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Imposing Democracy

Updated on April 24, 2012
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Trying to impose democracy on countries and whole areas of the world where there is no tradition of representational government is bound to end up a disappointment. The western, democratic philosophy has a hard time finding roots and support in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan etc. In fact, many citizens and rulers look on democracy with suspicion. Let us try to imagine that the biggest world power was Afghanistan with its very complex tribal traditions and methods of ruling. Now imagine that these rules were declared to be the way to freedom for the people of the world and these rules and traditions and customs were forced on the countries of Europe and North America. Europeans and North Americans would not be all too pleased with these totally alien, foreign traditions and they would be looked on with suspicion and with a feeling of rejection and resistance.

This is what is happening now in many areas of the world. Just as communist regimes failed to make their ideology accepted in the long run, western democracy may also fail. Trying to export ways of thought to totally different locations with complex histories and traditions is no easy task. If people feel that something is being forced on them, they will not accept it. If they do except it, it will be grudgingly and will not last in the long run.

When we see democracy starting to break apart in the United States itself, it is not hard to see why other countries are starting to question the system. Especially now with the global economic crisis hitting rich and poor, democratic and dictatorial states alike, we can see that money is the great equalizer. When traditionally democratic states such as the US, Britain, and France are hit hard by financial woes, citizens in these so-called "bastions" of democracy are becoming increasingly fed up with the system. Corruption in democratic countries is keeping people away from the polls because they feel that it doesn't matter who they vote for. This is the biggest danger democracy faces. Once citizens begin to feel that their votes don't matter, they are only living in a democracy in name. If democracy would be healthy now, people would be able to gain positive change simply by voting. However, there have been many governmental changes through tout the European Union member states for example, with virtually no positive results.

If people are losing their jobs and are economically desperate and on top of this feel they have no democratic voice, they look to the streets for answers. Mass rioting in Greece, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy combined with the March on Wall Street movement has seen people rejecting the polling stations and making their grievances heard by more violent and confrontational means. The feeling that democratic institutions are failing is a grave danger. People will not support ideologies that they see failing and causing citizens to fail in their own lives. Crime and ethnic and religious tensions are coming to breaking point throughout the democratic world due to a loss of confidence in democratic ideals.

We can make a parallel with communism. When many working class and peasant workers were given the opportunity for a better life under communism which they would never had had a chance for in the past, they supported communist ideology. As long as people kept out of politics they felt relatively safe with a degree of well being that they would not have been able to achieve in formerly feudal societies such as Russia, Poland, Hungary, Romania etc. Giving up political rights as defined by western democracy did not bother them, as they had no tradition of such rights in the first place. Economic stability and well being can make up for a lack of political rights in many instances. Political rights usually come to the fore for the majority of a population when the economy starts going bad. This is exactly what happened in communist societies. People put up with their lack of political rights up until the whole communist economy started to collapse. This is what lead to Glasnost and Perestroika. The Soviet economy could no longer keep up with the west, and people started feeling their situations worsening, just like in the democracies of today. This is when citizens of communist countries took an interest in political change, in order to avoid total economic collapse or to save what they could.

People took to the streets and formerly beloved or at least tolerated symbols and institutions of communist regimes were toppled without a second thought. Whatever cannot protect citizens economically will inevitably be rejected. We in the western democracies are naïve to believe that it would be otherwise here. Many believe that democracy is the be all and end all of civilizational development, just as the Roman Republic, Roman Empire, Napoleonic France, the British Empire, the Nazis, the Communists and countless others believed.


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In the past century Russia has gone from a monarchy, to communist dictatorship to a supposed democracy. A country can't be expected to change ideologies on a dime. Russians have always been used to having strong leaders who told them what to do in many ways. The chaos of democracy in Russia in the 1990s lead many to yearn for the stability of the communist regime, or even of a Tsar. Now we see Russia again ruled by strong men and oligarchs with questionable commitment to democracy.

