Thursday, July 7, 2011

Characterizing Democracy

Speaking of Russia, Vladimir Putin as president spoke of “democracy with Russian characteristics”, which many Western audiences took to mean an ominous return to an authoritarian or soft authoritarian regime. Similar words may occasionally flow forth from leaders in Communist China as well. While the phrase “democracy with __________ characteristics should be greeted with suspicion from nations we have uneasy relationships with, China as an American debt holder, Russia as a Cold War adversary, the irony is that such phrasing is required if the America is going to advocate democratic governments with free and fair elections throughout the world. It is bordering on idiotic to expect Western style democratic governance and institutions to pop up and be functional overnight in countries all across the world.

As I have mentioned previously in this blog, democracy is a process that often takes decades to consolidate itself and has had intense periods of starts, stops, and various growing pains in Asia, Africa, the former Soviet Bloc, and Latin America. In my view, democracy needs to be adapted to local cultures, customs, and on the ground conditions respecting languages, religions, and the countries practices…provided that they are not morally objectionable. I feel like most global democracy advocates, though well meaning and good intentioned often miss the somewhat simplistic reality that a village in Southern Kenya is not the same as downtown Los Angeles. Therefore, there material and governmental needs are different. Therefore implementing a Westernized American system of democratic governance on a people without understanding them is retarded in thought and action.

Successful leaders within the third world, developing areas, global south, whatever term one wants to use, have been successful in democratizing their countries because they borrowed and adapted Western institutions to their individualized nations. Adaptation of these institutions combined with cultural and moral understanding will hopefully create democratic institutions that can be relied upon throughout the world, even if these institutions don’t take the idealized form that many Western leaders have spoken of. In this way, every democracy created throughout the world has been “Democracy with ______________ characteristics and that’s just how it has to be.

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