2006 August 13 Sunday
Democracy Debate Needs More Realism

A seminar at Stanford showed a clash between academia and those living in the real world.

Shahmahmood Miakhel was polite but adamant after listening to Hoover Senior Fellow Larry Diamond define democracy at the opening session on July 31 of a three-week seminar on democracy and development at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).

"You have separated the political dimension from the social dimension," said Miakhel, a former deputy minister of interior in Afghanistan and a fellow at the seminar organized by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at FSI. "In my view, if a democratic society doesn't serve the people, what is the use of it?"

Diamond, an expert in comparative democratic development, agreed that democratic societies should support social criteria but said his definition focused on the minimum political threshold—instituting free and fair elections. "Democracy doesn't ensure that every wrong will be righted," Diamond said. "But democracy gives us the best bet."

We held an election in Afghanistan. Why hasn't the invisible hand of democracy swept away the corruption and forces of reactionary Islam? Why hasn't the result been an Enlightenment featuring local democracy of the sort which characterised small New England towns in the 19th century?

During the program's opening session, Nigerian journalist Sani Aliyu remarked that the concept of peaceful opposition is not well understood by political elites in much of Africa. "Opposition equals enmity, and enmity has to be crushed," he said. "In the West it's different." Diamond replied that democracy requires tolerance and an ability to distinguish between political difficulty and illegitimate condemnation. "In Africa, the problem is not the society but the political leaders who murder and abuse the opposition out of a desire to maintain office," he said.

Larry Diamond belongs to the "blame democracy failure on the elites because otherwise we'll have to admit the masses are seriously lacking" school of Panglossian democracy advocacy. Why do political leaders murder the opposition in Nigeria and not in, say, Norway or Finland or Britain? Could the Brits, Norwegians, and Finns have qualities (whether genetic or taught or both) that make them more inclined to choose leaders who won't murder the opposition?

Diamond served as senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from January to April 2004. He went on to argue in Foreign Affairs that if only the US had sent more troops and trained them for a different mission then Iraq would have come out much better.

In truth, around 300,000 troops might have been enough to make Iraq largely secure after the war. But doing so would also have required different kinds of troops, with different rules of engagement. The coalition should have deployed vastly more military police and other troops trained for urban patrols, crowd control, civil reconstruction, and peace maintenance and enforcement. Tens of thousands of soldiers with sophisticated monitoring equipment should have been posted along the borders with Syria and Iran to intercept the flows of foreign terrorists, Iranian intelligence agents, money, and weapons.

But Washington failed to take such steps, for the same reasons it decided to occupy Iraq with a relatively light force: hubris and ideology. Contemptuous of the State Department's regional experts who were seen as too "soft" to remake Iraq, a small group of Pentagon officials ignored the elaborate postwar planning the State Department had overseen through its "Future of Iraq" project, which had anticipated many of the problems that emerged after the invasion. Instead of preparing for the worst, Pentagon planners assumed that Iraqis would joyously welcome U.S. and international troops as liberators. With Saddam's military and security apparatus destroyed, the thinking went, Washington could capitalize on the goodwill by handing the country over to Iraqi expatriates such as Ahmed Chalabi, who would quickly create a new democratic state. Not only would fewer U.S. troops be needed at first, but within a year, the troop levels could drop to a few tens of thousands.

That's sounds like the ideological pot calling the ideological kettle black. Nowhere in his long article did he mention that democracy always fails in low per capita income countries or that most US interventions in other countries have failed to create sustainable successful democracies (especially not in poor countries as one would expect from the previous link). Germany and Japan are huge unusual exceptions most notable in that they were so organized and technologically advanced they could cause US military forces to fight a huge war. Nor did Diamond mention that the high rate of consanguineous marriage in Iraq and Arab non-democracies creates conflicting loyalties that work against the development of a civil society and against the attitudes needed in the populace to sustain a healthy democracy. No, Diamond isn't up for even that moderate dose of realism let alone the really strong realism that comes from looking at IQ and wealth of nations.

