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Monday, May 5, 2014

Global Democracy in Decline? 

Lately the news has been discouraging: the "third wave" of democratization has stalled, and even receding in some places.  In several big countries--Turkey stands out in this group--democratic freedoms are being curtailed. Thailand and Venezuela have really taken a step back in the last decade.  Egypt just took a "mulligan" on democratic reforms.  Don't even mention China.

Part of our problem is we talk about democracy as if its definition is universally acknowledged.  There have been many attempts to establish democratic norms worldwide; see for example the Copenhagen Criteria on EU membership. 

In fact, there are different "theorems" about democracy; the liberal democracy that we hold to be the gold standard is just one of them.  Jacques Barzun wrote an insightful article about this in the Journal of Democracy years ago.  No reason to think his basic point has been refuted.

Consider:  Chavez and his people always argued that the revolution was "democratizing" Venezuela by eliminating bourgeois trappings like the Senate and introducing referenda on important topics.  Chavez hated liberalism but loved democracy.   There is no question that he had a majority of Venezuelans behind him through most of his "reforms."  We can say the same about Putin and Erdogan today. 

Liberal democracy might be a historical accident particular to the West. 

See Larry Diamond's article below.  Diamond knows as much about democratization as anyone.   Yet I found his book on democratizing Iraq frustrating.   He missed what I think was a big factor for making democracy work in Iraq: the constitution and electoral system needed to be designed, like ours is, to orient the people toward the center and away from the extremes.  Instead, the experts recommended a proportional representation system that gave more power to small sectarian parties led by unelected clerics. 
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