Is democracy the best for all states?
3 March 2008
I am risking myself on thin ice today, commenting on a
politically sensitive subject. Many western countries, such as
the USA or European Union members, perform or support activities
to make sure other countries adopt democracy. These activities
range from stimulating free democratic elections to invading a
country in order to dethrone a dictatorial ruler and instate a
I am not going to comment on the justification of these kind of
actions, specifically not the military end of the range of
activities mentioned above. What I am going to comment on is
what is meant with democracy and whether this is a form of
government that is The Solution for all countries.
In the first place, what is democracy? The old Greeks defined is
as a country ruled by the people, as opposed to a country ruled
by a single person (dictator) or by a small group of people (oligarchy).
In modern day practice, democracy seems to be defined by have
free elections for a parliament and, depending on the
constitution, sometimes direct or indirect elections of a head
of state (e.g. a president) or a head of the government (e.g. a
prime-minister, if the country is e.g. ruled by a king or queen,
such as The Netherlands). However, do free elections guarantee a
government that is fit for the country's needs? Afghanistan is
said to be a democracy, but its government is so ineffective,
that it in fact only rules 30% of its country. Russia calls
itself a democracy, but yesterday's elections were widely
criticised for lack of transparency and lack of room for the
opposition. So are these countries ruled by the best of
governmental systems? I doubt it.
Therefore, is democracy the one solution for all? Is it the best
form of government for any country?
Of course not. If you look at the developmental model of
societies (for the AQAL fans: the lower right), you can see that
societies develop themselves throughout time. From the
pre-modern tribal societies, via city-states, to industrial
societies to today's informational societies. Each structure of
a society requires a different optimal form of government.
Democracy has several specific forms that work for organised
states and further. Tweaks need to be made to the exact form of
democracy depending on the level of development of a society,
and perhaps in due time, when we get second-tier societies, a
totally new form of government will arise.
But it seems that there are many states out there (think of Iraq
or Afghanistan) which are still in a more tribal structure.
Tribal structures cannot handle democracy very well, as each
tribe has a strong group-centric approach to the world around
them and are not open to the needs of other tribes. Democracy
needs in the first place a form of openness to other groups'
needs before it can become a success. Therefore, societies with
a pre-modern form of organisation are not ready for democracy
yet and would probably better thrive under a more restrictive
form of government, such as an enlightened dictator (a
dictatorship is not necessarily a negative thing!) or an
oligarchy, where a small group of people rule the country. Once
the society develops itself, democracy will find its way in. But
it is not something that can indiscriminately be imposed on a
country that is not ready for it yet.