Wednesday, June 4, 2003

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The state of democracy in the world

In the wake of the myriad difficulties and perceived roadblocks to the democratization process in Iraq, it is easy for one's inner Burke to emerge and assume that there are limits to the transplanting of liberal democracy outside of the West. I won't deny having had these occasional qualms recently, even though I argued two months ago that the chances for democratizing Iraq were better than skeptics believed.

As a balm for these occasional worries, go read Larry Diamond's June 2003 article "Universal Democracy?" in Policy Review. For the academics in the crowd, here's a link to the version with the statistical tables. Diamond's punchline:

The current moment is in many respects without historical precedent. Much is made of the unparalleled gap between the military and economic power of the United States and that of any conceivable combination of competitors or adversaries. But no less unique are these additional facts:

• This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy.

• The next most powerful global actor is a loose union of countries that are also all liberal democracies.

• The majority of states in the world are already democracies of one sort or another.

• There is no model of governance with any broad normative appeal or legitimacy in the world other than democracy.

• There is growing international legal and moral momentum toward the recognition of democracy as a basic human right of all peoples.

• States and international organizations are intruding on sovereignty in ever more numerous and audacious ways in order to promote democracy and freedom.

In short, the international context has never mattered more to the future of democracy or been more favorable. We are on the cusp of a grand historical tipping point, when a visionary and resourceful strategy could — if it garnered the necessary cooperation and effort among the powerful democracies — essentially eliminate authoritarian rule over the next generation or two.

The entire first half of the paper is a refutation of the argument that democracy can't thrive in non-rich, non-Western countries. One key passage:

Moreover, the overwhelming bulk of the states that have become democratic during the third wave [of democratization, from 1974-1991] have remained so, even in countries lacking virtually all of the supposed “conditions” for democracy. Pre-1990 Africa aside, only four democracies have been overthrown by the military in a conventional coup. Two of those (Turkey and Thailand) returned fairly quickly to democracy, and the other two (Pakistan and the Gambia) have felt compelled at least to institute civilian multiparty elections. Several democracies have been suspended in “self-coups” by elected civilian leaders, while other elected rulers have more subtly strangled democracy. Overall, however, only 14 of the 125 democracies that have existed during the third wave have become authoritarian, and in nine of these, democracy has since been restored.

If democracy can emerge and persist (now so far for a decade) in an extremely poor, landlocked, overwhelmingly Muslim country like Mali — in which the majority of adults are illiterate and live in absolute poverty and the life expectancy is 44 years — then there is no reason in principle why democracy cannot develop in most other very poor countries.

Give it a close read.

posted by Dan on 06.04.03 at 10:54 PM