The Downside of Democracy (2)
Leaders in the West have committed themselves to spreading democracy, whether or not the ground is fertile for the introduction of self-government. Citizens of the Western nations have for the most part supported this diffusion of democracy, having been educated to believe in the superiority of this form of government. However, notwithstanding Churchill’s adage about democracy, and the smug and sanctimonious pronouncements by Western leaders about the advantages of democracy, its establishment has been disastrous in many countries, and in others has still not allowed the people’s voice to be heard. This has been true whether democracy was imposed by outside force of arms, or from within by the demands of the citizens themselves.
There are four obvious examples of democracy being imposed upon nations through the ascendancies’ of external democratic armies. These include Japan and Germany after World War Two, and Iraq and Afghanistan since the turn of the century. In the latter two countries, the concept of nationhood was always secondary to tribal and ethnic allegiances, and was so at the time democracy was introduced.
Japan and Germany were totally defeated by allied military forces in World War Two and were occupied afterwards by armies from democratic nations (aside from East Germany which was in the Soviet orbit). The conquest and occupation allowed the democracies to compel the German and Japanese populations to assent to representative forms of government and self-rule, choosing people from among their citizens to govern them. Thus, over the last sixty years since the changeover occurred, Germany and Japan have functioned as liberal democracies and are considered as integral members of the roster of Western democratic states.
That being said, since 1955, a single conservative political party, the Liberal Democrats, has governed in Japan. The only times the Party was out of power was a hiatus of eleven months during 1993 and 1994, and from 2009-2012. This dominance of the political process does not conform to the expected shifts back and forth among opposing political parties in democratic societies, and is particularly worrisome given Japan’s past history of autocratic rule and citizen obedience. The Liberal Democrats are also strongly nationalistic and have been reluctant to accept responsibility for Japanese actions during the war, antagonizing the nations they brutalized, including Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and so forth. In fact, the party has rewritten the history books in Japan and what children are taught in school, to justify the conduct of the Japanese military in World War Two.
Though Germany has functioned in a democratic fashion since the establishment of their new government after the war, it must be remembered that Hitler was able to come to power in a pre-war democracy in Weimar Germany. Though his party did not receive a majority of the people’s votes, Germans allowed Hitler to assume leadership and followed him in the destruction and occupation of other European nations, as well as the murder of the Jews, Gypies, homosexuals, Socialists, and Germans with genetic disorders or brain damage. Of course, once Hitler held the reins of government, all vestiges of democracy vanished, with power concentrated in his hands and those of his associates.
Germany currently has the most successful economy in Europe, achieved through hard work, smart policies, and luck to some degree. Its economic growth has been sustained largely through the export of products to other European nations. In spite of this, Germany has been loath to come to the aid of the troubled countries in the South of Europe, insisting on austerity, unemployment, and pain as the only path out of the economic quagmire these states are experiencing. Given the fact that Europe’s unified currency, the Euro, is not linked to political unification, the Euro may fail in the future, or the Euro zone may go through considerable hardship, if strong nations like Germany remain unwilling to help the weaker states out of their economic morass. Unfortunately, in a democracy like Germany, the electorate must approve of economic aid to other countries, and support for this has not been forthcoming.
As for the American and NATO evangelists of democracy who attempted to bring self-government to Iraq and Afghanistan through force of arms, though it is too early for a definitive conclusion, the effort appears likely to be an abject failure in both nations. In Iraq, al-Malaki and his Shia allies seem determined to rule the country without sharing power with the Sunnis, Kurds, or other religious or ethnic groups. Since America left Iraq, a low level civil war has been brewing between the Shiites and the Sunnis, with a slow escalation in the number of deaths and destruction. There is no way the current situation in Iraq could be defined as democracy and given the animosity between the different religious and tribal groups, it is unlikely that democracy will make inroads in the future.
Similarly, Afghanistan is in the process of becoming a failed state, notwithstanding the actions of the Americans and their allies to introduce democracy. Hostility between different ethnic groups remains, with allegiance to one’s tribe more important than allegiance to the country. It also hard for democracy to thrive when one half of the population (women) are subjugated by men and unable to make decisions for themselves, much less engage in politics. There is also the issue of illiteracy, and how people who cannot read are able to wisely choose political leaders. A report by the International Labor Organization in October 2013 found that 82 percent of Afghans were illiterate. Can illiterate citizens self-govern and decide political issues? Hamid Kharzai, the current Afghan president, who blames the West for all of his country’s ills, achieved office in a fraudulent election in 2009, though he has occupied the presidency since 2001. Although he is about to step down from this position, the validity of the coming national election will certainly be questioned, as well as elections for lesser offices. Illiteracy, women’s inequality, tribalism, and corruption make democracy in Afghanistan a myth that will quickly vanish when the Americans and NATO forces leave.
Thus, we see that imposition of a democratic form of government on different states is not always successful. There must be the proper soil present beforehand for democracy to take root and flourish. (Among other nations, Russia, Eastern European democracies, and pseudo-democracies like Iran and Pakistan will be considered in future discussions of the downside of democracy.) Western belief in the supremacy of democracy is fallacious and other ways of governing should be sought given the advances in technology.