Friday, December 16, 2005

The perils of democracy promotion

Today we have the requisite chin-stroking regarding the election in Iraq, and Fred Kaplan of Slate offers a fairly pessimistic view of democracy promotion:

[I]t's an apt time to step back and consider the broader prospects for Iraqi democracy. Unfortunately, they don't look so good.

A new book, Electing To Fight, by two political scientists—Edward Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania and Jack Snyder of Columbia—reinforces this pessimism. The book argues that, while mature democracies do tend to be more peaceful and almost never go to war with one another, emerging democracies tend to be more violent and aggressive than any other type of regime—and are more likely to erupt in civil war or revert to autocratic rule.

Actually, this argument has been put forward many times, most notably by the unjustly derided Robert D. Kaplan (relation?) in the Atlantic, 1997, who argued -- through his anecdotal experience -- that it would be preferable to have an "enlightened Hobbesian despot" than a democracy minus the enlightened populace:

I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington.


Democracies do not always make societies more civil-but they do always mercilessly expose the health of the societies in which they operate.

And his example? Sudan:

In April of 1985 I found myself in the middle of a Sudanese crowd that had just helped to overthrow a military regime and replace it with a new government, which the following year held free and fair elections. Sudan's newly elected democracy led immediately to anarchy, which in turn led to the most brutal tyranny in Sudan's postcolonial history: a military regime that broadened the scope of executions, persecuted women, starved non-Muslims to death, sold kidnapped non-Muslim children back to their parents for $200, and made Khartoum the terrorism capital of the Arab world, replacing Beirut.

Though, if I recall correctly, Kaplan argued that Iraq possessed enough of an educated middle class and operating civic institutions to make a go of a successful democracy. But that was a few years ago, before the country was gutted by looters, beset by insurgency. I'd be curious to know what he thinks today.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 8:09 AM

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