Sunday, May 29, 2005 - Lebanon begins Syria-free vote - May 29, 2005

Read article for history.

Before I begin, here's what might seem a heretical new strand of thought from the author. Yes, the 'bleeding-heart liberal' (I'm actually apparently a Goldwater Conservative, although I believe that the government could do more good that he did) that the author is is now going to declare that there is no such thing as Democracy.

*Mr Fluffy of course believes that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, a Swiss bank account and being irresistably cute. Mr Fluffy should be Most Absolute Emperor of his tropical island least once his robotic minions of twlight have finish hunting down the renements of the opposition force.*

Over the course of the past week, having debated way way too many times that should be humanely allowed over the short span of 5 days and because of sheer expidency I have come to the conclusion that democracy is a verb not a noun.

Here's the 'history' for this 'new' train of thought. Last round of the AUDC, the motion read: "This house would offer debt relief in exchange for democratisation' and I was already mind wiped from a couple of bad debates and weird results from the earlier three rounds in the day. Besides it was ready 10 p.m. and all I had to look forward to was a round of democratic and developmental theory to look forward to.

Now my teammates (CL and Damit) had debated this motion before in the australs and they had cruelly mocked the proposition for even believing that the offer of debt relief was going to persuade dictators to step down. So since I could think of a country in Sub-Saharan/North Africa to invade to 'encourage' them to step down, in a moment of epithany, I decided that Democracy was a process not a destination.

Now, to be honest, it's both but since it was a debate, I felt morally justified in running the case we did, i.e. we would exclude dictatorships and focus on nascent democracies in Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). After all, it seems that weak democracies are sometimes worse than no democracy in poor countries. (see last week's The Economist, in particular its economics column for a more much more extensive emphirical treatment) The 'only' benefit that being a democracy brings is that you won't suffer from a famine.

Well anyway, as any good Democrat/Liberal can tell you, there really isn't a monolith called Democracy. After all, in it's unmitigated fashion, all it means is majority rule. Hence the problem of the tyranny of the masses that is checked and balanced by things like transparency and accountability and social institutions and civil society and separation of power. Heck, you don't even need civil (say Freedom of Speech) and political (say multi-party politics) or even economic (say the right to strike or a fair minimum wage) liberty, see e.g. Asian Democracies. Even in Western Democracies, it would be instructive to look within the EU for the various styles of democracy that are available to voters (British: 3rd Way, German: Consensus Nanny State, Scandinavian: Consensus Social Welfare Liberalism, France: Extreme Secular Humanist Elitist Democracy).

But from the short list of required attributes listed above for the sustaining of a decent democracy, an economically poor country is bound to have a lot of problems sustaining those requirements. Worse still, the word Democracy is imbuned with a mystical power that seems to quite a few people to be a panacea to all ills. Well unfortunately, not quite so. As such, nascent democracies are perpetually under threat not just from the opposition but also the expectations of the people.

As such, I think this has had me less adverse to the idea of Asian Democracy. But as far as I can see, the concept of Asian Democracy is self defeating. Simply put, the suppression or withdrawal of civil rights in return for economic prosperity in the social contract formed between the electorate and government will ultimately mean the doom of the idea if successful. Historical forces ensure that democracy (which I think Marx correctly identified as the government by which the middle class takes control of power in the nation) will ultimately reign. Every nation with a GDP per capital above $15,000 is a democracy. But more than that, this figure is steadily dropping, a democracy is the only form of government can can claim the legitimacy of the people (of course, it is also true about things like state-capture by public interests groups), people are demanding it earlier and earlier.

Furthermore, the chances of an Asian Democracy succeeding is actually quite narrow. You literally need a group of people determined to hold on and wield the power FOR THE ECONOMIC GOOD of the people and not enrich themselves. Case in point, Africa. So perhaps a better alternative to the definition of an Asian democracy would include qualifiers such as strong institutions, accountability of officials and transparency of government and some effective checks and balances.



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