Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Are the Necessary Conditions For Democracy?

As Bush attempts to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that includes what amount to permanent bases and immunity from prosecution for US troops and contractors, one realizes that even the person who spent so much time trying to trumpet the idea of a free and sovereign democratic Iraq doesn't buy it.

One of the interesting ironies is that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the result of neo-conservative thinking largely shaped by Francis Fukuyama, who in his book The End of History, argues a neo-Hegelian line in which there is an end state to history, a state towards which all countries are moving. It is American-style corporate capitalist free-market representative democracy. All nations strive for it and if only loosed from their shackles would instantaneously begin to create it. This is why the neo-cons were so certain that we would be greeted as liberators and Democracy would be on the march right in. "Shock and awe" would cut the head off the snake and a democratic Iraq would spontaneously appear. (Dozen of democracies spontaneously appear each year, it's just not widely reported.)

Of course it didn't quite work. Thus Bush negotiating a SOFA while more likely needing time on the couch.

This idea that there are no other prerequisites for a democratic government than release from tyrannical rule stands in distinction to earlier conservative writing. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, in her famous article "Dictators and Double-Standards" argues that it is ok to try to assassinate, undermine, and overthrow left-wing evil, murderous dictators, but to prop up, aid, and supply arms to right-wing evil, murderous dictators because the right-wingers are not apt "to alter significantly the distribution of goods, status, or power" and this means that they are more likely to give rise, ultimately, to democratic societies. In other words, right-wing tyrants will create the preconditions for democracy, but left-wing tyrants won't.

That one didn't quite pan out either, of course, but the paleo-conservative picture at least considers that there is certain social, political, and intellectual infrastructure that must be in place for democracy to come about, to flourish, and to be maintained. Surely, whatever those preconditions are, they are not in fact aided by right-wing death squads. But what are they?

What about free speech? Scott argues that this is overrated as a condition.

Would Burma be on its way to democracy if the junta was ousted tomorrow? They have a popularly supported party and a charismatic leader, but is that enough? Is it like India just after partition? Could one argue that they are different because the British left the notion of a functioning independent judiciary?

Does there have to be a lack of ethnic/tribal/sectarian tensions? What needs to be present in a nation for democracy to take root?