Prestigious Stanford University flies people in from around the world to spend 3 weeks talking about democracy and yet, as near as I can tell at a distance, some of the biggest and most glaring factors for determining democracy success or failure are out of bounds for discussion. The social sciences in America are pretty intellectually bankrupt for the most part. Greater realism could help us avoid enormously costly debacles such as Iraq. But greater realism would require more honestly and courage about human nature and so far few American social scientists seem up for that.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 August 13 03:52 PM  Democracy Failure

gcochran9 said at August 13, 2006 11:15 PM:

More than a burning desire for freedom, ordered liberty requires icy self-control.

John S Bolton said at August 14, 2006 2:34 AM:

Not to mention that, at the start, they were saying undefined freedom only, then democracy, then constitutional democracy, then elections plus special minority protections.
So now the neocons imagine themselves still unrefuted by the differences between populations, since they say you have to do nation-building with massing of troops and massive occupation forces.
Why is this, to force the equally freedom-loving brothers to express their non-enmity?
there is huge contradiction-in-terms buried here; if the universality of human desires is so particular and effective in its equality, why do even need a large-enough military establishment to do nation-building with?

If there are no enemies, or no lasting ones, surely the armed forces of millions is excessive for US national defense?
The desire for freedom from aggression is not planted in everyone's thorax; many lust after freedom for aggression.
Some of these, while still possessing maximal self-control, will plan long-term to increase other people's freedom for aggression.
Do not allow transmission from the sickest, as Ewald tells us regarding infectious agents.

John S Bolton said at August 14, 2006 2:45 AM:

Then again, we do see an admission that there needed to be sort of quarantine against foreign terrorists streaming in over open borders.
This is a major deviation from the left-moderate right school of openness-valorization.
And, of course, no neocon has the effrontery to suggest a new revised model of nation-building which might be used in African countries, with no export resources of importance.

Rasfarengi said at August 14, 2006 11:27 AM:

"Larry Diamond belongs to the "blame democracy failure on the elites because otherwise we'll have to admit the masses are seriously lacking" school of Panglossian democracy advocacy. Why do political leaders murder the opposition in Nigeria and not in, say, Norway or Finland or Britain? Could the Brits, Norwegians, and Finns have qualities (whether genetic or taught or both) that make them more inclined to choose leaders who won't murder the opposition?"

You speak as if the latter countries did not develop the concept of political opposition and press freedom over centuries. If I go back less than 1,000 years (which is not long anthropologically speaking) I can find numerious examples of political assisination, wars over legitimacy of the crown, etc in "Germanic" Europe.

It takes a lot of time to develope strong democratic institutions in a country and have it become part of the culture. Also, something the German and British did that Africans are not allowed to do is suppress minority groups. What they did would amount to cultural genocide today, if done in Africa..but what that accomplishes is obvious. You either absorb, kill off, or isolate various other ethnic groups, creating a powerful majority that you can trust (yoru people) most of Africa has countries with no majority ethnic group (not over 50%)...which turns politics nothing more than another form of tribalism. Do you think the Angels, Saxons, Fiscians, Welsh, Scots, Irish, etc would have done real well if they were all about 10% of the population in a democratic system? Come on...I'm pretty sure if the Saxons were 40%, they would vote for Saxon leaders, and would not feel too bad if that Saxon leader did away with some Welsh opposition...as long as they "got what they were promised".

As far as Washington's failures in troop training and composition, I agree.

As far as Germany and Japan, they weer not huge exceptions...they were first world economies before WWII...Japan had the 3rd largest navy in the world and a sophisticated economy, preexisting democratic institions, they even voted for PM during WWII (although he had limited power)...they were also ethnically homogenous. It is not like 8 years or war or so made them forget what happened before, it did not eliminate all their trained workers, educated elite...etc.

Yeah the thing about cousin marriage was dead on...and it is rarely spoke about in the news here, but it is the foundation of Arab culture.

