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Culture and Democracy
Posted by: Jon Henke on Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In the comments on a previous post, reader PogueMahone wrote something I think is worth thinking about in terms of the US policy of democratization...
So, how does one come to the conclusion that an attempt to bring a Jeffersonian democracy to this “bad” culture is good foreign policy?
[...]
...it puzzles me how one concludes that instilling a Western value on a “bad” culture will have favorable results.
That's a good point. As Dale Franks wrote at QandO recently, Democracy may have a lot of merits, but it is not "in and of itself, a particularly good way of ensuring that what people want is the right thing." Democracy, he pointed out, was "the culmination of [our western] heritage, not the cause of it."

Now, I tend to think that democratization would have an inevitable taming effect on the worst aspects of the problematic cultures in the Mid-East. Eventually. If it got that far. It is not, however, certain that it can or will "get that far" before some very bad things happen.

I'd like to think we have a coherent idea of the effects of this policy of democratization and a plan to manage the ill-effects before we leap into regime-change mode. My impression is that our cautious approaches to borderline States like Pakistan and Egypt indicates we have a healthy caution.

In Iraq, though, we may not have not been cautious enough. Consider a recent statement by Milton Friedman...
The big issue is whether the United States will succeed in its venture of reshaping the Middle East. It is not clear to me that using military force is the way to do it. We should not have gone into Iraq. But we have. At the moment, the most pressing issue, therefore, is to make sure that effort is completed in a satisfactory way.

There is no doubt that America’s stature in the world—in large part due to the attraction and promotion of our liberal freedoms—has been eroded as a result of Iraq. However, if Iraq emerges in the end as a self-governing country that is not a threat to anybody, that will have a favorable effect on the Middle East in general. The end result then would be to increase the prestige of the US. But that is not the case now. The effect so far has been the other way.
The cultural clashes exemplified by the Danish cartoons of Muhammad are probably good in the long term. At the least, the cultures involved are being forced to recognize their disequilibriums and deal with them. Going forward, it seems to me that cultural confrontation is probably going to be far more important than military confrontation.
 
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I am just reminded of Churchill’s statement
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
All we can say is that democracies, in the long-run, have an emperical record of freedom, and prosperity and safety and welfare of their citizens than other forms of government. In a choice between what WAS, Saddam Husssein and what may be, I will choose the what may be.

Or as another great quote says:
The Battle is not always to the strong, nor the race to the swift, but that’s the way the smart money bets.
Democracy is the smart money bet as compared to autocracy or authoritarianism.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I might add, for those who will point out that the United States did not promote democracy in the Cold War or if it did it did so sparingly one thing. The options weren’t democracy or autocracy, in many cases, but a Leftist Autocratic regime hostile to the US or a Rightist Autocratic regime, friendly to the US.

With the end of the Cold War that is no longer the option, now the option is Autocracy v. Democracy. The death of the USSR and the passage into shadows of Marxism (except on Western University campuses) has granted us a chance to advance a little further down the road.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
In a choice between what WAS, Saddam Husssein and what may be, I will choose the what may be.
Maybe. On the other hand, the Musharraf dictatorship in Pakistan is the only thing standing between us and the more radical Islamists who oppose Musharraf. In that case, dictatorship is probably the lesser of the available evils.

Anyway, the question is not simply a binary "what do we prefer between democracy and dictatorship". It’s a more nuanced "what are the optimal choices among the available options" and "how do we get from here to there"?
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Keep in mind that a lot of the current "rioting in the streets" is whipped up by the current autocratic regimes. I’m not saying that a Muslim democracy would look like a western one, but it would help to have the propoganda lessened.

I’ve read (forget where) speculation that these photo’s were brought up again after 4 months to help divert attention away from the deaths during the hajj. it wouldn’t be the first time that the "arab street" has its frustration at the current situation at home redirected at the west by their governemnet.
 
Written By: Tito
URL: http://
Anyway, the question is not simply a binary "what do we prefer between democracy and dictatorship". It’s a more nuanced "what are the optimal choices among the available options" and "how do we get from here to there"?
Yes and No. I just worry that once we begin to pull back from the BEST to "What is possible" we set foot on the road to "Whatever hapens is OK, as long as it isn’t Bin-Laden". I guess I’d say that yours is a realistic proposition, BUT that REALISM has its limits, as an example France seems to follow a "realistic" approach to foreign/national security policy. The end result of which is not necessarily good for France or its dependencies, in the long-run. Too often "Realists" confuse what IS with "What MUST be."

