The Authoritarian Commons: Divergent Paths of Neighborhood Democratization in Three Chinese Megacities
American Journal of Comparative Law, Forthcoming.
66 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2021
Date Written: February 7, 2021
Can a liberal commons emerge in an authoritarian regime? Based on an in-depth investigation of the ongoing self-governance movement among hundreds of millions of homeowners in China, this research examines the tension between authoritarianism and liberal commons for the first time. Empirically this research reveals a striking contrast: in Shanghai, 94% of condominium complexes have established homeowners’ associations, a kind of liberal commons, compared with 41% in Shenzhen, and only 12% in Beijing. It is posited in this paper that the authoritarian commons (i.e., the dynamic interactions between the authoritarian state and homeowners’ efforts to create a liberal commons in their neighborhoods) features multiple equilibria that depend on the state capacity and the risks posed by the self-governance movement. A highly capable state facing an intermediate degree of risk can make the institutional reforms necessary to accommodate the grassroots democracy. This research of the authoritarian commons brings the state back to the economic theories of property rights, and brings property, and more specifically, space and territorial control to the study of authoritarianism. It also deepens our understanding of authoritarianism and development.
Keywords: Authoritarianism; Liberal Commons; China; Democratization; State Capacity; Infrastructural Power; Homeowners' Associations; Urban Governance
JEL Classification: K11; O43; P26; P21; P25; P32; P37; R23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation