Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Can government be imposed?

In last month's Foreign Affairs, Condoleezza Rice summarizes the successes, failures, and motivations behind the Bush administration's foreign policy. Rice is an exceptionally intelligent academic and dedicated public servant, thus I am surprised not by her acknowledgment of the idea that democracy cannot be imposed by a foreign power, but her subsequent dismissal of this point.

The idea that democracy cannot be imposed is not new. Machiavelli, arguably the first political scientist, discussed this issue at length in his Discourses. History has shown that successful democracies are manifested by the people (the most obvious example comes from the US and French Revolutions in which virtuous people seized democracy from tyranny). Rice acknowledges this point, in affect foreshadowing the ultimate failure of her previously outlined policy. However, she immediately dismisses this logical fallacy on the basis that that tyranny is more likely to be imposed. To me, this is an unrelated issue and does not justify her previously outlined strategy.

Considering that most of us come from democracies, I have two questions: Was your current government imposed by a foreign power? And if so, what else helped to facilitate its successful adoption (institutions, etc)?

Read the full text of her article at:

Or read the passage in question:
"For the United States, promoting democratic development must remain a top priority. Indeed, there is no realistic alternative that we can -- or should -- offer to influence the peaceful evolution of weak and poorly governed states. The real question is not whether to pursue this course but how.

"We first need to recognize that democratic development is always possible but never fast or easy. This is because democracy is really the complex interplay of democratic practices and culture. In the experience of countless nations, ours especially, we see that culture is not destiny. Nations of every culture, race, religion, and level of development have embraced democracy and adapted it to their own circumstances and traditions. No cultural factor has yet been a stumbling block -- not German or Japanese "militarism," not "Asian values," not African "tribalism," not Latin America's alleged fondness for caudillos, not the once-purported preference of eastern Europeans for despotism.

"The fact is, few nations begin the democratic journey with a democratic culture. The vast majority create one over time -- through the hard, daily struggle to make good laws, build democratic institutions, tolerate differences, resolve them peacefully, and share power justly. Unfortunately, it is difficult to grow the habits of democracy in the controlled environment of authoritarianism, to have them ready and in place when tyranny is lifted. The process of democratization is likely to be messy and unsatisfactory, but it is absolutely necessary. Democracy, it is said, cannot be imposed, particularly by a foreign power. This is true but beside the point. It is more likely that tyranny has to be imposed."

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