book forum: ivan ermakoff’s ruling oneself out
Ruling Oneself Out by Ivan Ermakoff is a book that should of had a different title. In my view, the book should have been called “When Regimes Just Give Up and Die.” This important book speaks to a political process that direly needs more attention in both politics and sociology: turning points in history when one political order simply surrenders in the face of a challenger.
The book has two layers. One layer is a close reading of two examples of political abdication – the 1933 vote in Germany to give Hitler virtually unlimited powers and the 1940 decision by the French government to transfer authority to Petain.
The second layer is an insanely ambitious attempt to reconstruct how sociologists approach historical explanations. Ermakoff presents a theory of political abdication that combines the following elements: (a) an analysis of how political groups lose cohesion in the face of threat, (b) a game theoretical analysis of how groups under threat reform themselves, and (c) a criticism of other accounts of this process. So rather than throw all explanation to historical accident, Ermakoff tries to tease out how people surrender given their historically contingent self-understanding and their incentives. Think of it as historical explanation that is part phenomonology and part rational choice.
For the next two days, I will review these layers and then wrap up with a discussion of Ermakoff’s recent ASR article that presents a more extensive theory of historical contingency.