Monday, January 01, 2007

Democratic Devolution

Short, admittedly grossly-oversimplified sketch of my view of the theoretical underpinnings of what it takes to reach the level of a healthy democracy, and then where Iraq has stood in that process from its founding to the present. Short version: the American occupation did not start Iraq on the path to democracy, it actually set the country back to zero. Iraq was not a place with "no hope of ever changing". Yes, it was a fine mess, but underneath that mess it had a few things going for it which a deft international community and Iraqis could have slowly worked to their advantage to emerge from the darkness of Saddam's years. Wouldn't have been easy or quick, but possible over time. Instead the siren song of rapid change from outside came along for Iraqi exiles and Bush and what little had been achieved fell apart leaving the very existence of Iraq in question and democracy further off than ever. You don't know what you've got until its gone I suppose.

I'm happy to hear critiques and discussion, I can stare at my sketches and already see ambiguities in my very simple attempted model that could raise fierce objections that I'd have to (and feel I can) address if raised, but hopefully this can provide a decent theoretical starting point. You can click on the pictures to see larger/clearer versions.


At 12:22 PM, Blogger Randal said...

All very well, and you make the important point that Iraq has gone backwards rather than forwards in the governance stakes as a result of the invasion and occupation. The democracy ideologues who pushed the invasion would like us to believe that Iraq was starting at zero prior to March 2003, of course, and could not possibly have gotten worse.

However, I think there is a risk of playing into the hands of the democracy ideologues by implicitly accepting, or appearing to accept, their premise that democracy is the be all and end all of liberty and good governance. It is not, of course. It is merely one mechanism by which certain aspects of governance can be managed. It may in fact be the case that it is the "worst form...apart from all the others" - although that assertion is open to debate - but it is certainly also the case that, depending upon the definitions used, too much democracy or the wrong sort of democracy can be very bad.

The bottom line, of course, is that our arrogant so-called leaders who believe they know what's best for everybody else, cannot even competently manage their own societies, and should keep their damned paws off foreign ones they don't even begin to comprehend.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger NonArab-Arab said...

Randal, I was admittedly lazy and not getting into any great detail here. I could take the OECD democracies and point out many flaws as well and point to things which well-managed autocracies arguably manage to do better than democracies. And I also had thought at first of putting up the alternative fantasy model of democracy that the right-wing trumpets (what I would call a faith-not-fact based vision of what democracy is very much akin to the faith-not-fact based vision of free trade which was widespread among colonialists in Victorian England). Maybe I'll yet get to all that, though I'm going to have less time in the new year.

All that said, I do believe that even if the very term 'democracy' has taken on many negative overtones (thanks in large part to the Bush Administration of late, but also due to broader problems of abuse of power in the west and of the challenges of first establishing identity, security, social-political-economic compacts with broad acceptance in countries struggling to find their place in the world), I think history does show that states and societies which coalesce through these stages (common identity, security, agreement on the rules of power sharing among varied constituencies, non-abusive use and cyclical transfer of power) become societies wherein power is diffused and shared effectively in a manner that we would be hard pressed to find a better term for than 'democracy' at the moment. That is not to say again that there are not many societies and states somewhere midway through that medium which do not have plenty of positives to show and offer the world. But it does seem clear to me from the examples history and the present present that whatever label is used, societies which achieve these things and successfully find a way to diffuse power more broadly beyond various individuals and/or classes of autocrats, oligarchs, or kleptocrats (be they effective or ineffective versions), invariably become what today most would term healthy 'democracies'. That term may not last, or perhaps new models will be found, but for now I find it a useful theoretical construct (though I vehemently disagree with the simplistic and erroneous way the concept is envisioned by many).

As for Iraq, despite my broad-brush maps, yes, the basic point is that Iraq had a few basic building blocks in place to become something better and was not starting from zero. The invasion and occupation knocked those few cinder-blocks holding up the rickety shack right out from under the rusty tin frame.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger NonArab-Arab said...

And Randal, actually thinking about it now and your basic point of Democracy not being a be-all-end-all...perhaps a better way to meld that valid point with what I was trying to say would be to limit my pyramid to the "conditions" (i.e., the first four blocks), and then put examples of states off to the right that have achieved these various things, or labels of what we might call them.


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