“It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic
movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending
tyranny in our world" were the words of President Bush at his second inaugural address.
This quote implies that democracy is better than any other form of government, and that
every country should become democratic. It is a view long held by the majority of the
western world. Democracy is touted as the best governing solution for all countries, but is
every country ready for democracy? Less developed countries lack the social and
economic foundations necessary to support a working democracy. Benjamin Franklin,
one of the founding fathers of the United States had little faith that democracy would last
in America. His infamous words after signing the 1787 Constitution; “I agree
to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such: because I think a General
Government necessary for us believe that this is likely to be well administered for a
Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it,
when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being
incapable of any other”. Winston Churchill acknowledged democracy to be the best of
the worst forms of government; “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be
tried in this world of sin and woe… Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst
form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Having a successful government means that the public can be provided with a good
standard of living, employment, education, and national unity. Democratic governments
are not the only ones that can provide these things; there are many successful alternative
forms of government. To tout only one form of government as better than the others is not
necessarily correct. Democracy is not a bad form of government and neither is autocracy.
What does the type of government matter if it is successful in being able to provide for
the public? When countries were categorized into the first, second, and third worlds,
economically prosperous countries such as Qatar, and Kuwait were put into the third
world column because they were not democratic. This faulty reasoning implies that a
country cannot be considered successful unless it is democratic. Ethnocentrism is the
tendency to judge the world from the perspective of one’s own culture. To think that
democracy is infallible, that it is the best form of government, and every country would
be better off being democratic, is ethnocentric. Democracy is not always the best path for
every country as shown by: the prerequisites for democracy, countries that have been
weakened by democracy, and other successful alternative forms of government.
In order for a country to sustain a democracy, it does not need to develop socially
and economically before hand. According to the development-first theory, a country
needs to be developed economically and socially before democracy can thrive.
Development in a country means that the population needs to be educated, employed,
have a middle class, and be unified. However, democracy results in wealth, education,
and employment. Development does not have to occur before democracy can succeed.
It is because countries remain autocratic that they are unable to develop, development
cannot happen without democracy.
Poor democracies fare better than poor autocracies; “Poor democracies out
perform authoritarian countries because their institutions enable power to be shared and
because they encourage openness and adaptability…democracies present an enormously
powerful set of institutions that propel development.” Joseph T. Siegle is an Associate
Director at the Center for Institutional Reform and Michael M. Weinstein is Director of
Policy Planning and Research, as well as, the Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations. They are the authors of “The Democracy Advantage: How
Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace”, which suggests that democratic government
leads to development, not development before democracy.
Democracy also fosters justice and unity; “The more representative,
transparent, and accountable governmental processes are, the more likely policies and
practices will respond to the basic priorities of the general population.” Democratic
governments are less likely to be corrupt, and because of this they can focus more on the
public needs. Democracy needs to happen before a country develops, because it will
make it easier for the country to meet the needs of the people.
Economic progress will occur as a result of democracy. Few autocratic countries
have seen economic progress. The development-first theory assumes that economic
prosperity and development will allow for a smooth transition into democracy. Fareed
Zakaria, writer for Newsweek and author of “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal
Democracy At Home And Abroad”, has said a per capital income level of $6 000 US and
over would result in a successful democratic transition. However, the reality is that only
sixteen autocratic countries have increased their per capital income level above $2 000US
since 1960. Economic progress, specifically a per capita income level of over $6,000US, will
lead to a successful transition to democracy. The reality is that only 16 countries have
increased their per capita income level above $2000 since 1980.
India is a democratic success story, despite its lack of development. India hasn’t
followed any of the development prerequisites of democracy, and has still bee able to
transition into a working democratic government. India does not have a dominant middle
class, is ethnically divided, and is not economically developed. Thus, development does
not have to happen before democracy.
In order for democracies to thrive, several development prerequisites have to be
met and they are; community solidarity, unity, literacy, freedom of the individual, a
middle class, and justice and equilibrium of power.
Community solidarity means the country must have a degree of unity. Unity is
important in a democracy because it will be easier to make decisions. Democracy can
actually separate a country further, by putting people into a us versus them mentality.
Nigeria, and other less developed countries are not unified. Nigeria is divided into thirty-
six different states, has over 250 different languages, and hundreds of ethnic groups.
