The “normal” exercise of hegemony on the now classical terrain of parliamentary regime is characterized by a combination of force and consent, which balance each other reciprocally, without force predominating excessively over consent … Between consent and force stands corruption/fraud (which is characteristic of certain situations when it is hard to exercise the hegemonic function, and when the use of force is too risky).– Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks
Political order can be maintained in different ways, involving different mixtures of force and consent (Gramsci 1971). During most of history, civil peace was maintained when some political forces consolidated their domination to the point that potential challengers were sufficiently intimidated to acquiesce to elections in which they had little of a chance to win: there is nothing new about “electoral authoritarianism.” The shadow of violence fades only when people are wealthy enough not to care much about whatever they can gain by fighting.
The purpose of this analysis is to place contemporary Russia in a broad historical context by analyzing why political order is frequently difficult to establish, why most often it emerges under the dominance of a single political force, and finally why some rulers allow competitive elections and leave office when they lose. By “political order,” I mean something minimal, only the absence of organized violence. To this extent “peaceful order” is redundant. But “order” connotes any regularity and the use of violence can also be regular.
Political order is maintained by a combination of three mechanisms: ideological exhortation, regulation by institutions, and repression.
The first mechanism is exhortation, relying on political myths (Morgan 1988): the claim that “the people” are united, that there are no fundamental conflicts in society, that interests and values are harmonious, and that collective life can be guided by consensus. “United we stand” is a slogan used by all rulers to induce compliance with whatever they stand for themselves.
The second mechanism is to structure the conflicts that may emerge in society, absorb some of them into an institutional framework, and regulate them according to some rules.