Your point is well taken, but we can not forget the goal is not Hosni Mubarak/Musharraf-style "democracy" but a true system of representation, whether it is Whitehall-style, Paris-style, Tel-Avis (OK, Jerusalem)-style democracy, so we can not accept Mubarak or Musharraf as the destination, merely one station on the way to the destination.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I’m with you, Jon. If we can fight this war with cartoons instead of bullets, we’ll be better off.

These cartoons are a "silver bullet" of sorts: if you consider that Islamist Terrorism is a tactic in a civil war between factions in larger Muslim society, abetted by an unquestioning global media, you’ll agree the "Cartoon Campaign" is already paying dividends.

1. radical islamists are revealing their members and organizations in public protests. Authorities in India, England, Bangladesh, France, Germany, Thailand, Indonesia and Denmark are taking notes.

2. the modernizing electorates of Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and Egypt now know what the Islamists’ electoral platform consists of - religious intolerance, crackdowns on free-expression and frivolous trade policies - and will vote against it.

3. civil libertarians and Leftists in the global press are being forced to choose between free-expression or censoring themselves for the sake of a violent, religious sect, and they are choosing free expression.

More to your point, though, I think Bush’s nation-builders are counting on Iraq’s expatriate community to import the culture needed for democracy to flourish.

And if all fails, Bush has smartly hedged his bets: he has reiterated that Iraq’s democracy "will not look like ours." This allows America to claim "success" whether in three years Iraq is a Jeffersonian democracy or a Chalabi-led retread of Pinochet’s Chile.
-Steve
 
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
"success" whether in three years Iraq is a Jeffersonian democracy or a Chalabi-led retread of Pinochet’s Chile
.
You mean the Chile that is trying Pinochet? The functional democracy that is Chile? The democracy that arose FROM Pinochet? My point being, that Pinochet LED TO this Chile... don’t be so dismissive of Pinochet’s regime. And so, I wouldn’t be TOO unhappy with a Pinochet in Iraq.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I would take Joe’s comments and extend their reach a bit, and suggest that what we’re really talking about here... the answer to Pogue’s question, is social Darwinism.

What is social Darwinism, but social evolution?Such evolution has no chance whatever under, say, a Saddam... but it DOES stand a chance under a Democracy. Under a democracy, the ideas and ideals of western culture will filter through, as they have every other place where Democracy has been installed. Japan, for example. South Korea. Etc.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
What Bithead said...
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Joe, I think both options - Jeffersonian democracy, and a Pinochet-style "strong Executive" - are equally likely developments in young democracies.

(Don’t get me wrong, I’m a libertarian capitalist, so I sympathized with Pinochet’s goals of forcing pro-market reforms in Chile’s economy.)

And, what Bithead said: Pogue forgets that cultures evolve gradually, and rationally. People can’t help but adopt technologies that assist them in their daily lives. Democracy is a proven technological solution to the problems of national governance, and the people of the region, given the chance, won’t hestate to shuck off tired customs to reach for it.

It may be a fact that in order to bridge the gap between where ME culture is today, and where it needs to be to meet the "cultural requirements" of lasting democracy (whatever those are), nascent ME democracies, like Iraq, will require a Pinochet- or Musharraf-style executive to husband the process.

I think Bush is saying he’s OK with that.
-Steve
 
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Jon, thanks for the link to the Milton Friedman interview. You get a free link on my blog for that one!

I disagree with Friedman on whether we should have gone into Iraq. Waiting for U.N. action would have gotten us nowhere, because Saddam had the U.N. in his pocket. Eventually, they would have lifted the sanctions and we would be back to Saddam building his WMD’s and generally threatening his neighbors.

At least Friedman is smart enough to recognize that we have to get Iraq up and running, unlike most of the "cut and run" crowd.
 
Written By: EdMcGon
URL: http://politicsandpigskins.blogspot.com/
I disagree with Friedman on whether we should have gone into Iraq. Waiting for U.N. action would have gotten us nowhere, because Saddam had the U.N. in his pocket. Eventually, they would have lifted the sanctions and we would be back to Saddam building his WMD’s and generally threatening his neighbors.
Maybe so, maybe not. I supported the war in Iraq, but it remains to be seen whether it will turn out to be a net positive.

Meanwhile, I think it’s equally dangerous and presumptive to preemptivelt declare the war in Iraq a success or a failure.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
While it is possible the new regime in Iraq could end up being against the U.S., I don’t see them being a threat to their neighbors like Saddam’s regime.

Also, I think we will get some brownie points from the Shiites and the Kurds there, which suffered under Saddam.
 
