In an important essay Stanley Kurtz describes in considerable detail why the creation of a functioning sustainable democracy and effective state in Iraq is enormously more difficult than it was in Japan after World War II. He details factors from Japan's history that made possible a bureaucractic state with a low level of corruption and describes all the helpful factors that were present in Japan that are absent from Iraq.
Nothing comparable to Japan’s liberal intellectual tradition and modern, public-spirited bureaucratic class exists in Iraq or in any Arab country. The influence of fundamentalist Islam in the Arab world reflects a culture deeply inhospitable to democratic and liberal principles. In a perceptive recent National Interest article, Adam Garfinkle explains that, whereas democracies take as bedrock assumptions that political authority lies with society, that the majority rules, and that citizens are equal before the law, Arab societies vest political authority in the Qur’an, rest decision-making on consensus, and understand law and authority as essentially hierarchical. They lack such essential cultural preconditions for democracy as the idea of a loyal opposition or the rule of law or the separation of church and state. No surprise, given their nonmodern political beliefs, that not one Arab Muslim country qualifies as “free” in Freedom House’s annual survey, and that a disproportionate number of Arab regimes qualify in the “worst of the worst” category—the least free and least democratic on earth.
Arab Muslim societies remain un-modern and un-democratic not just in their attitudes toward political authority and law but also in their social organization. For men and women living within a universe where tribal identity, the duties and benefits of extended kinship networks, and conceptions of collective honor organize the relations of everyday life, democratic principles will be incomprehensible.
And therefore democracy would be impossible.
This is a very important essay and I strongly urge you all to read it in full. Kurtz views the British model of educating an English language liberal-minded elite in India as the appropriate historical parallel for what would be required to liberalize Iraq. He is not optimistic that such an attempt would succeed and has serious doubts (which I fully share) that the United States would have the patience to spend the number of decades required to create a liberal elite in Iraq.
Update: To read more on why Kurtz sees tribal family structure and cousin marriage as germane to why the Middle East is such infertile ground for the spread of liberal democracy be sure to read "Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development".
Update II: If Stanley Kurtz is correct (and I believe he is) then US intervention in Iraq to create a liberal democratic elite would require decades of sustained direct control of educational institutions and of the recruitment process into the bureaucracies to yield the desired outcome. Therefore the odds of the development of a liberal democracy in Middle Eastern countries that are not subject to US conquest and occupation are somewhere between slim to none. This presents an enormous problem for the United States and to the West as a whole. Many commentators are calling for the development of democracy in the Middle East as the solution that will spur economic development, increase freedom, and, as an expected consequence, decrease resentment and anger toward the West among Middle Eastern Muslim populations. But that approach has tough odds of even being tested as a solution anywhere outside of Iraq (since to test it requires direct control of key institutions ala the British Raj in India). In Iraq the attempt to establish a liberal secular democratic state will take decades to play out and then only if the US has the patience and the wisdom to pursue and sustain that course (and it is unlikely that it does). Democracy is not a short or medium term solution for the problems of Middle Eastern terrorism and WMD proliferation.
Update III: Be sure to read Stanley Kurtz's follow-up article from the April 2003 issue of Policy Review: Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint.
The British Raj does indeed represent a useful countermodel for any American venture in Iraq. Yet the experience of India under the British was by no means entirely negative. In fact, the very movement of Indians to free themselves from British rule was a product of British influence. Above all, the British cultural legacy explains why post-independence India took a democratic turn. Nor was the emergence of Indian democracy an entirely unintended consequence of British imperial domination. Despite the many problems and conflicts of empire, several critical threads of British imperial policy were intended to bring about eventual democratic self-rule in India. When India finally did attain independence and democracy, it was in no small part due to those policies.
The problem is that the development of liberal democratic values takes a lot of time but the Bush Administration and a large number of optimistic advocates of democracy in Iraq (including but not limited to most of the prominent neoconservative hawks) are acting as if everyone holds the set of values that are needed to support a democracy. This belief in the universal appeal of democracy is dangerously naive.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2003 January 15 12:15 AM Reconstruction and Reformation|