Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Democracy: Does One Size Fit All?

Two US embassies were attacked on September 11, 2012. Reuters reported an American staff member of the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi was killed after armed gunmen attacked the compound. They were "protesting" a film being produced in the United States. Earlier in the day, Egyptian protestors scaled the U.S. embassy walls and tore down the American flag and burned it, complaining of a US film they said insulted the prophet Mohammad. Gunmen fired on the embassy while others lobbed homemade bombs into the compound, causing several explosions and fires. The protestors in both cases had seen a 14-minute trailer for the film posted on YouTube.

These events call into question the fundamental premise democracy is a good form of government for all. Americans cheered as these same crowds in Libya and Egypt overthrew their dictators; and in many cases, like Iraq, the American government has overthrown dictators and brought democracy to the people. But this begs the question: Are these people ready for democracy? What if their choice is the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaeda? We assume dictators are inherently bad and democracy is good. But what happens when people, when allowed to choose their leaders --  because of their culture or religion -- select radical, militant extremists?

Qatar has been ruled as an absolute monarchy by one family since the mid-19th century. It has the world's highest GDP per capita. Wages are high, health care and education are free, and there are no taxes (Qatar runs on huge oil revenues and a small population of 300,000). Qatar has been a mediator, promoting peace in the Middle East, including in Western Sahara, Yemen, the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict, Indonesia, Somalia, Darfur, and Lebanon. Women may vote and run for public office. Would Qatar function better as a democracy?

Even America is not truly a democracy; it is a republic. Our founders foresaw the dangers of democracy and placed limitations on our system of government, such as the Electoral College (That's why, when you vote for president this November, you are not casting a direct vote for a candidate, as you would in a true democracy, but rather a vote for your state’s entitled allotment of the Electoral College's 538 electors). So should America be "exporting" democracy when clearly one size does not fit all? What works well for us as a system of governance might not work as well for other cultures; in fact, it might be downright dangerous.


  1. There appears to be an unstated belief that democracy or forms of elected government will produce only good things. This is not necessarily the case. Forms of elected government allow for renewal. There is value in that. A dictator, while he could be benevolent, will take steps to ensure his continued power. Even though elections may sometimes replace a good leader with one that isn't as good, the renewal process adds overall value anyway.
    The real key to elections is that one must be ready to accept the results of the election as if the vote were unanimous.

  2. All excellent points above!

    Personally, while one may hope to gently influence and lead by best example, I'm not even sure it is *ethical* to crash about like a democratic bull in the world's china shop, for we will inadvertently bring about destruction by such methods.

    As I see it, any such change in a nation's leadership must come from the free will of the people OF that nation. Only then, when people are of one mind, will change be both permanent and for the better. <3

    IMHO, that is ;)