It is even more naïve to expect Iraq and Afghanistan to become functioning democratic states. It's enough to look at the post Arab Spring countries: Libya is in a virtual state of civil war between different regions of the country, tribal alliances, and control of oil all coming into play. Egypt seems on the verge of voting in an Islamic government, which will be very unlikely to continue with any democratic processes in the future. If the government falls to rebels in Syria we can expect civil war there too. Democracy is oftentimes used as an excuse in order to get western support for rebellions. However, after these rebellions succeed all thoughts of democracy are overshadowed by local power conflicts and traditional ideologies.

The rampant corruption of Wall Street and the role of big money in Washington DC has lead many Americans to feel disillusioned with the system. Lobbyists for major corporations and interests basically run the United States government. One example that directly effects the lives and well being of hundreds of millions of Americans is that of big pharmaceutical and drug companies. Around 50 million Americans cannot afford health care insurance, and the ones who do have even what is considered good health care coverage oftentimes go bankrupt and end up losing their jobs and homes because of out of control hospital, treatment and drug costs. Those in government seem not to care, as they can all afford quality health care come what may. Many people are questioning the equality of American society, where everything comes down to the bottom line and the bigger check book.

Until the global economy starts getting back on its feet again we are all in for a bumpy ride. Democracy is not infallible as many people have believed up until now, especially in America. It is fragile and depends on a certain set of conditions to come together for it to work and to keep people happy. This set of conditions have been turned on their heads recently, leading many to question the system they were brought up to believe was the best ever devised in the world. Democracy in theory - just like communism in theory - seem like the epitome of good and fair governance. In practice however, there has not yet been one system devised that can be applied to the entire world in the long run to ensure peace and prosperity. This realization is what is driving the pessimism of our times.

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    • pramodgokhale profile image

      pramodgokhale 4 years ago from Pune( India)

      After WW--II The world was divided in to two poles and capitalists bloc and communists bloc, world entered in to cold war, newly freed Asian and African nations became the playground for testing advance weapons developed by USA and USSR.

      First Americans tried in Vietnam to impose democracy it failed. In middle east and Africa , due to lack of civilian society it was very difficult task.

      Yes democracy is an open system and differences of opinion can be easily accommodated and mistakes can not repeated.Capitalism is a part of economy in democratic system and it can be changed public sector to private and vice verse. Authoritarian system operates under one person ,sometimes it brings successes but sometimes fails and brings disaster.Why USSR broken? nobody imagined.

      Democracy is a lengthy process but it has sustainability, governments are accountable to the people. In Undemocratic country ruler or dictator simply flees and new dictator replaces him.

      In India we have democracy and sustained bit restricted but we continue, so i am able to express my views.

      thank you.

      pramod gokhale

    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 5 years ago from USA

      Mossadegh was elected democratically and was overthrown in the Ajax operation.

      During the Russian invasion, the U.S. financed them and gave them the power to rise.

    • frantisek78 profile image
      Author

      frantisek78 5 years ago

      Prior to the Pahlavi dynasty coming to power in Iran In 1925 the country was run by the Qajar dynasty, who were also shahs. Iran, or Persia has never been a democracy.

      The Taliban were the official government of Afghanistan from 1996-2001, so I don't know where you got your information about these two countries from.

      Democracy and capitalism are closely connected, so people are sometimes questioning unbridled capitalism and the hijacking of democratic values by the drive for profit above everything else.

    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 5 years ago from USA

      Let's be honest, here, each U.S. intervention in the countries you cited were not in the name of freedom but either for their national wealth or either for their strategic point.

      Before the American intervention, Talibans did not exist in Afghanistan, Iran was a democracy before England and the U.S. imposed the shah as a dictator...

      So far the elections in Europe favored right wing parties, partisans of a tightening the belt policy, all the sacrificed will be made by the people.

      Are people fighting democracy or capitalism?

      As they experienced capitalism, starting with Eltsine, many Russians regret communist years.