Written By: EdMcGon
URL: http://politicsandpigskins.blogspot.com/
Pogue forgets that cultures evolve gradually, and rationally.
Incorrect,
The Western culture certainly doesn’t own democracy, and other cultures are perfectly capable of spawning democracy. But how does one reckon that implanting the Western value of democracy on a culture that clearly isn’t ready for individual freedoms will take root and flower cultural values that has taken the West centuries to cultivate?
Which summarizes my entire point. Also,
Democracy is a proven technological solution to the problems of national governance, and the people of the region, given the chance, won’t hestate to shuck off tired customs to reach for it.
Is it the same “tired customs” that encourage strapping a bomb to oneself?
I think Bush is saying he’s OK with that.
Yes, well. For $500,000,000,000 and countless lost lives…
I’m not.
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
If government was funded voluntarily, they would pretty much stick to the chores that earmarked for the money by the donators. You might be interested... a message directly from the Holy Spirit today on the Christian Prophecy blog says that government will someday be funded totally voluntarily without taxation. This seems like a strong selling point.
 
Written By: A Christian Prophet
URL: http://www.blogcharm.com/christianprophecy/
The anger over the cartoons certainly show that freedom of speech will not be a high priority in the New Iraq.
Plus, these guys started buring things down over a Ferry Sinking for gods sakes.
 
Written By: Spunky Texan
URL: http://spunkytexan.blogspot.com/
I’m kinda lost here.

The skepticism that Pogue is evincing seems to be based upon the idea that the Middle East is not suited to democracy.

Why? Because the nations in the region have no history of it in their make-up and culture.

Leaving aside the issue of whether culture=destiny, I have to wonder whether the absence of democracy in their history necessarily means that a region is not suited to democracy. After all, at what point does this become chicken-and-egg, i.e., you can’t develop democracy b/c you’re not already democratic.

More to the point, if we look a bit around the world, beyond the borders of the Middle East, what do we see?

Japan. Is Japan a democracy? Free press, multiple parties, free elections. Long history of democracy??

South Korea. Again, is South Korea a democracy? Again, free press, multiple parties, free elections. What is their history of democratic institutions?

How about Chile, Brazil, Argentina? Are these countries democracies? Their history is certainly spottier, but I’d venture that neither the Spanish nor the Indian root cultures had long histories of democracy. Nor has their path been any less rocky in the 20th century.

Certainly, having weak institutions is a massive strike against the prospects for democracy, but it would seem that countries can develop those institutions even where they are not rooted in their history. What they need, however, and which Pogue blithely dismisses, is time and protection from those elements opposed to it, perhaps even to the tune of $500,000,000,000.

One wonders whether it was worthwhile developing democracy in Japan, at a real cost (in 2005 dollars) that almost certainly exceeded that (and in higher human costs, too). Perhaps simply exterminating the Japanese as a race and people would’ve been easier?
 
Written By: Lurking Observer
URL: http://
Democracy is prefered in all circumstances.

Leaders of democracies are timid of upsetting their people. Democracy promotes internal dissent, an opposition continually questions the leadership in the hope of whittling away a leaders position. This internal dissent means that leaders act to accomodate the well being of as many people as possible. Almost all peoples views can be accomodated.

The dynamic of a regime is different within a dictatorship (or under a colonial power) such a regime is only fearful of rebellion. Whilst the majority can be cowed with a police force, strong willed individuals still pose a danger to the regime. The strong willed person who is willing to kill for their ideas must be accomodated or they will rebel, in this way we get terrorism and nationalist movements.

Democracies end up being more peaceful because "most people" are not willing to risk their own necks in the pursuit of an ideal, dictatorships are more violent because "most people" are safely ignored.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
Pogue’s Catch 22:

Unless a country has a rich, vibrant history of democracy, then it is unsuited for democracy.

So, uhhhhh, how does one ever get a history of democracy without holding that first election?

Not to mention with a little time, I could find cultural "evidence" that these countries also have some advantageous cultural habits for democracy...let’s see off the top of my head:

Rule of Law: Because Islamic religion relies heavily on interpreting the Koran and Hadith and making legal pronouncements, Islamic societies would be more likely to accept rule of law...

 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Yes, well. For $500,000,000,000 and countless lost lives…
I think it’s time you started answering the question what it would cost is not to have responded, in both money and lives. I submit the figures would have been far greater.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Such evolution has no chance whatever under, say, a Saddam... but it DOES stand a chance under a Democracy. Under a democracy, the ideas and ideals of western culture will filter through, as they have every other place where Democracy has been installed. Japan, for example. South Korea. Etc.
Hmmm, I’ve got problems with this.

Iraq under Saddam was the one of the most liberal of all the Middle Eastern nations.

Education, health care and women’s rights under Saddam were all at a decent levels (moreso before sanctions).

Under the type of Democracy that’s being installed its likely (even actually, under the new constitution) that a more non-secular, extremist regime can roll back these ideals of western culture.
 
