January 25, 2005


The Democratic Ideal: The president's "realist" critics need to get real. (JOSHUA MURAVCHIK, January 25, 2005, Wall Street Journal)

[I]dealists are right about the possibility for freedom and democracy to spread across borders and cultures. In 1775 there were no democracies. Then came the American Revolution and raised the number to one. Some 230 years later there are 117, accounting for 61% of the world's governments.

This historic transformation in the norms of governance has not occurred at a steady pace. Rather, it has accelerated. Just over 30 years ago, the proportion of democracies was about half of what it is today. These years of rapid transition have been dubbed democracy's "third wave" by the political scientist Samuel Huntington. The wave metaphor, however, gives the impression of an inevitable ebb. But each of Mr. Huntington's first two waves left the world considerably more free and democratic than it had been before. And there is no telling how long a democracy wave will last. The first continued for 140-odd years; the second, for just about 15. The world could all go democratic before this "third wave" is spent.

Moreover, there is the factor of example and momentum: As the proportion of democracies rises, it will become harder for the remaining authoritarians to hold out. The skeptics ridicule President Bush for declaring his ultimate goal to be the end of tyranny. But today probably no more than 20% of the world's governments could rightly be called by that name, whereas once the proportion was vastly higher. Why shouldn't that 20% go the way of the others?

The skeptics continue to point to cultural differences to explain why democracy is absent from various non-Western states. But this is the true picture: In Latin America and the Caribbean, 32 out of 35 states have elected governments. In Asia and the Pacific, the ratio is 23 out of 39. In the states of the former Soviet Union and its satellites, 17 out of 27 are democratic. And in sub-Saharan Africa, 19 out of 48, or 40%, of the governments have been elected by their people, despite the familiar litany of disabilities: poverty, illiteracy, AIDS, tribalism and borders drawn artificially by former foreign rulers.

The one region completely left behind, until now, by this democratic revolution is the Middle East and North Africa, where Israel remains the only democracy among 18 states. In the wake of 9/11, President Bush concluded that it was no accident that this region where democracy was uniquely absent was the epicenter of global terrorism, and it was here that he launched his campaign for freedom, of which last week's speech was a broader statement.

Already, he has made a dent. Democracy has begun in Afghanistan (a part of Asia, not the Middle East, properly speaking, but linked to the latter politically as the former base of radical Islam). President Bush held out for democratic reform of the Palestinian Authority, and in the last month there have been municipal and presidential elections. Legislative and more municipal elections will come in the months ahead. Iraq will hold an election next week under tortuous conditions which will nonetheless move that country along the path to democracy.

Elsewhere in the region, despite America's unpopularity, President Bush's advocacy of democracy has emboldened democrats and elicited concessions from rulers. In Egypt, dissident Saad-Eddin Ibrahim has said he aims to run for president against 24-year incumbent Hosni Mubarak, although Mr. Mubarak clapped him in jail for a lesser act of defiance only a few years ago. In Saudi Arabia, men will vote to fill half of the seats of municipal counsels over the next three months, a small break with absolutism. In Lebanon, a multi-ethnic slate will run in legislative elections in the spring on a platform opposed to Syrian occupation. Other elections will be held in Yemen and Oman.

In addition, Egypt's first independent daily newspaper was launched last year. In May, a new network, Democracy Television, owned and run by Arab liberals, will begin broadcasting to the region by satellite from London. Almost every month a new statement demanding democratic reform is issued by Arab intellectuals, recently for example in Palestine, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Some skeptics warn that democracy may not prove to be a cure-all for terrorism. Perhaps, but the record so far shows that democracies rarely produce wars or terrorism, and at a minimum we can predict confidently that we will have less of both as democracy spreads.

What's most conspicuous in this whole discussion is just how little remains to be done in order for the dream to be realized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2005 1:15 PM

Let's consider the USSR - Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

"Union of Soviet Republics" is strikingly similar to "United States of America" and on paper, the USSR was said to be a republic: the whole was to be made up of rather autonomous parts(each republic.) But, hey, things didn't turn out that way when Lenin got in charge.

Now for the term "Socialist" -- each republic had to be a socialist government(like Sweden, most of the EU, etc.) Capitalist and othr nonsocialist forms were an absolute no-no. The word "socialist" kept American leftists hoping, oh-so-hoping, that things would turn around for the better. Even now, certain American leftists condemn Russia for having botched the job -- for having given the wonderful institution of communism its bad name.

The USSR had elections, for most members of the Council of the Union and Council of Nationalities(did Council of Nationalities inspire American liberals' vision of racial and ethnic blocks?) So the USSR satisfied any UN criterion for 'democracy' - - kinda nifty, I'd say.

So why the heck would any soviet citizen want to change this setup?

Posted by: LarryH at January 26, 2005 9:02 AM