John S Bolton said at August 14, 2006 11:45 AM:

Neocons want to change lasting national patterns in months, not centuries.
Seeing how this neocon and left-wing advocacy of aggression/openness has spread, it may be an urgent matter by now, for there to be research into whether openness-valorization is not the manipulation of an infectious agent.
Hypothetically, it would have you try to command others to be open, and to tolerate freedom for aggression more than usual.
It would be highly correlated with occasions favoring transmission of infectious agents, such as extremes of sexual promiscuity.
My observation is that such a rabid instance can be found, and with no intellectual development to speak of.
Openness-valorization appears to struggle to achieve explicit intellectual statement, as an ideal.
Neocon openness commandments would be as lethal as rabies to our continuity, if allowed to proceed as if it were a valid ideal; with each additional increment of openness being called an improvement.
A unity of concept shows up when stated as: command others to be open in general, and to aggression in particular.

John S Bolton said at August 14, 2006 12:20 PM:

It can be noted that a purely mental 'infectious agent', would have similar attributes.
It needs only for you to be open, and then to command others to be open, to get itself transmitted.
This is true to such extent, that it is the essentialistic proptotype of a meme, to have no message but:
command openness!
Every other spreading agent of damage can piggyback on that sine qua non of all memes.
Does it not follow that it will tend to occur, and to meet resistance of the strongest kind?
In a way it is good that the neocons are closing-off their open-ended spreading of undefined freedom, to the more specific democracy ideas.

Kenelm Digby said at August 15, 2006 5:36 AM:

Actually the old Germanic tribes such as the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings had very developed local and national government institutions, codified laws and working justice systems involving the use of courts and juries.
English common law, the basis of American law i s the direct descendant.
Granted, their societies were essentially feudal, wirh slaves and serfs having few 'rights', but they were well organised at a local and central level, with the equivalent of police forces, magistrates, and central taxation,(have you ever heard of the Domesday book ?).
The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings even had parliaments of sorts.
And these institutions were not of Roman or foreign inspiration, but of very ancient deep roots.

CASpears AKA Rasfarengi said at August 15, 2006 8:26 AM:


I see your point, and it is well taken, and yeah I have heard of the Dooms Day book from PostRoman England.

So after the Holy Roman Empire fell apart are you saying there was not political entrigue or assasinations in Greater Germania or in Great Britian? Are you saying their was no ethnic cleansing of minorities in the UK or cultural genocide committed on the Irish? I know these people are not German, but killings of political adversaries was common in the Roman Empire in the latter years and also in modern Italy (after Italy was unified into one state, especially in the South). My point is, when you add in racial/ethnic differences, and a greater number of players in one country the chances for this only increases. This does not make African's special, it makes them human.

Randall Parker said at August 15, 2006 4:24 PM:

CA Spears,

Suppression of minority groups isn't allowed in Africa? How so? Seems to me that the various tribal groupings in Africa shaft each other left and right. They can go so far (massive killing sprees as in Rwanda) that Western governments start applying pressure. But Hutus and Tutsis mostly are allowed to suppress each other. Ditto in Ivory Coast, Nigeria (the West isn't opposing the civil war in the oil region), and other places.

Yes, ethnic homogeneity helps maintain the peace. That's an argument for slicing up some African countries. But some African countries are already very small. How heterogeneous are the little ones?

rasfarengi said at August 16, 2006 3:37 AM:

Good question. Here is what I know. These nations have a clear majority ethnic group. Name a country outside fo Africa(besides Switzerland which is not really a nation-state, due to the amount of devolution in the federation that does not have a majority ethnicity that a stable country? BTW, most countries in Africa have very small populations for the land size, Africa is and has been underpopulated, that is why slavery was such a big thing in the past. the underpopulation is due to disease I believe...in many places (as Europeans learned the hardway) high population density just brought the spread of disease, that is why many places in Africa lived in related but scattered villages and stayed away from densely wooded areas in the central of the continent. I have a few books on that. Diseases there evolved with humans over millions of years so they are the worst in the world for us. Also remember most countries in Africa are not in conflict, to look at a continent as big as Europe and North America combined and to say..."well there are 5 or 6 countries in some form of civil war so the entire continent is undemocratic and in chaos" is disengenous. There was never 100 years of peace in Europe...ever. Europe has been stable since WWII, and that is probably the longest period of instability in recorded history...and most of Europe's conflicts were across international borders....they have had civil war and terrorist groups as well, but have decreased since the 1960's (with the acception of the Balkins).


