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Abandoned Footnotes directory

Abandoned Footnotes is a political-science blog by Xavier Marquez. Bibliography of blog entries by Xavier Marquez on dictatorship, totalitarianism, preference falsification⁠, personality cults⁠, history, etc.


“To Purge or Not to Purge? An Individual-Level Quantitative Analysis of Elite Purges in Dictatorships”, Goldring & Matthews 2021

“To Purge or Not to Purge? An Individual-Level Quantitative Analysis of Elite Purges in Dictatorships”⁠, Edward Goldring, Austin S. Matthews (2021-12-16; similar):

Why do dictators purge specific elites but not others? And why do dictators purge these elites in certain ways? Examining these related questions helps us understand not only how dictators retain sufficient competence in their regimes to alleviate popular and foreign threats, but also how dictators nullify elite threats.

Dictators are more likely to purge first-generation elites, who are more powerful because they can negotiate their role from a position of strength and possess valuable vertical and horizontal linkages with other elites. Further, dictators tend to imprison purged first-generation elites—rather than execute, exile or simply remove them—to avoid retaliation from other elites or the purged elite continuing to sow discord.

We find empirical support for our predictions from novel data on autocratic elites in 16 regimes from 1922 to 2020.

…The most important threat to an autocrat’s survival may come from their elites, but not all elites are equally threatening. Elites who enter the inner circle upon the establishment of the regime—‘first-generation elites’—pose a larger threat than others. One might think that first-generation elites are loyal due to their shared experiences with the dictator when they attained power, but, in fact, they threaten the dictator for 3 reasons. First-generation elites benefit from greater access to power upon entry, gained from negotiating their offices from a stronger starting position vis-à-vis the dictator. They also have strong vertical linkages with their subordinates, who rely on them for jobs, and pre-existing horizontal relationships with other top elites, which were developed prior to their seizure of the regime. These aspects give first-generation elites powerful capabilities and bases of support that can be leveraged to challenge the dictator, as compared with subsequent elites, who rely on dictators for their positions and inherit diminishing shares of power from their predecessors. This difference in power shares between elites makes first-generation elites more dangerous to dictators and therefore more likely to be purged.

Once a dictator decides to purge a dangerous first-generation elite, they must decide how to purge them. These outcomes include exile, imprisonment, execution, or removal with no further punishment. However, elites who face no punishment or are sent into exile are not effectively disconnected from supporters in the regime, allowing them to foment discontent against the dictator. Execution severs these connections, but it may provoke their supporters to challenge the dictator. Imprisoning a dangerous, purged first-generation elite helps the dictator forge a middle path between these threats, keeping the elite from plotting revenge while also not making them a martyr. We therefore expect that dictators tend to incarcerate purged first-generation elites, rather than sending them into exile, executing them, or removing them without further punishment.

We test these hypotheses with an original individual-level dataset of civilian and military autocratic elites holding offices within 16 ruling institutions between 1922 and 2020. Data identifying these elites and their demographic and professional characteristics come from thousands of primary and secondary sources; they provide a revealing window through which to examine the opacity of autocratic elite politics across the world. Scholars have recently introduced important datasets relating to autocratic elite purges of military officials across regimes (Sudduth 2021) and cabinet ministers within regimes (Bokobza et al 2020). However, our dataset is the first to include a sample of the civilian and military elites within key ruling institutions across a range of dictatorships. Consistent with our theory, we find that dictators are statistically-significantly more likely to purge first-generation than non-first-generation elites. Among purged elites, there is moderate evidence that dictators are more likely to incarcerate first-generation elites, especially instead of executing them.

“Propaganda As a Lens for Assessing Xi Jinping’s Leadership”, Esarey 2021

2021-esarey.pdf: “Propaganda as a Lens for Assessing Xi Jinping’s Leadership”⁠, Ashley Esarey (2021-03-24; similar):


This article examines Xi Jinping’s utilization of state propaganda since his rise as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012.

Through a comparison of reportage on Xi and other national leaders and the consideration of case studies from the Mao and Xi periods, it argues that Xi has made more extensive use of propaganda in the People’s Daily than any leader since the founding of the People’s Republic, with the possible exception of Mao Zedong⁠.

By evaluating a ‘Xi Jinping effect’ in propaganda, this article suggests Xi has leant heavily on media power to project authority over the Party and beyond. Xi Jinping’s ascent has also coincided with reduced emphasis on other leaders, providing evidence for the weakening of collective leadership in China.

Research Methods: Utilizing the ‘full text’ search function of the CNKI database, and restricting returns to the People’s Daily from the year 2000 to 2018, this article tracks the frequency with which articles in People’s Daily mention Chinese leaders by name, including such paramount leaders as Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping⁠, Jiang Zemin⁠, Hu Jintao⁠, and every Politburo Standing Committee member from the 16th Party Congress to the 19th National Party Congress. Findings are discussed below.

Due to limitations in the date range of the CNKI database, it was not possible to use the same method to compare media coverage of Xi Jinping with China’s powerful founding leader, Mao Zedong, during the decades in which Mao held power. To compare propaganda related to these 2 leaders, an approach is employed that examines People’s Daily headlines for 1 month in 6 different case studies. The cases are selected with the aim of shedding light on how Xi and Mao, along with other national figures, have been portrayed during mass mobilization and domestic and international crises.

