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Should Western governments encourage or pressure third world countries to adopt democracy?

melian          11 June 2015 05:32 AM

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Dahlen 19 June 2015 04:50 PM

If you don't mind getting a cargo cult democracy in return, by all means go for it. I tend to view democracy as an effect rather than a cause of societal well-being.

A democratic system can come in several flavours, of which we can note two: an educated populace that has leverage over the political class in ways that go beyond voting to lobbying, independent journalism, political fact-checking, availability of ascension into the political class, effective employment of law enforcement against corrupt officials etc., or business as usual (i.e. corrupt oligarchy) with some bread-and-circuses election-type events once every few years. Which one would you rather have?

Good governance arises out of the extent to which the distribution of power matches the distribution of wisdom. Given that we're talking Third World countries, the starting situation is tyranny with no wisdom either at the top or anywhere else, really. The best short-term solution for them is to import a king, a legislative body, and some army generals from a better country, which are a) representative of that country's skill in governance or even somewhat better, and b) all in cahoots with each other so that they don't ruin the country by infighting. Sorry, medium-term; the short-term result of that is bloodshed. Which is why nobody is doing it.

What these people need is infrastructure, and safety -- from their governments, and from each other. Both of these are prerequisites for reaching the level of prosperity needed to afford to think about civic matters rather than just food and family, and safety is especially needed for ensuring that going up against the Powers That Be is not a suicidal endeavour.

Exactly how this is to be achieved diplomatically, I don't know, I'm out of my depths here. I might say something stupid and get mocked, so I'll refrain from policy suggestions. But in any case it seems much, much better than pushing for democracy and hoping for the best.

* * *

Another question that's worth asking is "what's in it for the Western governments?". The pseudo-solution I talked about usually goes by the name of "colonisation". When it happened, it stood motivated by pure economic exploitation on one hand, and the European belief in their duty to spread Christianity on the other hand, and it's arguable how much of the latter can be called altruistic. Now powerful Western states are either secular or American, and have lost the political capability to credibly claim that colonisation is a civilising mission, after domestic nationalism (which inevitably leaked) and two world wars. There is no incentive (on a reasonable time frame) and lots of disincentives to get hands-on involved in Third World governance. Currently they're playing the long game, sending development aid and presumably engaging in paternalistic diplomacy. Tame, but by the looks of it, ineffective and unprofitable for them. (Though, in the short term, probably less so than recolonisation.)

There's a question in here somewhere. If you had to put "Western guns" and "decolonisation" on the same spectrum called "Third World democracy", that can have values from more to less, where would both sit on it, and what would make them either close or far away to each other? Because it's obvious that the two notions are necessary opposites. Do Western guns help secure democracy? Did decolonisation help secure democracy?


Silent Cal 10 July 2015 12:32 PM

Epistemic status: Just a thought

We have no idea what systems of government work for improving stability, wealth and human rights. There are some systems that we're pretty sure don't work (in certain conditions). We should encourage/pressure countries to adopt systems that we don't know don't work, and we might someday learn what works.

"Experimenting" would be a political dealbreaker, but if we can notice and agree on what doesn't work and then be irrationality optimistic about whatever the next idea is, it might kinda work. Probably only more-or-less democratic systems would be politically feasible, but we might as well try all of those.

(For an example of a democratic idea that we don't know doesn't work, has a maximally decentralized approach been tried?)


ChristianKl 18 June 2015 04:35 PM

Whether or not to pressure a country to adopt democracy depend on the likely effect of exerting that pressure. In most cases exerting pressure to change the system of government only antagonizes the other country.

In most cases it makes more sense to focus on liberalism. Free speech, property rights and the rule of law seem to be better goals than pushing for elections.

Pushing for democratic elections in a country where political power is based on clans doesn't seem to be very useful. Afghanistan is an example that showed that introducing elections doesn't make the country democratic.

South Africa lost a decade of life expectancy after becoming a democracy. It's citizens needlessly died while they had an AIDS-denialist president.

While democracy is nice, I don't think it makes sense to push it on countries when it likely leads to the country being badly governed.
Just because 80% of Egyptians think homosexuality should be punishable by death that doesn't mean that we want an Egyptian government that listens to that demand from it's population. We want minority protection.
I want a government that's more democratic than the current one but we don't really want one that implements the sharia to the extend that the Egyptian public wants.


DanielLC 13 June 2015 08:42 PM

This forces third world countries to adopt democracy regardless of if it's a good idea. It's not fundamentally different from a monarchy putting pressure on other countries to become monarchies.


Fwiffo 13 June 2015 12:20 PM

Do you think that third world countires have bad state styles for their conditions?

The question could make sense if democracy would be the only real option a sensible person could settle with. However I don't see how we over here choosing it for ourselfs means neccesarily that it is best for them over there.

We can offcourse talk about what we have accomplished and what we know about state running but if pure talk doesn't sink in I don't see a great need to press the issue. It's not like our state of goverment would be at risk if everybody else doesn't adopt it too.

I think the respect for rule of law is a bigger issue than who makes the law there.