Democracy: Pace of Development
What is the right pace for democracy to develop?
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For democracy to develop, a critical momentum (speed of change) needs to be built up. Moving from a...
For democracy to develop, a critical momentum (speed of change) needs to be built up. Moving from a non-democratic system to a democratic one is a significant change in a political system. It requires the alteration of often long-standing, well-established arrangements which may well be supported by very-well funded vested interests. Therefore, there may be well-organised and significant institutional resistance to democracy. Given the scale of change involved and the fact that pro-democracy forces may be less well-organised and supported, this can act as a significant barrier to a movement to democracy. It is important in this process that momentum be built up to overcome these vested interests. Breaks in the process give them opportunities to regroup and work against pro-democracy sentiments.
If democratic development occurs too quickly, it cannot take root. If democracy is to take root and survive, it cannot emerge rapidly from nowhere. It needs to evolve as part of a process that commands social support. It also needs to benefit from well-designed institutional support (e.g. a free press and media, literate voters, unbiased election officials) which enables it both to begin but also to bed in and survive. Therefore, in moving to a democracy, there is a need for a period when the grounds for democracy are laid. In some circumstances, this will mean that rather than an immediate or rapid change to democracy, it is more appropriate and more desirable for a slower transition which allows for the necessary support to be built up.
Arguments about democracy being “too fast” ignore the fact that any speed is “too fast”. Some peopl...
Arguments about democracy being “too fast” ignore the fact that any speed is “too fast”. Some people argue that the movement from non-democracy to democracy is a very significant one and so systems ought to be wary of making that move “too quickly”. This ignores the point that the issue is not the speed but the scale of change. The move to democracy is a significant disruption to the status quo that will have wide-reaching and long-ranging effects in any situation. This will be so regardless of whether the transition period is short or long. So to complain that a transition is “too fast” is to confuse the nature of the change with the speed of change, which will always be too fast for many people’s liking.
Democracy should develop at different paces in different environments. The idea of democracy as a universal good may be characterised as culturally imperialistic. It emphasises ethnocentric notions of good governance over other systems that may be preferred within other cultures. But even if this is not accepted and democracy is indeed thought of as a universal good, it does not follow that it ought to develop at the same pace in different places and at different times. The political and social situation is an important environmental factor in deciding whether democratic change will be successful. Immediately after a war, for example, there may be a security vacuum that various armed groups seek to fill. Democratic development in such circumstances will need to be different to that under a peaceful authoritarian regime. A different but similar example is that different levels of economic development, education or civil society may influence the appropriate shape and size of democracy.
Democracy offers a universal benefit and so should be embraced everywhere. Democracy is a universal...
Democracy offers a universal benefit and so should be embraced everywhere. Democracy is a universal good and should be recognised as a universal human right. Therefore, it is wrong to suggest that it is good for some societies but not for others. This is a form of cultural elitism, which relied on an unspoken subtext suggesting that some countries lack the ability or willingness to embrace democracy, perhaps because their people cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. Such attitudes suit some states which would rather manipulate non-democratic countries through client relationships with authoritarian regimes than through having to engage with populist, democratically elected regimes. This is illustrated in the nature of many of the relationships between the United States, and Central and South American countries over the past two centuries.
Different levels and speeds of democratic development may be desirable in different cultures. Some countries and people are more ready for democracy than others. This is a fact of life. In some countries, there is a tradition of self-sufficiency that means that an over-emphasis on representative democracy will offend cultural standards. Similarly, in some cultures particular ages, genders or classes are viewed as having more right to rule or to direct the rulers than others, and simply applying a blanket definition of democracy will be positively damaging in such countries and in any case is unlikely to succeed. Given that different nations start from different democratic baselines, it will be culturally sensitive to introduce democracy at possibly different speeds depending on local circumstances, whatever the appropriate level of democracy may be determined to be.
Democracy is critical because it acts as a foundation for other desirable social goods. Democracy i...
Democracy is critical because it acts as a foundation for other desirable social goods. Democracy is not simply an end but also a means. Democracy represents a stable, accountable foundation for social and economic development. This is recognised by many western countries that protect their own democratic basis. The debate about democracy is sometimes defined narrowly in terms of governance systems, and opponents claim that it would make little practical difference. This argument does not follow. Rather, given that democracy acts to enable a wider range of desirable goals, its importance should not be seen in isolation but instead as part of a much wider movement. For example, democracy makes rulers accountable to their people and raises expectations of good administration - both very important in the fight against corruption. In this light, democracy unarguably becomes a pressing need for development in a country.
Too much democracy can encourage ethnic and other divisions. Democracy is majority rule. Any system of majority rule opens up the opportunity for minority oppression. Pro-democracy advocates argue that the system needs to contain an appropriate level of checks and balances to prevent majority abuse of power. However, in some cases this approach will be ineffective. In countries where there are serious ethnic, religious or cultural fault lines, it may well be that a democratic approach simply opens up the door for a systematic abuse of rights by the majority group (which in a multi-ethnic country may be far from an absolute majority). This is the reason given by Uganda's President Museveni for his “no-party democracy”, which he supports by arguing that party-based democracy in the short-term would degenerate into ethnically homogenous parties fighting elections on ethnically divisive grounds.
What do you think?