Friday, December 09, 2005

Post No. 43: Musings on Democracy (II)

“Democracy is not worth a brass farthing if it is being installed by bayonets.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

For the sake of those who haven’t read my earlier essay (Musings on Democracy (I)) or have read it but forgotten what I written in its opening paragraph, I would reiterate that I am a supporter and believer in the concept of Democracy. However, as I have also pointed out in my earlier essay, I do not believe or support Democracy with blind faith. In addition, though I’m a supporter of Democracy. I am much annoyed with the manner of how it is being promoted around the world as a perfect cure for all ills. Don’t be mistaken, I, despite my misgivings about it, give my support to the spreading of Democracy but what I find fault with is how it is being promoted, especially by the world’s sole remaining hyperpower and supposed “Leader of the Free & Democratic” i.e. the United States of America. Before you all start going off with the notion that I’m anti-US or that this is going to be an US bashing anti-US polemic, let me clarify that I’m not anti-US per se. Instead, what I am against is the US’s stance on promoting Democracy worldwide. Why? Read on and you all would find out the answer to this question…

First and foremost, I have my misgivings about how the US is promoting its model of Democracy, that is liberal democracy paired with free-market capitalism, as the only legitimate and viable model of Democracy, if not the only legitimate & viable political system that any country should adopt. The underlying logic, from my point of view, behind the thinking of the US administration is that since their political & economic model worked for them and enabled them to reach their current state of prosperity, their model should work for everyone and that everyone should adopt their model as it is the best (if not the only) model available. Such a notion is reinforced by, from the viewpoint of the US administration, the US “winning” the Cold War against the Soviet Union. This “victory” proved, in the eyes of the US, that their political-economic model is superior to the rest and lead them to think that there exists no other viable model except theirs. Well, it remains debatable whether it was the US which “won” the Cold War or that since the Soviet Union “withdrew” from the Cold War, the US became the “winner” by default but considering that this isn’t the issue I’m examining here in this essay, I won’t go on further about it. Ok now, I recognise and appreciate the good intention of the US wanting to promote its political-economic model worldwide so as to help other countries also become prosperous (if not exactly as prosperous as the US). Yet, it is not a given that good consequences would flow out from good intentions; bad consequences can too arise from good intentions. Also, the world is a complicated place filled with numerous countries that face different conditions and circumstances. Hence, a “one size fits all” model is neither practical nor realistic. What works for one country need not necessarily work for another which has a different set of conditions and circumstances. It is like how the old saying goes: “One man’s food may be another’s poison.”

In addition, the US model of liberal democracy paired with free-market capitalism may have allowed it to reach its current state of prosperity but it cannot be denied that this model also has its own set of weaknesses and less than positive side effects. These weaknesses & negative side effects, though they are tolerated by the US, may well dissuade a country from wanting to adopt the political-economic model of the US. Hence, it is my opinion that while the US promotes the benefits and goodness of its political-economic model, it should not forget that these benefits didn’t come without a price and if a country, after deciding that this price is too heavy a price to pay for prosperity, is not persuaded to adopt the US model, the US shouldn’t “punish” this country for making such a decision.

Furthermore, it is my opinion that while a world in which all countries adopt the same political-economic model would be a world that is more unified and stable, it would most probably also be a less interesting & less diverse world to live in. If I don’t remember my History lessons wrongly, one common accusation used by the US against the Soviet Union during the Cold War was that the Soviet Union was monolithic. Also, if I’m not wrong, 2 words which are usually used to describe the goodness of the US model are “choice” and “diversity”. Hmm… Ironic, isn’t it? Don’t be mistaken, I’m not advocating that countries should resist becoming democratic or implementing free-market principles in their economies or that authoritarian regimes should be allowed to continue their existence for the sake of maintaining diversity in the world. What I’m trying to advocate is that, considering that each country has its own set of unique circumstances, countries should be allowed to develop their own political-economic model (of course, this model should not be detrimental to the well-being of the people living in these countries) and not be pressurised to conform to a certain model. Though these models may well perhaps differ from the US model of liberal democracy paired with free-market capitalism, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t work or are doomed to failure. To borrow the words of the late Deng Xiaoping: “Regardless of whether it is black or white, as long it is able to catch rats, it is a good cat”. Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend…

Ok now, so far in the previous paragraphs I haven’t really been very critical of the US administration yet but in this paragraph, this is going to change. Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going to start a senseless bashing of the US or start calling George Bush names (there are enough people out there doing this already so I don’t see the need for me to do also) or equate him to some late dictator (well, I suppose you all know which “late dictator” I’m referring to… Personally, I don’t think Bush has acquired the public speaking skills of this “late dictator”…). Instead, what I am going to do is to attempt a sensible and rational criticism of the US administration’s recent and past behaviour. Before I continue to do so, I think it would be appropriate for me to warn those who are in love with the US and sees it as an utopia or a “shining city on the hill” which they wish they can someday migrate to that what follows in this paragraph would somewhat disturb them and if they don’t wish to be disturbed or have their lovely image of the US spoilt, they should stop reading this paragraph at the end of this very long-winded sentence. Moving on, I would put forth the suggestion that the US has been, more or less, selective and/or hypocritical in its campaign to promote democracy worldwide. From my humble point of view, it seems that the US only promotes democracy where it is in its interests to do so. Well, with no intention of offending Saudi Arabia or any of its citizens, Saudi Arabia can hardly qualify as a country which practices liberal democracy and free-market capitalism but do we really see any US actions or intervention to make it do so? Also, it wasn’t only recently that Afghanistan and Iraq have been suffering under oppressive regimes but why was it only recently that the US administration took the drastic step of militarily intervening in these 2 countries to bring about a “regime change”? Well, let’s be truthful and call a spade a spade and a shovel a shovel… One reason for why the US administration has not been actively pushing for Saudi Arabia to become more democratic is that it is not in the economic interests of the US to do so (considering that Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s main oil suppliers and a loyal ally of the US) and one reason why the US administration suddenly got so eager to have “regime changes” in Iraq and Afghanistan is that these 2 countries suddenly started to pose a direct threat, form the US administration’s point of view, to the interests of the US (in view of the occurrence of the September 11 attacks 4 years back).