Figure 3: People’s Daily Reports on Hu Jintao vs. Xi Jinping

“The Mechanisms of Cult Production: An Overview”, Marquez 2020

“The Mechanisms of Cult Production: An Overview”⁠, Xavier Marquez (2020-08-13; ; similar):

This chapter argues that leader personality cults are typically produced by a specific set of mechanisms of flattery inflation. It describes how loyalty signaling, emotional amplification, and direct production mechanisms can combine, under specific circumstances, to transform ordinary flattery into full-blown practices of ruler worship. And it argues for attending to the specific conditions that make possible the operation of these mechanisms, showing how patronage relationships in particular provide fertile ground for the emergence of personality cults. Moreover, the chapter argues that both ancient and modern leader cults depend on similar mechanisms, despite clear differences in context and function. I illustrate the operation of these mechanisms with many modern examples and an extended discussion of one ancient example, the abortive cult of Caligula during the Roman Principate.

[Keywords: personality cults, Caligula, flattery inflation, Hugo Chávez, Mao Zedong, Stalin]

“Aztec Political Thought”, Marquez 2013

“Aztec Political Thought”⁠, Xavier Marquez (2013-11-21; ; similar):

A footnote on Inga Clendinnen’s extraordinary Aztecs: An Interpretation. If there’s a better book on the Aztecs than this, I want to read it…Consider this passage Clendinnen quotes from the Florentine Codex (one of the main sources for pre-conquest Mexica thought and culture), coming after the speech with which the Mexica greeted a new tlatoani (ruler; literally, the “Great Speaker”) and exhorted him to good behaviour:

Those early and anxious exhortations to benevolent behaviour were necessary, ‘for it was said when we replaced one, when we selected someone…he was already our lord, our executioner and our enemy.’ (p. 80; the quote is from Book 6, chapter 10, in Dibble and Anderson’s translation from the Nahuatl).

It’s an arresting thought: “he was already our lord, our executioner, and our enemy.” (Clendinnen comments on the “desolate cadence” of these words). The ruler is not understood by the Mexica as normally benevolent though potentially dangerous; he is the enemy, and yet as the enemy he is indispensable. There is something profoundly alien in this thought, with its unsettling understanding of “legitimacy”, something I do not find anywhere in the classical Western tradition of political thought…But Aztec cosmology, it turns out, goes much further than this. The ruler embodies or channels Tezcatlipoca⁠, who is often vaguely characterized as a god of “fate and war” (and normally downplayed in favor of Huītzilōpōchtli⁠, eg. in the current Te Papa exhibit on the Aztecs here in Wellington, who is more understandable as a straightforward god of war, and is viewed as the “patron” of the Tenochtitlan Mexica). But Tezcatlipoca is the more important deity: he is described at the beginning of Book 6 of the Florentine Codex as “the principal god” of the Mexica. And he is not a merciful or benevolent god; on the contrary, he represents a kind of arbitrary malice that is visited on all alike, and is variously addressed as the Enemy on Both Sides, the Mocker, He Whose Slaves We Are, and the Lord of the Smoking Mirror (for the smoky reflections in dark obsidian mirrors used by the shamans, “obscure intimations of what was to come endlessly dissolving back into obscurity”, as Clendinnen puts it [p. 148])…Clendinnen notes many other examples of the “shared and steady vision common to the different social groupings in Tenochtitlan” concerning “the casual, inventive, tireless malice of the only sacred force concerned with the fates of men”, p. 148

…When reading these passages, I cannot help but think: how could the Mexica be reconciled to their social and natural worlds with such an arbitrary, even malignant conception of divine and political authority? How is a ruler or a deity who is simultaneously seen as an enemy inspire support and commitment? As Clendinnen puts it, the puzzle is that “submission to a power which is caprice embodied is a taxing enterprise, yet it is that which the most devoted Mexica appear to have striven to achieve” (p. 76). Yet she hits on the right answer, I think, when she interprets these statements in the context of the rituals of Mexica society. In particular, she shows the Aztec state as an extraordinary example of what Clifford Geertz⁠, referring to pre-colonial Bali⁠, once called the “theatre state.”

I mentioned earlier that human sacrifice was one of the central practices of Mexica society. But this does not quite capture what was going on. Human sacrifice was the most intense part of the pervasive ritual practices that structured Mexica society, but it was never merely sacrifice. Sacrifice was the culminating act of a set of amazing spectacles, enormously powerful intensifiers of emotion that made use of the entire register of Aztec symbols and pharmacopeia, and drew on the full resources of the empire.

“The Tragedy of the Nomenklatura: Career Incentives and Political Radicalism during China's Great Leap Famine”, Kung & Chen 2011

2011-kung.pdf: “The Tragedy of the Nomenklatura: Career Incentives and Political Radicalism during China's Great Leap Famine”⁠, James Kai-Sing Kung, Shuo Chen (2011-02-23; backlinks; similar):

A salient feature of China’s Great Leap Famine is that political radicalism varied enormously across provinces. Using excessive grain procurement as a pertinent measure, we find that such variations were patterned systematically on the political career incentives of Communist Party officials rather than the conventionally assumed ideology or personal idiosyncrasies. Political rank alone can explain 16.83% of the excess death rate: the excess procurement ratio of provinces governed by alternate members of the Central Committee was about 3% higher than in provinces governed by full members, or there was an approximate 1.11% increase in the excess death rate. The stronger career incentives of alternate members can be explained by the distinctly greater privileges, status, and power conferred only on the rank of full members of the Central Committee and the “entry barriers” to the Politburo that full members faced.

“Conduct Without Belief and Works of Art Without Viewers”, Veyne & Ferguson 1988

1988-veyne.pdf: “Conduct Without Belief and Works of Art Without Viewers”⁠, Paul Veyne, Jeanne Ferguson (1988-01-01; ; backlinks)