Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Faster Transition

Enlightenment era philosopher Marquis de Condorcet envisioned the history of the world divided into ten stages of continuous progress, the last stage being utopia. This belief was upheld until the early decades of the 20th century, when it was crumpled by the disaster of the Great War (Schlesinger, 1997). Condorcet’s idea correlates with Clinton’s superimposition of democracy over dictatorship agreeably, because both are based on the principle that anything good and just will be triumphant and desired, by “universal hunger for liberty” (Gerard, 2005). The switch from dictatorships to democracies in developing countries is a constant one, making democracy an achievable goal, and insuring its existence and defense for future generations. How then, are the momentary lapses in democracy, such as war, depression, and communism of the 20th century to be explained? In the words of Patrick Swayze in 1989’s Road House, “It’ll get worse before it gets better.”

History today moves increasingly fast, accelerating in its sequence of events at a rate than politicians during the 1600’s—the revival of modern democracy—could never predict (Levinson, 2006). Schlesinger’s comparison of the Industrial to the Computer Age is an apt example of such progress; however, the transition of speed can be applied to governments too. Levinson gives an ample timeline of the transition from monarchal to democratic ideals during the Enlightenment period. In France, it took nearly two centuries of philosophical dispute to overthrow a millennia old monarchy in French Revolution—only then to result in an empire. Nowadays, dictatorships, democracies, military juntas, and everything in between, alternate in some nations as fluidly as four-year US presidential elections. What signifies the triumph of democracy is that most of these countries have lately been landing on the democratic side of the coin toss.

In Argentina, the government made the switch from military to civilian rule with the first democratic election of Raul Alfonsin in 1983. South Korea, too, abandoned its war-torn dictatorial past with its first civilian president in 1992. Algeria and Benin have both instated themselves as emerging democracies in the 90’s and early 00’s with the allowance of opposition parties and multi-party democratic elections. Even South Africa, a nation deemed as a lost cause due to its ruthless hierarchal rule, elected Nelson Mandela as its first democratic president in 1994.

Schlesinger’s argument is that these countries are young developing democracies, easily swayed and with not enough years of democracy to be considered substantial democratic converts; unlike the century old democratic origins of the US. But when the rapid approach of history today is compared to the slow continuance of the 1700’s when the US gained independence, today’s emerging democracies are gaining liberty faster than their dominant predecessors. They’re accomplishing in a few years what took some nations lifetimes; what took the US decades to institute, or for France, centuries.

Many nations will achieve democracy in the coming century—some on their own, and some with foreign aid. Many will lose it and be setback. This relapse is an important step in the recovery process—as the first democratic seeds have already been planted to later be grown. Tony Blair’s proposal that “democracy is hard to bring into countries that have never had it before” is true, but that once first bout of democratic rule, no matter how quickly halted, is a first step. Amassed, these nations show a collective support for continuation of democratic governance.

Gerard, Alexander. "Making Democracy Stick." Hoover Institute. 2005.

Levinson, Mark. "Democracy Here Is Not Necessarily Democracy There." International Society of General Semantics. 2006.

Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr. "Has Democracy a Future?" Council of Foreign Relations. 1997.

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