life
The Mythic Image is of the triumphant workers, selflessly working for each other and the whole
The Negative Stereotype is of a "Capitalist", grown fat from the labour of pauperised workers

Marxism theories as expressed in Communist countries in fact formed a theoretical corpus of work with similarities to a sacred set of books, and a dogmatic system with a 'priesthood' and rigorous attempts to control of thought and expression. It is interesting to speculate if this was a deliberate copy of religious fundamentalist patterns, or if it arose spontaneously or accidentally.

The New Right

The New Right has developed a set of theoretically and philosophically sophisticated ideas to combat the liberal and socialist theories which had defeated "The Old Right". The Old Right is normally seen as conservative and traditionalist, backwards-looking towards aristocracy and feudalism, and to be generally anti-rationalist.

The New Right has several theoretical aspects: Public Choice Theory generally takes "classical" individual behaviour and extrapolates it into the wider society. Positivism is based on the idea that individuals will take rational action to maximise their benefits and minimise their costs. The 'Austrian School' proposed theories of value, generally attempting to extend classical economics into the political arena.

The Central Idea of the New Right is the free individual
Positive Stereotype - the creator, who would make himself and others prosperous, "if only the government would keep out of the way and not disrupt him"
Negative Stereotype - "The Leviathon", "a giant superhuman figure composed entirely of the miniscule bodies of the state's citizens" (p. 128). As individuals sacrifice their own interests to the state, they become de-personalised and consumed by the state. The system should be capitalist, and every effort must be made to diminish the working of the state and to liberate markets.

Neo Pluralism

This is a relatively new school of thought which has been developing over the last 30 years, as a result of the problems of modernity. Stable democracies unexpectedly began to run into difficulties in the late 1960's, with new problems such as student revolts, separatist terrorists, worker unrest and economic crises. The existing theories were found to be crude, anachronistic, or ideological, and generally inadequate to deal with these crises, and Neo-Pluralism is an attempt to cope, in particular using multi-causal explanations and inter-disciplinary approaches.
Neo-Pluralism tends to discard market economics in favour of a more sophisticated liberal analysis centring on the operations of large corporations. It tends to follow the large corporations in being interested in professionalisation, in the fragmentation of monolithic organisation, the formation of separate agencies instead of subsidiary departments (out-sourcing). Critics may say that this tends to produce an impenetrable mass of uncontrollable fragmentary agencies, but it may be that the future role of government will be centralised scrutiny and of central goal setting for a large range of agencies. Some of the recent work of Jessop ( is about the inevitability of all systems eventually failing, and neo-Pluralist systems can be seen as a response to this - a network of different styles and sizes of agencies and organisations may prove to be more resilient than a monolithic or unitary system.

It seems the Central Idea of Neo-Pluralism may be a resilient network structure..
The Mythic Idea is of the independent agency, (plus the network and the 'inter-dependency' of ecology)
The Negative Stereotypes are unusual:- the system is so complex that it excludes people with simplistic answers to social and political problems, who are usually not willing to 'put up with the process'. When I lived in Germany, it was sometimes obvious that there is a desire for a strong leader there. However, they have set up a Neo-Pluralist system which virtually excludes the possibility of such a 'simplistic' leader ever again emerging or taking power.

Unifying Mythology and Political Theory

Though one can see a sort of connection, in that myths contain ideas of elites, and elites contain aspects of mythology, it is difficult to find a direct linkage between these. However, perhaps this is a wat forward  :-

I propose that perhaps there is an 'Ideal State' emerging from Governance theories, where there is a peer group of equals, who each have a public service philosophy, and who work within a resilient neo-pluralist context, and make all decisions on a rational basis, and are self-regulating as a group for the quality and integrity of their work, and also for the induction of newcomers :-

  1. Internally, this seems to a 'myth-free' and entirely rational system. Strangely, it is also very unappealing, and has unwelcome robotic overtones. (perhaps artificial intelligence leads to this !)
  2. the other type of elites form 'previous evolutionary stages' to this 'ideal rational state'
  3. Externally, myths would probably be generated about this system to 'the outsiders' - this would be creativity and education (and training) for the 'outsiders'
  4. the other theories of the state are previous evolutionary stages to this ideal

Unfortunately, this idea seems to be impossible to either test, prove or disprove. The great Civil Services were intended to run in this way, but they are being gradually turned in to agencies by the Neo-Pluralists, and it is debatable if they really had power anyway. (Of course, others might define an entirely different 'ideal state' to this)

Spin Doctors. However, there are certain parallels in this idea with the way modern 'spin-doctors' try to organise things - they form a protective ring around the 'inside' of the system, they try to 'mythologise' to the world outside what the 'central leaders' are doing. They also administer the 'incoming contacts' and protect them from 'the outside world'. The way the modern 'spin-doctor system' has developed is quite interesting from the perspective of mythologies, elites, and systems of governance !