Ethnic ties dominate politics in Nigeria, and there have been six coups since it became
democratic. Approximately fifty percent of Nigerians are Muslim, forty percent are
Christian, and ten percent have indigenous beliefs. Twelve of the thirty-six states are
under Islamic law, called Sharia. This mainly Christian-Islamic conflict has divided
Nigeria, especially over implementing Sharia law, which the Christians strongly
oppose.[11 ]In July of 2000, the Institute for Global Engagement stated:
“Almost every Nigerian Christian and Muslim agrees on the fact that Sharia has the capacity for breaking up Nigeria. They also agree that President Obasanjo's government is almost helpless before it, as any measure he takes is likely to be a subject of sectarian interpretation. Many Nigerians silently argue that the only solution to the problem of Sharia is a military government which would use military fiat and return everybody to the status quo ante.”
Many less developed countries have tribal animosities, and are fiercely divided on
everything from religion to politics thus democracy needs unity so actual decisions
will get made.
Literacy is another important component for democracy. A literacy survey
conducted by the International Adult Literacy Survey in 2000 found that literacy is an
important factor contributing to participation in civic society. Countries with high
literacy rates, such as Sweden have fifty percent more adult voluntary participation in
community affairs. According to the survey high literacy rates and participation in civic
society “fosters democratic values”. Many lesser-developed countries have low literacy
rates, and therefore they lack citizen participation. Higher literacy rates are also related to
more female political participation. The International Adult Literacy Survey commented;
“This relationship can be viewed in two ways, either as literacy contributing to greater
gender equality or as an effect of high female literacy.” The American experience is a
good example of how the unity and even a small amount of literacy in a country preceded
the development of democracy.
“The triumph over orally transmitted dialects, which made national unity possible, was largely the result of the invention of printing and the attainment of literacy. In view of the low standard of literacy in most modern non-technical nations, the question arises whether any of the new nations have a comparable force of unity. The printed word may be exportable; but the common school which teaches the art of reading is not”  (R. Niehbur, a prominent American political philosopher, and author of “The Democratic Experience”).
If a community is not unified, or educated, it is unlikely for democracy to succeed.
Developing countries tend to not have unity or high literacy rates.
Another prerequisite for democracy is freedom of the individual. In order for
democracy to thrive, individual rights need to be recognized over collective rights.
Developing countries lack the religious, social and political recognition of individual
rights. John Locke, the nineteenth century philosopher, stated: “For, when any number
of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby
made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the
will and determination of the majority.” Recognizing the value of the rights of the
individual in a community is important because then each person has a vote and the
majority rules. This is essential for a democracy. Niebuhr suggests that non-European
cultures lack the two pre-requisites for democracy and questions if it can succeed;
“…the course of Western democracy serves to raise questions about the presence or
absence in non-European cultures of two resources of individual freedom. They may
lack both the original religio-cultural foundations…and the later bourgeois social and
political affirmation of the individually.”
For a democracy to function successfully there has to be justice and equilibrium of
power. There is a give and take between interest groups and the governments in the
West, which allows for a successful democracy. In the West, the military had to give up
power to the people and that allowed democracy to succeed. This is significant, because
in non-western countries the military is unwilling to give up their power.
“Free communities do not merely derive the authority of government from ‘the consent of the governed’. They represent a free and fluid competition and adjustment of group interests informed by economic and ethnic motives and loyalties. The result of this subordination of military power to civil authority was to eliminate the military oligarchy as an important part of the power structure in free societies. This is an aspect of the democratic power structure in the West, which many of the new nations are unable to match, since many of them owe their existence to wars of liberation, and their domestic affairs are characterized by frequent internal rebellions. The relative effectiveness of the middle class and the military in the West in replacing the old feudalism with a new power structure has created a great chasm of historical contingency between the West and the new nations in this respect.”
Aristotle stated that a modern democracy could only survive if there was a large
middle class. He believed that in societies without a large middle class, the government
would either be an oligarchy or mob rule. Being one of the first philosophers to write
about the conditions for a democracy in his book “Politics”, he argued that the most
realistic democracy could only survive in a society in which the middle class was
dominant. Societies that had a great difference between rich and poor would alternate
between “oligarchic government and mob rule.”