Stable democracies

Botswana has been relatively stable and peaceful since independence.

population - 1,639,833

ethnic breakdown - Tswana (or Setswana) 79%, Kalanga 11%, Basarwa 3%, other, including Kgalagadi and white 7%

Senegal -

population - 11,987,121

ethnic breakdown - Wolof 43.3%, Pular 23.8%, Serer 14.7%, Jola 3.7%, Mandinka 3%, Soninke 1.1%, European and Lebanese 1%, other 9.4%

religion - Muslim 94%, Christian 5% (mostly Roman Catholic), indigenous beliefs 1%

Niger - 12,525,094

population - Muslim 80%, remainder indigenous beliefs and Christian

ethnic breakdown - Hausa 56%, Djerma 22%, Fula 8.5%, Tuareg 8%, Beri Beri (Kanouri) 4.3%, Arab, Toubou, and Gourmantche 1.2%, about 1,200 French expatriates

Unstable countries


population - 12 million +

ethnic breakdown - Ovimbundu 37%, Kimbundu 25%, Bakongo 13%, mestico (mixed European and native African) 2%, European 1%, other 22%

religion - indigenous beliefs 47%, Roman Catholic 38%, Protestant 15% (1998 est.)

Sierra Leon is relatively small and very diverse.

population - 6,005,250

ethnic breakdown - 20 native African tribes 90% (Temne 30%, Mende 30%, other 30%), Creole (Krio) 10% (descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area in the late-18th century), refugees from Liberia's recent civil war, small numbers of Europeans, Lebanese, Pakistanis, and Indians

religion - Muslim 60%, indigenous beliefs 30%, Christian 10%

Christian 71.6%, Badimo 6%, other 1.4%, unspecified 0.4%, none 20.6% (2001 census)


population - 3,042,004

ethnic breakdown - indigenous African tribes 95% (including Kpelle, Bassa, Gio, Kru, Grebo, Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma, Kissi, Vai, Dei, Bella, Mandingo, and Mende), Americo-Liberians 2.5% (descendants of immigrants from the US who had been slaves), Congo People 2.5% (descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean who had been slaves)

religion - indigenous beliefs 40%, Christian 40%, Muslim 20%


notice any patterns?

CASpears AKA Rasfarengi said at August 16, 2006 5:13 AM:

Now Randell:

According to your logic...genes tend to be the leading factor that determine people getting along. Well although various subSahara African groups can be grouped together when compared to people from other continents, the diversity between most African groups is quite high...probably because of what I said about the isolation caused by geography in Africa's prehistory, even in among Bantu people I read there is more divergence than would be thought since they only split relatively recently. Almost all the countries in Africa that have experienced extreme conflict, large or small are highly diverse and have no clear majority, these differences were usually exploited by European colonizers (although there conflicts before Europeans, typically groups could fight it out and migrate, migration is not really an option since they are trapped inside international borders). I have also noticed the French and Portugese controlled areas are probably the worst, because, unlike the British, they really did not prepare their subjects for independence (the British did in most cases but hastily)...not having a national identity, not having preexisting democratic institutions, not having a large intelligencia (because France and Portugal...also Belgium were not big on allowing indigenous Africans to become too educated)...and you wonder why some countries are not messed up. TO me, I think that the fact the majority are not in conflict is a miricle...but some always look at the cup as half empty.

This same situation can be seen in Maldova and Georgia right now...in the break away areas, where only 2 ethnicies can not get along in such small countries.

