Personalism and Good Governance

Research Conference

December 1st, 2023

9:00 AM – 3:30 PM
TAM 121, Multipurpose Room, MMC

Contemporary political systems show a trend of increase in the role of the personal characteristics of party leaders, government officials, and civil servants. Stark examples of this phenomenon include authoritarian figures such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Features of personalism, however, can be discovered in the political realities of democratic policies, represented by Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, the United States’ Donald Trump, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Individuals in public office enjoy higher levels of discretion over access to and exercise of political power, while collective bodies such as political parties, both in power and in opposition, national legislatures, and administrations lose autonomy and oversight powers. In the last fifty years, the process of personalization of politics has intensified in both democracies and autocracies.

Governance by the people is a core principle of democracy and the excessive dominance of individuals has long been considered in the literature as non-democratic. Now, the role of powerful politicians in history is recognized through its appearance in various theoretical models. There are two strands of scholarship on personalist leadership in the social science literature. One group of studies has focused on the features of personalist leaders and parties and developed instruments for measuring the degree of personalization of various regimes. Another set of studies started to assess the consequences of personalism in various aspects of public life. These works find evidence of the negative effects of personalism on regime durability, leader survival, and countries’ overall progress toward democracy.

Significantly less has been done to study how personalist leaders govern once they get access to power, because the phenomenon of personalist leadership is not limited to fringe or short-lived political groups. As more political parties led by charismatic individuals win elections, the need for a better understanding of the consequences becomes urgent. This conference offers a platform for presentation and discussion of such scholarly work - research that casts light on the mechanisms of policy making and policy implementation under personalist rulers. There are good reasons to anticipate that the structural specifics of personalist regimes - concentration of power and hierarchy in the administration - and their neglect of institutional accountability affect in a negative way the quality of services provided to the public.



Co-sponsored by:

Office of the Dean, Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs
Ruth K. and Shepard Broad Distinguished Lecture Series
Dorothea Green Lecture Series
Miami-Florida Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence
Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center