Politicized Society

The Long Shadow of Taiwan's One-Party Legacy

Mikael Mattlin

  • Published:
  • Pages: 320 pp.
  • illustrated
  • Series number: 1
Available from NIAS Press worldwide

Due to an initially smooth political transition from one-party authoritarianism to multi-party politics, Taiwan’s gradual democratization has been celebrated as one of the most successful cases of political transformation. Unfortunately, this transition is incomplete and, especially since 2000 when the first non-Kuomintang president was elected, Taiwan has seen an intense and persistent politicization of its society.

Institutional flaws are not enough to explain the shortcomings of Taiwan’s democratic politics or those in other transitional democracies, the author argues. Rather, when an old dominant party like the Guomindang continues to survive even after the end of one-party rule, the process of political liberalization and transition contains within itself the seeds of structural politicization.

This is, then, a study with empirical value – warning that extreme politicization is the main internal threat to the sustainability of Taiwan’s democratic politics – but its analysis also applies to the situations of many other transitional democracies around the world.

 

Key points

  • Focuses on an under-explored area of democratic transitions, the empirical study of intensely politicized transitional societies.
  • Argues that the continued strength of the old dominant political party following the transition from one-party rule carries the risk of structural politicization.
  • Asks how we should grasp a situation where the political practices commonly associated with democracy, such as election campaigning and political media debate, jeopardize the sustainability of democratic politics by the way they are pursued.
  • Describes how extreme politicization is the main internal threat to the sustainability of Taiwan’s democratic politics.

 

This book explores a relatively uncharted area of democratic transitions: the empirical study of intensely politicized transitional societies. In particular, it addresses the problems of protracted democratic transitions that occur when a one-party state has been incompletely dismantled.

Due to an initially smooth political transition from one-party authoritarianism to multi-party politics, Taiwan’s gradual process of democratization has been celebrated as one of the most successful cases of political transformation. However, this political transition was not completed and, especially since 2000 when the first non-Kuomintang president was elected, Taiwan has been marked by protracted political struggles together with an intense politicization of  society that persists to this day.

In Taiwan, rather than supporting democracy, many of the political practices associated with representative democracy, such as election campaigning, political demonstrations, vote mobilization and political debate in the media, can appear to undermine the future sustainability of democratic politics through the ways in which they are pursued.

However, the book maintains that institutional flaws are not enough to explain the shortcomings of Taiwan’s democratic politics or those in other transitional democracies. The practices established before the political transition continue to affect politics after the transition. Thus, when an old dominant party like the Kuomintang continues to thrive even after the end of one-party rule, the process of political liberalization and transition contains within itself the seeds of structural politicization.

As such, not only does this study have empirical value – warning that extreme politicization is the main internal threat to the sustainability of Taiwan’s democratic politics – but also its analysis is pertinent to the situations of many other transitional democracies around the world. It will be of interest to scholars and students of Taiwanese, Mainland Chinese and East Asian politics, as well as to those concerned with political developments in other transitional societies.

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Dr Mikael Mattlin is collegium researcher at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS) and adjunct professor at the University of Turku. He has specialized in the politics, foreign policy and political economy of Greater China since 1995.

 

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by Bradley Winterton
From journal:
Taipei Times http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2016/05/26/2003647131/1

"In fact, it is in many ways a detailed political history of Taiwan over the eight years of the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) presidency.

"In fact, it is in many ways a detailed political history of Taiwan over the eight years of the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) presidency.

This is all in all an optimistic book, not least perhaps in its assertion that Taiwan’s political development may be “the best empirical looking glass we have into the political future of the People’s Republic of China.”"

by Murray A. Rubinstein, Columbia University and City University of New York
From journal:
Taiwan Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1

"[…] Politicized Society: The Long Shadow of Taiwan’s One Party Legacy is a skillfully organized, well written, and sophisticated─but not dense and opaque work of scholarship─that is a wonder for what it is and a gift for what it is not—another heavily statistical and theory-laden tome that seems to be the norm in discipline of modern political science.

"[…] Politicized Society: The Long Shadow of Taiwan’s One Party Legacy is a skillfully organized, well written, and sophisticated─but not dense and opaque work of scholarship─that is a wonder for what it is and a gift for what it is not—another heavily statistical and theory-laden tome that seems to be the norm in discipline of modern political science.

(…) Let me say, very simply, that I see the book as very well researched and written and believe that it captures certain hard realities of modern Taiwan that few scholars have dealt with before.

(…) I would hope that this book finds the large audience that it deserves."

by Dan Slater
From journal:
World Politics, Vol. 65, No. 4, October 2013

"… provide[s] abundant empirical examples of the friction between vertical and horizontal accountability…

… learned historical analyses of a significant Asian democratic case, drawing upon decades of scholarly expertise.

"… provide[s] abundant empirical examples of the friction between vertical and horizontal accountability…

… learned historical analyses of a significant Asian democratic case, drawing upon decades of scholarly expertise.

… provide[s] rich examples and keen insights into the dynamics of distinct types of democratic accountability and the variety of ways in which they can clash."

by Jonathan Sullivan
From journal:
The China Quarterly, 209, March 2012

"… in this carefully reasoned and strongly argued book […], Mikael Mattlin provides one of the most cogent arguments yet that many aspects of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation remain incomplete.

… Mattlin provides a promising framework for future analysts of Taiwanese political development.

"… in this carefully reasoned and strongly argued book […], Mikael Mattlin provides one of the most cogent arguments yet that many aspects of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation remain incomplete.

… Mattlin provides a promising framework for future analysts of Taiwanese political development.

… This book has much to recommend it (which I do without hesitation). It is theoretically rigorous and marshals an abundance of empirical material based on years of fieldwork conducted in Taiwan. It makes an obvious contribution to the literature on Taiwan, but is accessible enough for a student text. It is also very readable, with many vivid descriptions of political life in Taiwan."

by Malte Philipp Kaeding, University of Surrey
From journal:
The China Journal, No. 69

"Inspired by political anthropology and grounded theory, his work provides a truly novel approach. The investigation is based on extensive ethnographic data from election campaigns and interviews with party actors. It presents a carefully developed argument on the society’s structural politicization, highlighting the imperfect state of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation.

"Inspired by political anthropology and grounded theory, his work provides a truly novel approach. The investigation is based on extensive ethnographic data from election campaigns and interviews with party actors. It presents a carefully developed argument on the society’s structural politicization, highlighting the imperfect state of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation.

… Mattlin’s book will be of interest to any students of political science, democratization and regional studies focusing on Taiwan, the Greater China region or East Asia. It offers an in-depth analysis of structure; a suggested reading companion would be a publication on agency. This combination would provide a very comprehensive picture of Taiwan’s political development. The argument presented by Mattlin is sophisticated and grounded in thick description. It provides a new perspective on Taiwan’s transition, and will revitalize the debate on the status of its democracy."

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