Friday, February 25, 2005

Democracy and the Middle East

I think that the arguments against the possibility of democracy in the Middle East are wide of the mark. One of the more common themes in such arguments is that Democracy takes a long time to grow and has to be the result of an historical negotiation, not something imposed by force. The first has a ring of truth. Most democracies were the result of a long historical development. But that doesn't mean all of them have to be. The analogy could be with market economies. The first market economies take centuries to develope, but once the template is developed and seen to be working it is a much shorter process to adopt in late adopting societies. We are all quite unsurprised to see countries that have never had anything like the long process that lead to market economies in the West quickly adopting them successfully in the last half of the 20th Century. This is because market economies may have developed according to a very historically specific process but the elements of human nature that drive them are just that--elements of human nature. Likewise with democracy. The second argument, that you can't impose democracy by force, faces some obvious counter-examples, noteably Germany and Japan after WWII. But more to the point, the question to ask is why would not democracy be the sort of thing you could impose by force? You can certainly impose other sorts of governments by force? It is quite simple to impose it. The question is do the majority of the people in a country want to keep it? If they do, then the only way to stop democracy is by force. Democracy has become the only legitimate form of government. By legitimate, I mean it is the only one that can be defended by rational argument among political elites throughout the world. The fact that democracy is still rare in parts of the world is a reflection not of its legitimacy but of force. The fact that we are still fighting opponents of the government in Iraq is evidence not that democracy is unpopular there but that the people fighting it are unpopular. If it were otherwise, they wouldn't be fighting.