WILL DEMOCRACY SURVIVE IF WE WON’T SUPPORT IT?
POSTED APRIL 19, 2007
The Iraq democracy project was borne of the exigencies of that memorable post-invasion moment: Whoops! The brutal destabilizing dictator has moved, destroyed or effectively concealed his WMD stocks. What now?
But it was also a response to the policy advocates who had been pushing for a shift from the “realist” position — support for dictators of convenience — to one commensurate with the premise of the American Revolution – proactive support for new democracies. Much of this trend was strongly influenced by Francis Fukuyama, a former RAND Corporation political scientist, now at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and John Hopkins University. Fukuyama wrote a blockbuster (no small feat for a political scientist) “The End of History and The Last Man” (1992 and 2006); it was the classic “wave of the future” defense of democracy.
In September, 2004, I posted an article about “The future of Democracy” subtitled ‘The Fukuyama Wave and the Rocky Beach.”
“THE FUKUYAMA WAVE & THE ROCKY BEACH” REVISITED:
Reflections About the Emergent Democratic Paradigm
Jay B. Gaskill
For my original essay, go to:
THE DEMOCRACY TRACK
There is a general evolutionary track that describes how under ideal conditions most societies will eventually develop into working democracies. The following sequence represents a very general model, one that captures in broad outline, the natural stages of democratic evolution:
- Tribal autocracy.
This model has shown robust multi-generational stability but tends to destabilize from time to time over succession issues.
The most enduring examples are actually in transition to pre-democracy conditions.
Heredity based models inevitably succumb to internal struggles among competing families (as in Medieval Europe and Britain). The trend to pre-democracy becomes evident in gradual social changes that widen the hereditary base of the oligarchy, approaching a quasi-open model. In ancient times, conquered populations were first enslaved then assimilated, often by including former elites into the ruling hierarchy, though in a subordinate role. Later, the aristocracy was broadened, especially via intermarriage and inclusion of members of the military elite (as in Britain and the Knight system). Competing elites, all considered members of the royal aristocracy and subject to relatively non-destructive riles of engagement, kept the ruling elites from fully succumbing to genetic inbreeding.
This is a stage of development in which the older tribal ruling arrangements persist while, just under the radar, nascent elements of a democratic infrastructure develop and take root. Two main elements are essential:
The emergence of a legal system with plausibly universal application, such that even the ruling structure (at first only in theory) must also be governed by law. The emergence of key elements of the democratic “normative infrastructure”, of which four are of key importance:
(1) the notion that legal norms must have uniform and universal application;
(2) the expectation of fiduciary governance, i.e., of the sovereign authority as serving the interests of “the people” as embodied in the state itself;
(3) the general expectation – flowing from (2) that the ultimate authority of the sovereign devolves from the faithful exercise of fiduciary care, implying a new norm: quasi-consensual governance;
(4) the development of formal or informal opinion feedback loops as a means of keeping “in touch” with “the people”.
- Three Proto-democracy stages.
We can identify some very general features of the natural, “unforced” model of democratic development as a baseline or template against which to measure our pro-democratic political policies. Here, “unforced” means only that most of the ground-level democratic impetus is internally generated rather than externally imposed (while the source of influential ideas, methods and ideologies may well be external).
All proto democracies are fragile by definition because they require the establishment and maintenance of pan-tribal sovereignty. During any transition to a democratic governance model, the pan-tribal sovereignty established by the older authoritarian, top down governance model may be difficult to maintain, especially when there is entrenched opposition. This is why the prognosis of any transition is directly correlated to whether there has already been a period of robust pre-development; the key elements of a democratic infrastructure need to be in place before a proto-democracy can naturally emerge.
- The Stage One: Proto-democracies.
Bifurcated authority is established, some hereditary-tribal and some consensual advisory representing the non hereditary tribal elements.
The general expectation of a trend toward democratic governance is a widely shared norm.
Stage Two: Proto-democracies.
At least one general election for the primary governing body has taken place.
There is a promise and general expectation of periodic subsequent elections.
Notes and cautions:
Even a traditional democracy can slide back into this stage when there has been a cataclysmic regime change, and the new regime is only nominally democratic. The main risk in any Stage Two proto-democracy is that the central authority, having once achieved threshold legitimacy by winning a general election, then succumbs to the temptation (and is not prevented from) manipulating the process to remain in power forever. This was essentially the case when Hitler replaced the Weimar Republic in Germany and was the sorry pattern of governance during the so called “Banana Republic” phase of democratic development in South America circa 1930-1960. These vulnerabilities are partly the result of a weak democratic infrastructure and partly the failure to link democratic governance with strong economic models.
