Monday, September 17, 2007

Lessons in imposed democracy

Today's Washington Post has an interesting article by Shankar Vedantam entitled Lessons in Enforced Democracy (a title less accurate than the one I've chosen for this post). Vedantam has got hold of an unpublished study by Andrew Enterline and J. Michael Greig on the fate of democratic regimes imposed by foreign countries. (Unfortunately he doesn't say where this study will be published and whether it will be an article or a book. But I will keep an eye out.)

The study suggests that this usually works out badly because the countries on which democracy has been imposed lack the appropriate civic institutions. The traditional generation seems to be a turning point. Weak democracies with elections but no institutional infrastructure fail in large numbers in the first 30 years. Strong new democracies that reach 30 seem to have become very well established by that point.

I am tempted to say DUH! but really I'm pleased that this serious matter has appeared in a major American newspaper. It's an improvement over what often appears in the WP, not to speak of lesser forums like the discredited NYT. However, I wonder how much systematic thinking is behind the study. Here, for instance, is the study's recipe for success as reported by Vedantam:

...large occupation forces early on to stamp out nascent insurgencies; a clear message that occupation forces were willing to spend years to make democracy work; an ethnically homogenous population, where politics was less likely to splinter along sectarian lines; and finally, the good fortune to have neighbors that also were democratically minded, or at least neighbors who could be kept from interfering.

Is this just an ad hoc argument for a long-term US commitment to Iraq?

One thing that makes me wonder is this paragraph from the article:

Enterline and Greig said there is one large exception to their finding: India, with its myriad internal divisions, but which still has become a strong democracy. Civic culture and a strong desire for representative government undoubtedly play a role in whether stable democracies emerge, Greig said -- meaning that Iraq might yet defy the odds.

Indian democracy is a remarkable achievement, but perhaps success there indicates that civic institutions are far more important than ethnic homogeneity. After all, neither the USA nor Canada has ever had any such thing. There's always been some new wave of immigration to mix things up. Political science has known for years that having a tradition of British justice and an independent judiciary gave freed British colonies a better head start on stability than colonies of other countries. In the partition, the Republic of India got the vast bulk of the institutional inheritance of the Raj, while Pakistan just got the army. Even so, the Pakistani judicial system has shown itself recently the biggest organized force for reform.

The Vedantam article cites the problems that the Philippines have had maintaining democracy after independence from American rule; it might be interesting to compare American-imposed institutions in the Philippines to British ones in India, at a detailed level of analysis.

While we are wishing, what about a good study of Spain -- model backward Fascist state to model European democracy in less than a generation? All while suffering from domestic terrorism! Long-established democratic countries -- you know who you are -- should bow their heads in shame in the face of this example.

Update: Thanks to Will McLean, I now have a link to the Enterline and Grieg paper. Alas, the briefest of looks makes me question the analytical judgment of the authors. To term the 19th century democratization of Canada and New Zealand cases "imposed democracy" similar to the cases of Germany and Japan and now Iraq shows a profound ignorance of the internal dynamics of Canada and New Zealand in that era.


  1. This seems to be the Enterline/Greig paper discussed:

  2. There's quite a difference between the "imposed democracy" in Germany & Japan as Opposed to Iraq & Afghanistan.