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Subzwari: Destructive Democracy in the Third World

June 28, 2011

In a wisdom first established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, the existence of democratic states is considered to be essential in keeping the peace. Wilson, in his “Fourteen Points” speech delivered immediately after the destructive Great War, declared that a country was less likely to go to war if it were to be a democracy, the theory being that because decisions in democracies were not dictated by one man and took longer to enact, cooler heads would prevail before full blown war would break out. This assertion has become a cornerstone of Western foreign policy, followed religiously by the United States and reinforced in the Bush Doctrine of 2002.

But the arbitrary institution of democracy into countries that are not ready for it has proven to be disastrous for that country and its people. In particular is the case of many of the countries in the Third World that have established democratic institutions through international pressure, but continue to be politically fragile with a bankrupt, broken, and beleaguered populace. There is a very good reason for this: democracies cannot be installed into countries arbitrarily. It is an organic condition that grows from an infusion of the correct conditions, and goes beyond mere institutions and constitutions. This is what must be understood; democracies don’t make countries, but countries make democracy.

So what are these correct conditions? Naturally the first has to do with basic needs; the bare essentials that a person needs to live. It is important for a healthy democracy to provide its people with sufficient basic needs as food, water, shelter, basic healthcare services, and security of the person. People who are denied free access to such basic necessities ultimately find themselves in a fight for survival. All that matters for those people is to ensure that they and their children are fed, watered, and sheltered. They wouldn’t really think twice about who is their Prime Minister or Member of Parliament. Such behaviour naturally corrupts democracy, which relies on people intelligently assessing and choosing the people who would be best suited to run their country.  What results is politics at is most base, most course, incarnation, where politicians simply promise a desperate people to vote for them in return for their basic needs. Examples of such politics can be seen throughout the Third World, where the same old parties headed by the same old politicians are repeatedly returned to power under the worn banner of providing food and shelter to the people.

But, these basic needs can only be wholly provided if a country has a developed economy, and that becomes the second condition for a democracy to thrive. Without a developed economy, there would be few service-based jobs available, whose pay is only sufficient to maintain regular access to basic needs. Without a developed economy, people are forced to rely on farming and agriculture, which produces very little income and is not nearly sufficient in providing a firm access to basic needs at all times. Western farmers would also be in a similar state of poverty if it weren’t for heavy government subsidies. Naturally, a country that does not have a developed economy would never have enough funds to subsidize its farmers. And, without funds, that country would not be able to provide ready access to basic needs as well. Laying down water pipelines, gas pipelines, building power stations, and transporting food is all quite expensive and heavily taxes a poor country, the result being that much of that infrastructure remains missing. And we must also not forget that democracies are quite expensive to maintain. Various bureaucracies, parliaments, elections, and other aspects of a standard democracy cost a lot of money. A rich and developed country can quite easily pay for these expenses, but a poor country’s budget is severely stretched. As a result, precious funds are directed to the running of the government rather than investing them into beneficial industries that will actually help the people.

The third, and perhaps the most important, condition for democracy is education. Democracy is confusing; multiple parties vie for peoples votes, each coming up with their own understandings on how a country needs to be run while also trying to undermine the policies of their opponents. A healthy democracy needs a populace that is sufficiently educated to rationally analyze the policies presented to them, to gauge whose ideas are more viable, and to realize when someone is not being upfront and honest. In true democratic countries, such as Canada, this is not much of a problem, since about 99% of the population is fully literate. But in Third World countries it is a completely different story where average literacy rates are considerably lower (going as low as Mali, where only 26.2% of the total population is literate). These people cannot correctly discern who will be most deserving of their votes. They may be either easily misled into believing that detrimental policies are in fact highly beneficial to them, or they may simply focus on the charisma or familiarity of the candidates. In either case, the integrity of democracy is again given a heavy blow.

The point here is that democracy is not a mere institution; it is something greater than that. Countries follow a very long and hard road to develop themselves. Once true development is reached and the key democratic conditions met, democracy naturally spawns into life. It is the peak of development. The Western World is democratic only because it has developed enough to meet the key conditions that allow democracy to grow.

Consequentially, democracy cannot be “brought” to a country. It just wouldn’t work. It would be like planting a tree in the middle of a desert and then expecting it to flourish. If the soil is depleted and dead, then the tree will not last very long either. Similarly, if a country does not have the right democratic conditions, no matter how many times democracy will be transplanted there, it will always fail.

I still believe that Woodrow Wilson’s initial hypothesis stands and we should certainly hope that every country achieves democracy at some point. But we should let it happen organically rather than forcing it upon them. By prematurely forcing a country to adopt democracy, we needlessly tax its resources and disrupt its path to development. The West was not always democratic, but we eventually got there. If we let the others be, they will too.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex Moldovan permalink
    June 28, 2011 5:48 am

    Your argument has too many flaws.
    1. You rely on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to exemplify why people who are starving can’t do math or read or in this case, practice democracy. In your analysis of the Third World you are essentially using a sociological form of modernization theory to explain why people that look to their immediate needs cannot look to govern themselves. Have you given thought to the millions of westerners who vote yet who are struggling to get by? Have you taken into account cultural conditions where people can self-actualize themselves without fulfilling any of the primary needs?

    2. “many of the countries in the Third World that have established democratic institutions through international pressure, but continue to be politically fragile with a bankrupt, broken, and beleaguered populace. There is a very good reason for this: democracies cannot be installed into countries arbitrarily.” Well neo-imperialists don’t really look to arbitrarily set up democracies, if there is a resource or a trade way, like Egypt, Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia they set up a dictatorship to exploit the said resource but if they are looking for a power balancer, like the US is looking to India then democracy is pushed. Nothing is arbitrary, nothing is chance, the powerful will do what they will.

