Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Dangers of Western-style Democracy Implementation
Martin Jacques comments in the Guardian today on the dangers of uniform implementation of Western-style democracy around the world. It’s a subject I’ve touched on before, and is a premise in which I believe very strongly.

Jacques argues that Western-style democracy is something that has only been developed over the past half century since the defeat of fascism, and even more so since the defeat of communism. Its success in its final free economic form has been based significantly on pre-form stable economic structures and even cultural societies, and it has been proven as a poor mechanism for early-stage economic growth.

“Democracy, historical experience suggests, is not that well-suited to achieving the conditions necessary for economic takeoff. Given that democracy is now the universal western prescription for developing countries, this is rather ironic.” This is especially pertinent when one considers the forceful introduction of Western-style democracy in Iraq.

Secondly, Western democracy remains a difficult instrument in diverse multi-ethnic societies where majority ethnic groups can rule over minorities.

“The west remains oblivious to the profound difficulties presented by ethnic diversity. As Amy Chua points out in World on Fire, democracy is far from a sufficient condition for benign governance in the kind of multiracial societies that are common in Africa and Asia. Democracy, the politics of the majority, allows the majority ethnic group to govern, potentially without constraint. Multi-ethnic societies, like Malaysia or Nigeria, require, for their stability, a racial consensus: democracy, resting on majorities and minorities, is deaf to this problem. Moreover, democracy works very differently in different cultures.”

It is these differences that we have to take into account. What the US/UK is in great danger of being responsible for, is the creation of a politically expedient client democracy, which last for half a decade, under which ecnomic growth is stagnant, and extremists flourish, before it is overrun by an extermist dicatator once more, and we are all back to square one.

All I am conveying is that applying Western-style democracy into the Muslim world requires a significant amount of careful consideration. A rigid, blanket application, forced or otherwise, will simply not be in the best long-term interests for both Iraq and the Western world. There has to be some compromise made in conjunction with the Iraqi people, under their own ethnic realities and cultural history (with the obvious exception of human rights abuses) where aggressive economic and political Western-style democracy is tempered to fit Iraq’s needs.