Describing Political Regime Change from a Complex Systems Perspective




McFarlane, Hugh J.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Changes to the formal rules and institutions governing political activity are driven by the complex interactions between political actors seeking resources from the state. These changes disrupt the network of competitive-cooperative relationships that given sufficient time to mature help stabilize and reinforce persistence of the status quo. This thesis analyzes these dynamics from the perspective of complex systems theory. The principle finding is that the pressure to change regime characteristics moves through three distinct phases. Immediately following a change to regime characteristics, system dynamics are unstable, indicated by rising hazard force. Over time, the political system transitions to a stabilizing self-reinforcing dynamic. During this period a power law model describes the survival function and distribution of regime change magnitudes, while the hazard force decreases nonlinearly. During the final phase a rising hazard force indicates a transition to back to unstable equilibrium dynamics. These findings indicate that changes to regime characteristics are the result of system level interdependence that forms as a result of the development of tactics, strategies and relationships following a previous regime change. Those cases where regime characteristics survive for decades, even past the century mark as some autocratic and democratic states have managed are indicative of system success in developing equilibrium dynamics that effectively resist pressures to change.



Complex adaptive systems, Complex social systems, Political stability, Punctuated equilibrium, Regime change, Self-organized criticality