Don’t be mistaken… I am quite aware that governments around the world don’t always tell the complete truth or practice what they preach… Equally aware am I that it is only realistic and sensible that countries prefer to do things that are in their interests to do so… Hence, I recognise the fact that the US, like all other countries, has its own agenda to promote and interests to protect. However, what I would like is for the US (and other countries) to be frank about this and stop behaving as though it is above all of this realpolitik. Also, I would like for the US to drop its “holier-than-thou” attitude it adopts in its interaction with other countries. Yes, the US may be the most prosperous & powerful country (some would call it a hyperpower) in today’s world but that doesn’t make it better or superior to other countries. It is too a member of the international community and being the most powerful member of this international community doesn’t give it the right to ignore the laws & rules (which the US played an important part in formulating) that govern this community when they don’t coincide with US interests. It should be remembered that the epithet of being “Leader of the Democratic & Free World” is not a privilege (though it does come with its privileges) but a responsibility, a heavy one.

Moving on, I now put forth the opinion that some countries are just not ready for Democracy. As observed by many astute political observers & commentators, there seems to exist certain conditions for Democracy to take root in a country. Don’t be mistaken… I’m not suggesting that these certain conditions are definitely necessary for the growth of Democracy in a country. I’m not trying to say that with these certain conditions, Democracy will surely be successful in a country or that if they are not present, Democracy is doomed to fail in a country. Instead, what I’m trying to put across to you all is that these certain conditions, while they are not necessary for the growth of Democracy in a country, help to facilitate the healthy development of Democracy in a country. So what are these certain facilitating conditions for Democracy which I have been going on & on about? Well, there’s no definite list of what these facilitating conditions are but there are a few which I do know about. One, the country’s population should be adequately educated enough to understand the concept of Democracy (You can’t implement Democracy if you don’t understand it, can you?). Two, the country’s population should not be in a state where they worry about their daily survival (who will care about Democracy if they are going to die tomorrow or the day after that?). Three, the country’s population should have the “habit” of abiding by the will of the majority (A majority decision is no use if people are not willing to abide by it) and choosing a leader through voting (if not, the chosen leader would somewhat lack “legitimacy”). Four, the country should have adequate institutions and superstructure to support Democracy (without such support, Democracy is nothing but an empty front). Remember that this is no comprehensive list. Also, it should be noted that since these conditions are only facilitating conditions, it is not necessarily that they need to be present before a country starts to implement Democracy but it will be a smoother process if they are present. In addition, I’m not suggesting that there are countries that are not suitable for Democracy but only that it would be more difficult for Democracy to take root in these countries. In other words, I am by no means excluding any country from the possibility of having Democracy. Democracy remains attainable to all countries but it perhaps takes some countries a longer time or greater difficulty to achieve it. Hence, we should not expect all countries to be immediately successful in their attempts to develop Democracy within their boundaries.

To conclude, I would just like to remind all of you that democratisation is a process and not an event. It is not a software programme that one can just download. It will take time & effort for Democracy to work. Democracy should be supported by laws & ideas, not bayonets & rifles.

1 comment:

enqi said...

There were a thousand things I wanted to say while reading it but I can't possibly remember everything now...

Realpolitik IS the reality. I don't think any country abides by some other doctrine - the evils of poor US just stand out because it's in the limelight all the time. Inevitable 'cuz it has so much power! And it's totally rational to make use of that power for self-interest isn't it? I don't chastise the US for that, because I'd be hypocritical since Singapore does the same thing. And if the US decides to get honest with it, then politics is over...

Basically I think ANY form of government's gonna have its pitfalls and at the end of the day no one's gonna be happy. There're always going to be commentaries and lampoons and strife and what-nots. Don't you then think somehow that political frameworks aren't everything? They just reveal the actual reality behind these superficial frameworks - that ultimately man is fallible and man CANNOT govern man, that people contend for power and manipulation, that there're always going to be politics as long as there's self-interest and no love in the system. Whether conservative or democratic, there's always going to be fallibility. In democracy how sure are you that the public and, honestly, the proletariat, would be wise enough to cast votes? In Philippines you see very clearly that votes for Presidency are cast according to POPULARITY (TV celebrities, etc) and I have qualms about Arnold Schwarzenegger as well. Humans are irrational, so we learn in politics, thus I have serious qualms about democratic votes. From a microscopic level you see it rather clearly, you've probably made choices you know aren't right. On a very simple level, I've got friends who simply refuse to eat vegetables because they don't like the taste of them despite knowing full well that they are good for health. That's what happens when we operate by preference - liking things and disliking some others - 'cuz it just doesn't make sense sometimes.

Likewise conservatism has its pitfalls. We can't ever place our trust in human government because who is to say they make the best decisions? And from history you've seen the evils of tyranny and blundering rulers...... Man cannot play God.

So basically, political polemic will be endless and ultimately I hope you see there's no point to it if we engage merely in polemic about structure and government. WHat is it about humanity and life, and GOD, that go beyond/beneath/behind these frameworks?

Food for thought. :)

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