DEMOCRACY IS NOT FLAWLESS
It had always been my contention that if only all the countries in the world became functioning democracies, wars, violence and turmoil would become
events of the past. Winston Churchill in a speech many years ago said that
democracy was a terrible system, but the best that man has been able to
devise. In recent years George W. Bush, former United States president, blamed tyranny, terrorism and violence on the lack of democracy, and stated if the Middle East countries would democratize, the area would be stabilized. George W. Bush and I were wrong.
British researcher Paul Collier writes in a startling new book “the idea that
democracy stabilizes at-risk societies and discourages violence, the blind
assumption at the heart of Western foreign policy these last 20 years, is wrong.”
In a book “Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places”, Collier an Oxford University professor with twinned passions for international
development and number crunching, analyzes nation- by- nation political
and military data going back to 1960. His results portray an extraordinary
pattern. Wealthy nations, like our own, do indeed benefit from democracy.
Political freedom systematically reduces the risk of civil war, insurgency
and other forms of violence. But in poor nations, the effect is the opposite.
In sub-Saharan Africa and the poor Muslim nations of the Middle East and
Central Asia, democracy can be expected to render societies more violent, not less.
The threshold, Collier found, is about $2700 per capita per year. At income
levels below that, a nation that takes its political cues from Beijing or Riyadh will be less likely to fall into civil war than one that takes its cues
from Washington, Ottawa or London.
What is the explanation? In poor nations education levels tend to be low,, and the electorate tends to be poorly informed, perfect conditions for a
demagogue. Think of Chavez and the millions of uneducated slum dwellers
who voted for him, captivated by his “Bolivian Revolution”. Under these
conditions criminals or terrorists can be elected. Hamas legitimizes its rule
by attacking the Jews and Mugabe the whites.
In poor societies with strong ethnic and sectarian cleavages, democracy can
be disastrous. Elections are seen as a winner-take-all contest that puts the
machinery of state completely in the hands of the winning tribe, colour or
sect. If the government changes hands the losers imagine the same fate for themselves as they handed out when they were in government
For democracy to work the rule of law must be applied impartially.
Trust must prevail between all segments of society, but most importantly the opportunity for an individual to succeed, no matter whom, must be apparent
to all. This objective can be difficult to achieve, even in Western democratic societies.
Socrates has pointed out a flaw in democracy. He has given an analogy of a ship sailing on a stormy day and has asked whether the person who knows about sailing should be in charge of the vessel or someone who doesn’t have any knowledge of sailing but has been voted as a captain? Here Socrates points out that voting is a skill and voting should be taught systematically to the general population otherwise an inadequate person would take a throne and the state would be deprived of something great it could become.