Kenelm Digby said at August 16, 2006 5:50 AM:

CA Spears,
In those ancient days, central authority was not shy of using tactics we would describe as "ethnic cleansing" in order to settle what today we know as the scourge of "4th generation warfare2 as in Iraq and acts of terrorism that pock-mark today's world.
For example, any major mediaeval power facing something equivalent to the terroristic tactics of the modern Chechens, (random muder of schoolchildren ,bombs in subways etc), would simply have erase the Chechen people off the face of the Earth.The men would have been worked to death as slaves, and the women used as sex-slaves, this was the general rule for mankind throughout most historic periods, it is alluded to in the bible.
Not wishing to pass moral judgement, but this 'solution' actually seems to have 'worked', unlike the useless thrashings of todays politicians.

CASpears AKA Rasfarengi said at August 16, 2006 6:16 AM:


You are correct. THere are passages in the Old Testiment where Jews aer instructed on to kill all males and take the children and women into slavery and how these slaves should be treated...there are also passages about you should marry women if you rape them...etc.

THe resulting children would be raised in the culture of the conquorer and think of themselves as that ethnic group, no one cared with the woman's ethnicity was...

Point at hand...if Africa tries to do this, as in Sudan, the developed nation turns a blind eye until CNN starts reporting it daily then they try to punish the country, but this same process was how many countries in Europe consolidated into a single ethnicity...that or forced cultural cohesion (as was done in the UK and even France, Germany, and Italy) which today would be considered cultural genocide and beyond the pale.

Somehow the West now wants to hold Africa to a higher standard than it used. That to me is hypocritical. The countries in Africa that do have a working democracy with no majority ethnic group are doing something most European nations could not do, that to me speaks highly of their tolerance.

Guy said at August 17, 2006 5:09 AM:

John Karr is todays example of a college educated moron.

Whenever we hear a story of someone like Maurice Clarette doing something stupid, almost everyone in the media portrays that as the outcome for Maurice Clarette not having obtained a degree and "throwing it all away." Never mind that Clarette had an IQ so low he couldn't memorize multiplication tables and never should have been in college. Never mind that the better predictor in success in life can be tied and proven to how well someone scores on their college entrance exams (which is more tied to IQ) than rather or not a person obtains a degree (showing that the presumed positive outcomes from obtaining a degree aren't cause/effect with degree obtainment. It's like if you had let me spend one day teaching Earl Campbell how to run, then letting me take credit for his success. Colleges don't make people successful, what makes people successful is the intelligence they are born with).

John Karr is college educated and credentialed to teach in California but obtainment of a degree didn't make him a good teacher. This is cut from a news report:
"Karr, a short, thin blond with a Southern accent, had a valid California teaching credential and passed the background check that included submitting his fingerprints to the Department of Justice to make sure he had no criminal record, Sonoma County school officials said. But his desire to teach didn't translate into ability, according to one administrator. Bob Raines, superintendent and principal at Wilson Elementary School outside Petaluma, twice hired Karr as a substitute in second- and fourth-grade classes in 2001. After observing him, Raines said he concluded Karr hadn't been trained, had poor skills keeping classes focused and was ineffective. "He just seemed like somebody who thought he wanted to be a teacher," Raines said. "After a few days, I could see it just wasn't for him." He instructed his secretary not to call Karr again unless they were desperate."

And after committing the crime, John Karr got himself caught by reveling in the details of the case. The reason most dumb ass criminals get caught is they can't keep their damn mouths shut.

John Karr is a lot larger failure (a college educated one) than Maurice Clarette (with such a low IQ he can't handle 9th grade math work). But we won't hear anyone question how it can be someone who is highly educated can be such a loser and dumb ass.

Most everyone would agree that the world is a crazy place. Few would realize that the world is run, in large part, by a lot of college educated dumb asses. The Iranian President has an engineering degree and ranked 132nd of 40,000 in the test that credentialed engineers in Iran. He's building large temples to accomodate the return of a prophet long dead. George Bush Jr. believed that Iraqi's would welcome American troops with flowers when history had shown unequivocally that Muslim dominated nations never tolerate long term occupations by Judeo Christian dominated violence without violent opposition. Most of George Bush's belief set is based upon emotion rather than science. George Bush is a prime example that college (Ivy League no less) fails its basic goal-to teach people to think with reason rather than emotion.

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