Authoritarian China’s economic growth is greater than democratic India’s because
of improvements made in improving social conditions. China’s increasing economic and
living standards are better than those of India. China’s success can be the result of their
authoritarian government, while India’s failure to develop socially and economically can
be the result of democracy. China has improved social and economic prospects of its
population, compared to India and this has led to growth. Comparing India with China
according in the CIA World Fact Book, China’s infant mortality rates, life expectancy,
population below the poverty line, and total literacy rats are double of that in India.
China, infant mortality rate for the total population 25.28/1000 births (2004 est.), in India
it’s 57.92/1000 births (2004 est.); China’s life expectancy at birth for the total population
is 71.96 years, whereas India’s is 63.99 years; China has a 90.9% (2000 est.) literacy rate,
while India has 59.5% (2003 est.); and lastly China has 10% (2001 est.) of it’s population
living below the poverty line, and India has 25% of it’s population under the poverty
line. Democracy cannot be successful without the necessary prerequisites of;
community solidarity, unity, literacy, freedom of the individual, a middle class and justice
and equilibrium of power.
Democratic governments strengthen countries. Poorer democracies do not
experience the same economic calamities as the rich ones, this means that democracy has
a better chance of succeeding. Poor democracies are better at avoiding catastrophes than
autocracies. Joseph T. Siegle states that since 1960 poor autocracies have experienced
falling GDP’s by about ten percent annually, this occurs less often in poor democracies.
Seventy percent of autocracies have had their GDP fall ten percent at least once
since1980. Whereas, in poor democracies only five out of eighty GDP fallings over the
last 40 years have occurred in democracies. Democracy in poorer countries means less
conflict internally, when compared to authoritarian governments. Siegle also indicates
that poor countries have many conflicts, about once a year in every five years, since 1980.
However, poor democracies fight less frequently than do poor authoritarian nations. Even
though the development-first theory claims that democracy further divides countries,
which were already fractured.
Democracy nurtures inventiveness, independent action and civic authority. “An
integral virtue of democracies,…is that they provide a sphere of private space, which,
protected by law, nurtures inventiveness, independent action, and civic activity.” Open
democracies allow for the free flow of ideas, which leads to efficient and effective
government. Openness of democracies leads to improved health outcomes. The example
of the handling of AIDS in Uganda and SARS in China are examples;
“…it was the active public-education campaign undertaken by the Ugandan government and non-governmental organizations in the 1990s that dramatically reduced the transmission of HIV/aids in that country. Uganda was once the world leader in percentage of adult population infected, at roughly 30 percent, but by 2003, that rate had declined to 7 percent. By contrast, attempts to suppress information during the SARS epidemic in China allowed the disease to spread before the public became aware and concerted action could be taken. Once the epidemic was acknowledged, distrust of the government led many Chinese in infected areas to violate the government’s quarantine.” 
This example also confirms a larger proposition: democracies do a better job of
correcting errors. This is an example of the importance of providing information.
The democratic peace theory states that democratic countries never go to war with
one another. R.J. Rummel, a political philosopher added to this theory that democracies
are less likely to have internal violence; “democracies do not make war on each other,
the more democratic two nations are, the less the violence between them, democracies
engage in the least amounts of foreign, and internal violence.” Therefore, democratic
governments strengthen countries.
Democracy has weakened countries. American history is one of war with different
countries, including other democracies, and therefore the democratic peace theory does
not stand up to scrutiny. There have been many instances where democracies have been
“…Britain fought the United States in 1776 and 1812 and revolutionary France in its comparatively democratic years of 1793 and 1795. In 1848 the United States fought Mexico, not a perfect democracy but a good one for the times: Mexico’s elected Congress chose and deposed President Santa Anna and ratified the terms of peace. In the American Civil War, North and South shared a democratic history of fourscore and several years…After the Civil War, the hardest cases for democratic pacifism were the Boer and Spanish-American Wars and especially World War I. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed a war for democracy against ‘Prussian dictatorship’ but that was propaganda. Germany had civil rights, an elected parliament, competing parties, universal male suffrage, and an unparalleled system of social democracy.”
Democracy does not equal peace as shown by democratic America and Britain fighting
wars with democratic Germany.
Even with democracy, South Africa is extremely violent and has not progressed
economically. According to the Kroll Associates security firm, democratic South Africa,
is one of the most violent countries in the world. The murder rate is six times higher than
in the United States, and five times higher than in Russia. Every policeman needs
approximately ten security guards. The currency is declining, and South Africa has
become a major player in the international drug trade. Unemployment rates are as high as