Saturday, November 01, 2014

For Those in Despair over Democracy . . .

Larry Diamond
Hoover Institute

. . . there's a man here to offer encouragement.

In the FPRI's E-Notes (October 2014), Larry Diamond - Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy - writes on "Reviving the Global Democratic Momentum," thereby offering encouragement and hope for those of us who still believe in the diffusion of liberal values:
If we want to promote democracy in the Arab world for the long run, we should invest very heavily in Tunisia in every possible way, because what the Arab world most needs now is one example of a decent, functioning democracy that can serve as a lesson, an inspiration, and a point of diffusion for the region . . . . I know the counter-argument. There is only so much money. How are we going to help people who have nothing - no financial resources, no protection for their human rights, and little or no democracy - if we dilute the available democracy assistance resources by devoting some of them to countries that are, comparatively, much better off? . . . [And more is needed than money, for] we cannot win the struggle for democracy unless we also wage a vigorous struggle for liberty and human rights. Too many governments in the world - not just blatant autocracies but electoral authoritarian regimes, illiberal democracies, and even some democracies we think of as liberal - are moving backwards to constrain and punish freedom of speech, freedom online, freedom to organize and assemble, and freedom to receive funding from and form partnerships with international democratic actors. We need to use our tools of conventional diplomacy, public diplomacy, aid and trade relations, and other forms of leverage to call out and condemn these regressions, and to try to defend the individuals and organizations that are bravely working to make their societies freer and more accountable . . . . It is a completely false and self-defeating notion to think that, in the era of China's rise and Russia's belligerence, we have no more leverage in the world . . . . Finally, let us always remember one thing, above all else. We have the better set of ideas. Democracy may be receding in practice, but it is still ascendant in peoples' values and aspirations . . . . Democracy remains the only broadly legitimate form of government in the world, and there is a growing hunger - including in authoritarian regimes like China, Iran, Cuba, and Vietnam - to understand what democracy is, and how it can be structured to operate effectively. We need to respond to and stimulate this appetite for democratic understanding. We need a comprehensive effort to translate into a number of critical languages a wide range of philosophical, historical and analytical works on the meaning and forms of democracy, democratic culture, democratic transitions, democratic constitutional designs, electoral systems, political parties, civil society, systems of horizontal accountability, civil-military relations, and so on. We should be arranging to distribute these translated works for free on the Internet, to develop different levels of instruction in democracy for citizens at different levels of knowledge and need, and to offer a wide range of massive, open online courses on various topics and issues related to democracy . . . . We should bet heavily on this battle of information and ideas. It is a battle we can win. The one ultimate trump card we have is the diffuse global recognition that democracy is the ideal form of government, the only permanent basis of ruling legitimacy.
Professor Diamond has much more to say on how to spread democratic ideas, so maybe there's hope. I agree with his basic assumption, that the real battle for democracy is a battle of ideas. Interesting that he doesn't mention Islam or even Islamism - though he refers to the Arab world several times. His emphasis on conducting the battle for ideas through the internet, however, shows that he has Islamists in mind, for that's precisely what they are doing, along with their physical battles for territory, of course.

We might not persuade the jihadis, but we can perhaps counter their efforts to radicalize others. That's the real battle.

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