The “Low-Hanging Fruit” Theory of Democracy Promotion


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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11 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    And of course countries have to want to be democracies. While the western assumption is that everybody wants western democracy, that just doesn’t seem to be true. Plenty of Americans in the good ol’ US of A, don’t always seem to be that happy with liberal democracy. Why religious conservatives in various other places should be any different is a good question.Report

  2. North says:

    I agree that not every country is ready for democracy. The population needs a certain level of rationality and education before it can really shoulder the burden of running its’ own affairs. My question is what the ideal or at least undesirable interim government would look like? For instance I’d say that Spain is a good example; Franco was a bloody red to the elbows dictator but under his heavy handed law and order the country developed economically and when he finally kicked off they transitioned to democracy very successfully. (I’d add that I think that Cuba is prime candidate to be a western Spain. The population is very well educated if we could just get rid of that damned embargo so they can liberalize economically…)

    So is a grimly ruthless and pragmatic strong man the ideal? Some form of monarchy maybe? Parliamentary Monarchy democracy has an excellent pedigree. Could a working democracy rise from a theocrat government? (I suspect no…) What do you think is the ideal midwife regime to a stable democracy?Report

  3. Kyle says:

    @Will Yes, but I think, to some degree, to emphasize one key difference between third and potential fourth wave democracies. The third wave democracies are – rather significantly – nation-states, rather than countries. They aren’t more ethnically diverse because of happenstance, but because back down the road a European somewhere decided this is where the Congo ends. This just leads me to wonder if we should reconsider opposition to Balkanisation, though without the non-cooperative connotation. Sure Latvia’s a decently democratized state, but it’s entirely unclear if a United States of Livonia would have had the same success. When it comes to stable ethnic heterogeneity, the US is more of an outlier than a model and our history/current struggles aren’t exactly peppered with examples of tolerance and civility.

    @gregniak I’m not sure where you get the idea that plenty of Americans don’t like liberal democracy from. I may be mistaken but I think criticisms of cultural changes/shifts is distinct from criticism of the foundational concepts of liberal democratic governance. I’m also not terribly convinced that religious conservatives of any stripe seem to particularly like or dislike any form of government considering historical attacks on/criticism of government tends to be indifferent between democratic, monarchical, and autocratic systems.

    Final point, I don’t think the Western assumption is that everybody wants western democracy. (even if that’s the word of choice) Especially considering that there isn’t even a single model of Western democracy. I think the assumption is that everybody wants some kind of representative government and the freedoms/respect for individual rights that we associate with conventional Western liberalism. In other words, the assumption is that everybody wants and should have the ability to make certain choices for themselves.Report

    • Will in reply to Kyle says:

      Kyle –

      I think that’s right, hence the excerpt from Electing to Fight:

      “A fourth wave would involve more challenging cases: countries that are poorer, more ethnically divided, ideologically more resistant to democracy, with more entrenched authoritarian elites and with a much frailer base of governmental institutions and citizen-skills.”Report

  4. greginak says:

    I think there is strong current in religious conservative thought that liberalism has led to a break down in morality and society. I don’t mean liberalism necessarily in the strictly political sense but in the sense that people can do whatever they want without society to tell them what to do. Plenty of RelCons are unhappy with the normalization of gays in our society, which has come from the decline in homophobia. Western liberal democracies give people immense freedom to fly their freak flag high, which many strictly traditional cultures find abhorrent.

    While I guess its fair to say everybody wants some sort of representative government, but only if you define that incredible widely. I’m just not sure that a tribal band in Afghanistan would see representative government the same way we do. Liberal democracy implies accepting people who are very different having just as much say in the running of your country as you do. I don’t think many Americans are always happy about that nor do I think of people in other countries really want that. Do Saudi men want women to have just as much say in their government as they have?Report

    • Kyle in reply to greginak says:

      I don’t disagree with the discomfort you’re seeing from traditionalists and religious conservatives with the liberalization of cultural values or, as I’m sure you and I see it, cultural progress.

      I think liberalism implies that tolerance for a degree of personal liberty is valued. Disagreement over to what degree doesn’t necessarily reflect on dissatisfaction with the principle itself. Using the same logic, I wouldn’t conclude that in areas where gay marriage is legal, it makes conservatives less happy with marriage as an institution. It could be the case, I just think it needs more support to get there.

      On governments, the British don’t see representative government the same way we do, nor for that matter do the Japanese or Singaporeans, which is why I think arguments (especially from neocons) about the “importance” of this form or that institution, are chasing democratic red herrings. I think, however, that many Americans are happy that they get some say in government, rather than none, even if individually everyone might prefer to be a monarch or part of an oligarchy. At the very least, I think it’s safe to say they’re happier, if not perfectly content. After all, I’m very different from Senator Jim DeMint but he gets more say in government than I do. (Which is a travesty, I say but it doesn’t make dislike the republican form of government.)

      The Saudi example is particularly interesting because – seeing as it’s an absolute monarchy – men there have about as much say as women. Virtually none. That Saudi men want a say but don’t get one is a contributing, though not exclusively motivating, factor to why Saudi Arabia produces so many terrorists.Report

  5. greginak says:

    Re: In Saudi Arabia socially men have far more rights and abilities. While few men have political power they have enormous social power they would not likely be willing to give up.Report

  6. seanf says:

    While I agree that the promotion of democracy abroad is likely to be both ill-advised and unsuccessful, I don’t buy the “preconditions for democracy” theory. At least to the extent that we delude ourselves into thinking we can distinguish the seeds that will sprout from those that will not.

    Consider, for example, the world’s largest democracy – India. When the country was formed in 1947, few around the world thought democracy would take root amidst its near unparalleled linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity. And in fact, India is still very poor by any set of per capita metrics, with massive income inequality and a mostly rural and relatively uneducated population.

    Bu today, India has a vibrant and stable political and parliamentary culture. And I doubt India is an exception that proves the rule. Rather each example of a potential democracy needs to be considered sui generis.Report

    • Will in reply to seanf says:

      seanf –

      Good point, but I think it’s undeniable that Eastern Europe is better suited to Western-style democracy than, say, Central Asia.

      I’d also argue that all things considered (ethnic tensions, the enduring popularity of the BJP, lackluster enforcement of civil rights), the jury’s still out on the strength of Indian democracy.Report