On Monday April 28, senior fellow at the Hoover institute and professor of political science and sociology at Stanford University, Larry Diamond gave a talk entitled “Can The Whole World Become Democratic?”
Diamond’s lecture focused on the third wave of global democratization in which 97 countries out of 196 made the transition to democracy. During this period, democracy became a global phenomenon, everywhere but in the Middle East.
“The Middle East is the only region in the world that lacks a credible base of democracy,” said Diamond. He points out that there is not a single Arab democracy today. Furthermore, of the 23 countries that derive more than 60 percent of their exports earnings from gas and oil (some of them in the Middle East), none are democracies.
Unfortunately, the Middle East is not democracy’s only problem. Since 1999 there has been a democratic recession, with the proportion of democracies in the world stagnating between 60-62 percent. Of all the democratic breakdowns, two thirds of them have occurred in the past eight years, some happening in very strategic states such as Nigeria and Russia.
The causes of these breakdowns include weak rule of law, poor economic performance and ineffective political institutions. All of these elements combined, Diamond says, “Are the core problem of development in the world, not to mention democracy, is bad governance!”
Despite these problems, Diamond is still optimistic about the future of democracy and believes that the entire world can become democratic, possibly even in Generation Y’s lifetime.
Diamond said that authoritarian leaders are especially threatening to democracy, because it is “human nature to establish and then maintain monopoly on power.”
Comments for discussion by History Professor Adeeb Khalid and Burton Levin, SIT Investment Visiting Professor of Asian Policy followed the lecture.
Professor Khalid questioned the final goal of democracy while Professor Levin raised concerns about democratizing countries that are not ready for or do not want democracy.
Professor Levin says, “As we go about in promoting and revel in the accomplishments of democracies, we must be sensitive to getting ahead of other governments and damaging bilateral relations.” He adds, “We’re in a liberal democracy but we got it wrong in the Vietnam War and in Iraq because we’re so concentrated in expanding democracies.”
Professor Levin brings up the example of China and Russia, in which the general population is essentially satisfied. Professor Levin also makes the contrast that Chinese peasants are better off in terms of social mobility, education, and materialistic comfort than peasants in democratic India.
He ends his comments with a warning. “The thinking that we have the best form of government and it is our duty to propagate it around the world is a recipe for disaster.”
In the rebuttal, concerning China, Diamond says, “Just because there is no popular uprising of violations of human rights doesn’t mean that it is not wrong and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a moral obligation.”
There is a danger in the absense of political reform. “China is riding a tiger and they don’t know how to dismount,” he added.
Regarding the transition to democracy, a student pointed to the possiblities of corruption and the opportunities to buy votes and corrupt the system. Diamond agreed, but added that there are also opportunities for correction, which are not available under authoritarian rule, he said.
Of the lecture, sophomore Xiao Zhu said, “Larry Diamond was a great speaker and he really engaged the audience.” However he was more in agreement with Professor Levin’s stance, “I just think that if people don’t want democracy, it’s not going to happen,” said Zhu.
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