Historically, economic utility has governed the early development of democratic models of governance. For example, highly successful commercial economic models have tended to produce competing, non-hereditary elites that then find it convenient to advocate consensual governance models in order to broker new power-sharing arrangements. The rise of the mercantile classes in Britain and Europe used quasi-democratic models to weaken the power of the hereditary elites there, just as -generations later – the commercial giants of Shanghais and Hong Kong have weakened the power of the communist elites in mainland China.
A Side Note: Probably the main error that the Bush administration made in its attempt to install a democratic system of government in Iraq (aside from the tragic insufficiency in military resources and the deficiencies in the pre-existing Iraqi infrastructure) was the failure (so far) to use oil revenues as a political tool. By succumbing to the “no blood for oil” rhetoric, the administration preemptively discarded its greatest political leverage, the single most valuable tool in fashioning a democracy in Iraq. The ability to directly control that country’s oil resources from the very beginning would have given ambassador Bremer and his successors the ability to appeal to economic utility – greed is the supreme coalition builder. A reliable oil revenue stream is a double edged instrument: unless controlled in the service of democracy, oil revenue becomes an instrument of control-through-welfare by the elites who are committed to stall the emergence of democratic institutions at all costs.
- Stage Three: Proto-democracies and Fledgling democracies.
a. Sovereignty, i.e., full, unchallenged control of the state territory by the central government;
b. A system of regular elections in place with at least two election cycles safely accomplished
c. A working democratic support system;
d. Strong legal requirements – enforced by a robust legal system – for subsequent elections.
After Stage Three, we rely on the accumulation of results and the increased rootedness of the democratic culture to arrive at the final stage, Functioning Democracy. My personal estimate: Japan, India and Poland have arrived as functioning democracies; Russia is at Stage Three, Mainland China is a robust pre-democracy, and Iraq is a Stage Two proto-democracy under siege.
My critique of Francis Fukuyama and the other naïve democracy proponents is threefold:
(1) Their argument for democracy as an inevitable wave of the future (this ending “history” in some arcane sense) is based solely on utility. Fukuyama’s case rests essentially on the inherent superiority of democratic organization in two key respects: (a) democracies provide a venue for the natural human thirst for recognition (for which he uses the Greek term, thymus); (b) they solve the regime succession problem in an orderly and peaceful way. This is good as far as it goes but it omits an essential element: democracy cannot weather the attacks on it solely based on a utilitarian defense; democracy – to survive and thrive – requires a robust underlying moral justification.
(1) For the very reason that Fukuyama was partially right: Because democracy actually has the potential of permanently replacing all competing models of governance, its opponents can be counted on to be ruthless: for them this is a fight to the death, not some seminar in “good government.”
(2) Democracy’s defenders are disabled by modernity, by the decay of religion and other transcendent “gut level” support for its defense.
Hedonistic allegiance is as steady and reliable as that of a flock of pigeons surrounding a dropped scone: When challenged, they can be counted on to flee in a great flutter of feathers.
(3) What democracy needs is an ethos of its defense that appropriates the fierceness of a pride of lions defending their kill against jackals.
Having lost it deep moorings in religion and nationalist tradition, Europe and many in Britain and this country have lost the passion to defend liberal democracy. Hedonism and balkanization are the handmaidens of isolationist withdrawal. History always punishes the nations that curl up into the fetal potion.
Q: What do you call an isolationist nation that degrades its military and relies on “soft power” to achieve its national security objectives in the world?
A: A nation that will soon be at war under desperate circumstances.
We can reasonably debate about whether the Iraqi democracy project was well timed and planned, and we can agree that it was oversold. But can we really seriously argue whether it was the wrong policy direction? Whatever we can reasonably assert about the Iraqi operations they do not include this: We are not a nation at war under desperate circumstances. Instead we are a nation with a military involvement that constitutes an ongoing irritant.
I still believe, on all the evidence, that we have the capability to stabilize a key Middle Eastern nation (one that history has placed in the strategic linchpin position) providing the needed military support to maintain its status as an emerging proto-democracy long enough for its democratic infrastructure to form up. How long? The project will require our active involvement, albeit at gradually decreasing force levels, through the first three years of the next administration. Are we still willing to do this? The jury is out.