Conservative Socialism: Critique of Patrimonialism (Pt. II of II)

The ideology that Carl Ludwig von Haller was promoting in Restoration of Political Science is called “Patrimonialism.” In Patrimonialism, political power is concentrated in a Head of State who deems the entirety of a nation everything in it as the extensions of his own Personal Property-as-Power. What passes as the “State” is essentially a complex web of social relations between this particular Self and the Totality. The central idea behind Patrimonialism is the belief that a nation’s Totality and State should be treated as extensions of this Self’s Family. It may seem like an unusual ideology, but the concepts surrounding Patrimonialism can be found elsewhere in Confucianism and in the later writings of Max Weber.

A “Patrimonial State” is a paternalist one where the Head of State, usually a male ruler, serves as a premodern father-figure to the Totality. He must act as an example for the Totality, expecting their loyalty in return for his love. “Love” in this sense means provision, protection, and property. Properties within the nation belong to the Head of State insofar as it is this Self, not the Totality, that wields Sovereignty. When the Head of State decrees new laws, he shall do so out of kindness and in the best interests of the Totality. The Totality, in turn, shall respect the Head of State’s authority by obeying his laws as though they are extended members of his Family.

The Head of State governing a Patrimonial State does not necessarily have to be a Monarch tied to the ancestral lineage to a Household of some Nobility (i.e. the “House of Hohenzollern,” “House of Habsburg,” “House of Romanov,” and so forth). When von Haller wrote his magnum opus, Europe was still governed by Monarchs whose lineage can be traced back to his Household. Even so, von Haller was adamant that the Patrimonial State will not always be defined by Monarchs insofar as he was anticipating the Patrimonial State to take on different forms other than an “Absolute Monarchy.” Although he did not provide a timetable on what other forms the Patrimonial State could assume, he was adamant that it would become prominent in Western Civilization from the 20th century onward.      

If the Patrimonial State is not always going to be an Absolute Monarchy, it is notable that von Haller believed that the Patrimonial State could have its Head of State be an Anarch (Anarchism), a General or Admiral (Militarism), or an Authoritarian (Authoritarianism). With regard to the Military-Industrial Complex, the armed forces express their loyalties to the Head of State first before the State and Totality. This is because the Head of State in Patrimonialism is oftentimes considered a Generalissimo, which is a rank higher than that of a Field Marshal. Politically, the Patrimonial State can be so broad in terms of governance that can easily fluctuate between a Democracy, an Oligarchy, and an Autocracy. While the Head of State technically wields absolute power, his power is checked by the Totality because, as stated earlier, the Patrimonial State is just an extension of their aforementioned social relations.  

This broadness is also reflected in economic life as the Patrimonial State is capable of being either “State Capitalist,” “State Socialist,” “Authoritarian Capitalist,” or “Authoritarian Socialist.” Since most Patrimonial States in the 20th century have all been former European colonies that gained their independence in the Cold War, the vast majority have been developing countries in certain parts of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This implies that the “Developmentalism” which supported the economic developments of various developing countries during the reign of Bretton Woods concurred with the existences of Patrimonial States. The Patrimonial States that existed during the Cold War were either State Capitalist, State Socialist, Authoritarian Capitalist, or Authoritarian Socialist. Plenty of developing countries outside the Western world during the Cold War fell under those categories, but Asia during the late 20th century had a full spectrum due to the long-standing legacy of Confucianism throughout the region.

Consider the following examples from the late 20th century alone:

  • Singapore and Taiwan are examples of State Capitalist regimes.
  • South Korea and Philippines are examples of Authoritarian Capitalist regimes.
  • Myanmar and North Korea are examples of State Socialist and Authoritarian Socialist regimes.  

Indonesia during the reigns of Sukarno and Suharto are special cases. Under Sukarno, the Indonesia could have gone in a State Socialist direction, but this changed to Authoritarian Capitalism under Suharto. It was precisely during Suharto’s rule that Indonesia became a Patrimonial State in its economic and political policies. I would love to delve into Indonesia and the Philippines at some point in future Economic History Case Studies Entries. After having discussed about the four Asian Tigers, I feel that I should complete the rest of the late 20th century economic history of Asia.  

The strengths of a Patrimonial State are also its weaknesses, however. The Patrimonial State demands loyalty and recognition of the Totality, the Totality’s support giving its Head of State both political legitimacy and power. The Self, as the Head of State, must reward their loyalty with property, protection, and provisions. Those who demonstrate more loyalty than the next person is to be given greater rewards as a sign of gratitude from the Head of State.

The first problem with the Patrimonial State is that corruption, nepotism, and fraud are more likely to occur than in non-Patrimonial States. Since the entire nation is treated as the Personal Property (as opposed to Productive Property) of a single Self, there are very few ways in which the Totality could hold that Self account when their exercises of power become abusive and disastrous for the nation. They cannot rely on the State for this Self is largely unaccountable and untransparent on how they intend to govern the nation. Moreover, there are possibilities that the Head of State may unjustly reward their own family members as opposed to their “extended family,” the Totality, regardless of whether the latter actually deserve to be rewarded or not. “Democracy” in a true Patrimonial State is limited as the practices of Parliamentary Democracy and Council Democracy are both rejected in favor of an all-powerful Head of State acting as a father-figure to the Totality. Worse, since the armed forces are loyal to the Head of State and not to the nation, a Military Junta can happen if the Head of State loses their respect. The Cold War is full of examples where developing countries had their governments overthrown by the armed forces.

It is because of these notable weaknesses that Patrimonial States, even in the best of times, tend to be unstable, unproductive and unsociable regimes. The Totality will find itself vulnerable to the Liberalization of Young Minds, which can lead to the eventual downfall of the Patrimonial State and the establishment of Neoliberalism within the country. At the same time, adherents of non-Neoliberal ideologies may find their voices suppressed by the Patrimonial State for endangering either the Head of State’s legitimacy or the Patrimonial State itself. Should the Totality find that the Head of State in particular is failing to become the father-figure that it promised to be, the Totality will rebel against the Head of State. If it happens within the Family, it will also happen in the Patrimonial State as well. This accounts for why the various Patrimonial States after the Death of Bretton Woods collapsed by the turn of the 21st century, replaced by Liberal Capitalist Parliamentary Democracies and becoming extensions of the Empire of Liberty.          

Categories: Philosophy

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