Written By: symptomless
URL: http://
The skepticism that Pogue is evincing seems to be based upon the idea that the Middle East is not suited to democracy.
Wrong, Lurking.
It was McQ’s pronouncement of a “bad” culture that begged questioning. If one were to believe, justly or not, that the Middle Eastern culture is “bad”, then how does one believe that this “bad” culture will grasp democratic notions of freedom and liberty?
What they need, however, and which Pogue blithely dismisses, is time and protection from those elements opposed to it, perhaps even to the tune of $500,000,000,000.
Wrong again, Lurking. Strike two. You’re behind in the count.
There’s nothing blithe about one-half Trillion dollars, 2264 military casualties, and untold numbers of innocent Iraqi deaths. And for what? A long-shot chance for democracy among a “bad” culture?
And references to Japan, S. Korea, and others? Well you’d first have to declare that they are “bad” cultures before these examples become relevant.
Perhaps simply exterminating the Japanese as a race and people would’ve been easier?
Foul ball.
=============================
Pogue’s Catch 22:

Unless a country has a rich, vibrant history of democracy, then it is unsuited for democracy.

So, uhhhhh, how does one ever get a history of democracy without holding that first election?
It’s only a catch 22 if you fail to read the entire passage,
The Western culture certainly doesn’t own democracy, and other cultures are perfectly capable of spawning democracy. But how does one reckon that implanting the Western value of democracy on a culture that clearly isn’t ready for individual freedoms will take root and flower cultural values that has taken the West centuries to cultivate?
So, uhhhhh, how does one get, “Unless a country has a rich, vibrant history of democracy, then it is unsuited for democracy.” From that????
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
Pogue:

Hardly.

On the issue of "bad" cultures, I think it’s safe to say that Shinto/militarist Japan had a "bad" culture. Subjugation of women, lack of political freedom, etc., etc. And, as noted, no history of democracy, either. By those lights, Japan had no chance of becoming a democracy, certainly not in the ten years in which the US occupied and ran that country (compared, say, with its previous centuries of culture and political history).

And the same would certainly seem to apply to Korea (southern Korea, in this case), insofar as Korea had no tradition of democracy, of a marketplace of ideas, free press, etc.

Given that these nations/cultures had neither a tradition of democracy, nor of political freedom, nor of a free press, the fact that they are able to become democracies suggests, in fact, that there is nothing inherently wrong, counterproductive, or doomed to failure about bringing Jeffersonian democracy to what are, essentially, closed, autocratic political cultures.

Indeed, it suggests that your presumption that "a culture that clearly isn’t ready for individual freedoms will take root and flower cultural values that has taken the West centuries to cultivate" is just that, a presumption that has ben disproven, in the cases of South Korea and Japan and Taiwan.

Indeed, the vibrancy of Japanese and South Korean politics (and the concomitant explosion in their economies and innovation) suggests, in fact, that the effort to do so is quite worthwhile, but that it takes a significant investment. One that involved 50,000 lives, in the case of Korea, and a commitment of trillions of dollars (in 2005 terms) over nearly fifty years.

One that is presumably not worthwhile, by your lights.
 
Written By: Lurking Observer
URL: http://
Education, health care and women’s rights under Saddam were all at a decent levels (moreso before sanctions).
That is an outright lie. Kurdish and Shia peoples of Iraq were persecuted for their race and religion. Admittedly a Kurdish woman had just as many rights to be a third class citizen/serf as a Kurdish man, but that is not a decent level.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
If this thread is about democracy then we should support the new Hamas elected party in Palestine. By refusing to work with them we are only driving them into the arms of Russia. Putin is laughing at us now.
 
Written By: newt
URL: http://
Newt,
If Russian wants a foster child to adopt, Putin would do better to adopt a pimply twenty-something with a crack habit from San Quentin.

What the heck is Putin going to do with Hamas? Export mail-order brides to them? Send them "first-run" vodka? Promise them national health care?

Putin can have ’em if you ask me.
-Steve
 
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
What the heck is Putin going to do with Hamas? -Steve
He is going to acknowledge that they were democratically elected and therefore represent the Palestinian people. Israel can complain all it wants but at some point-after 57 years-we gotta deal with the Palestinians. Russia is on the right side of this one and ultimately Americans will wake up.
 
Written By: newt
URL: http://
Russia is on the right side of this one and ultimately Americans will wake up.
Did you notice in today’s news (02/11) that Russia is rounding up a new batch of Islamist radicals who were planning to take over another school?

I will grant you your point, though, that Putin might know something I don’t. For all I know he might be playing "good-cop" in covert counterpoint to Condi’s "bad-cop."

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
-Steve
 
Written By: Steve
URL: http://

 
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