    3. “They wouldn’t really think twice about who is their Prime Minister or Member of Parliament. Such behaviour naturally corrupts democracy, which relies on people intelligently assessing and choosing the people who would be best suited to run their country.” I know, as well as many other foot canvassers know how arbitrarily some Canadians vote. I know a lady who votes liberal because she likes red and the dude on the sign has an Italian last name. Don’t patronize when you don’t need to. I’ve worked on campaigns with homeless youth who are not only thinking about their basic needs but they are also thinking about the political landscape

    4. “Without a developed economy, there would be few service-based jobs available, whose pay is only sufficient to maintain regular access to basic needs.” in Canada your regular service job is paid anywhere from $10-$15/ hour that’s not enough to live in my community. Check your facts and don’t over generalize.

    5. “Without a developed economy, people are forced to rely on farming and agriculture, which produces very little income and is not nearly sufficient in providing a firm access to basic needs at all times.” Subsistence farmers are actually anthropologically proven to be some of the happiest people on the planet.

    6. “Western farmers would also be in a similar state of poverty if it weren’t for heavy government subsidies.” Have you given any though the reason for this? Western farmers are usually contracted out for one giant product by a multinational. The governments in the US and Canada subsidize their farmers who owe money to multinationals for their crop to over produce food and send it abroad. Where would you send your product if you were a western farmer? Anywhere were your western government has a free trade deal, like Mexico. Then when hundreds of farmers, like you who are in debt to Monsanto flood a foreign market and crash their domestic Third World agricultural industry you make them dependent on you. If you are a Mexican and you are looking to buy milk, Mexican milk is $5 a liter and American Milk is $2 a liter, what are you going to buuuuuy? Thus Third World dependency is born through free trade.

    7. “A healthy democracy needs a populace that is sufficiently educated to rationally analyze the policies presented to them” that has to be one of the most insulting sentences I’ve ever read

    8. “In true democratic countries, such as Canada, this is not much of a problem, since about 99% of the population is fully literate.” Yea a country where you can lie in Parliament and get elected again with a majority… A Country where multiple polling stations in urban communities are packed into one location while in richer suburbs they are widely dispersed… A country with an un-elected senate…. A country where a monarch has to “legally” sign things into law otherwise the legislation isn’t recognized…Don’t act like we are perfect because we are not

    9. “They may be either easily misled into believing that detrimental policies are in fact highly beneficial to them, or they may simply focus on the charisma or familiarity of the candidates.” Do you know who Peter Li Preti is? I do. he was a city councilor in my area for 22 years when I ask senior citizens about when they moved into my neighborhood they say ” yea it was good until about 20 years ago then we go to shit”. This guy was being paid by just about every developer in North York. He tried to get a Hospital removed. 20 Years ago the news would report my area is “Black Creek” now its “the notorious Jane and Finch”. So again, even to Canadians Politics is about perception, man I can’t tell you how many people vote based on how many signs they see outside on election day.

    10. “Once true development is reached and the key democratic conditions met, democracy naturally spawns into life.” U praise our democracy like it’s some God given jewel yet you are blind to systemic flaws. Look at post-revolutionary Russia you saw about 15% of the nation industrialized, most people were dirt poor yet you had a legitimate workers democracy come about. I’m sober enough to realize that it all went to shit upon the rise of Stalin but you can’t fruitfully say that there has been a major economic turn of events under any american president after Eisenhower in regards to a neo-liberal agenda.

    11. “It is the peak of development.” I DARE you to ask anyone on the street if you that we as a species have reached the peak of human development. Go ahead… do it!

    12. “If the soil is depleted and dead, then the tree will not last very long either” I stand corrected from point number 7 this is the most insulting sentence I’ve ever seen. You juxtaposition of human beings in third world countries to “depleted and dead” soil would probably have gotten you a cabinet position in an apartheid regime. Get some class, no wait get a better social analysis.

    13. And your solution to this is to just sit by and hope. Let them incubate…? Your solution is to not invade a country and force costly institutions upon it. Ok we agree. But u do not mention the sphere of neo-imperialism that engulfs the Third World nor do u attribute that as an impediment to democracy… You leave so many loopholes, what about the inevitability of increasing globalization? How does that play in your little wait and see plan?

  2. Dan permalink
    June 28, 2011 6:13 am

    Just a quick response to point number 7: A legitimate democracy in post-revolutionary Russia? Are you kidding me? There was one legitimate election in late 1917 and it was followed by a takeover of the major institutions of state by the Bolsheviks and the taking of power from the Soviets which were composed of various socialist parties. Lenin disbanded the National Assembly the day after it was elected. How was this legitimate democracy?

  3. Adnan Subzwari permalink
    June 28, 2011 2:50 pm

    Alex, it seems you have too much faith in your fellow humans to think that they can rise above their most basic instincts and needs and still care about how they wish to be governed. I on the other hand believe otherwise. Desperation brings the animal out within us, and a deprivation of basic needs would be this desperation. As for education and rationality (point 7), yes I do believe that a person only acquires sufficient rationality and reason once they have been educated. An uneducated person can have reason, sure, but it is not developed enough to judge things on a more complex level. Yes, there are people in our country as well who vote on the most ridiculous reasons and I think that voting rights should not be extended to them (I actually think that voting rights should be granted based on one’s performance on a basic civics test). It is not an insult to say that some are better than others. Hierarchy is part of the natural order of things and it is shouldn’t be denied. And just to be clear, I follow a Burkean model for my argument.

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