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Why does the Western world think democracy is a magical, catch all solution?

There seems to be this sort of prevalent attitude in the Western world that democracy is something of a catch all solution for all the world's political problems.

Now, lets just get this out of the way. This isn't some pro-autocracy/democracy is bad argument, I believe the system has many benefits. I'm not for one second disputing all the good its done in many countries. What I am claiming, is that there are situations where its not the right answer.

Take for example the recent revolution and election in Egypt. Dictator toppled, Muslim Brotherhood elected democratically, uses democratic tools to get rid of democracy, toppled by military. If it wasn't for the military, chances are Egypt would have been going down the road to being a theocracy right now.
The same happens whenever a country with a long standing tradition of politically active religious groups with a wide voting base. Any democratic election will lead to democracy being canceled in short order.

While I dislike using it as an example, it also can't be ignored that Hitler originally rose to power democratically. The same is true for many other dictators, of both religious and secular leanings. That's what happens when a democratic tradition simply isn't there.

Any transition to democracy, needs to be done carefully, and with the bare minimum force of arms. Its not something that can be rammed down people's throats, and there are simply situations where the political climate doesn't allow it work.

I'm trying to get some insight as to why the western world doesn't see that?


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  • Sep 5 2013: Nadav, why do you think democracy is not a magical, catch all solution? You provide some arguments as do other contributors. I see there are several things to consider to have a likely answer. First is simply taking a poll with enough respondents in each country to gain some confidence it reflects the country's overall view. Simply ask if they would rather make their decisions or allow others to make their decisions for them. If you find that country that says allow others to make the decisions for them, then don't bother with that country. All others may prefer the magical catch all solution of democracy.
    Now the question becomes what is required of it citizens for a democracy to work? People may desire control over their lives, but how much, where does my rights end and yours begin - you have to know these and produce laws, norms, or mores for these. Learning who and how to trust representatives is not easy. Evaluating/vetting those to lead is not usually intuitive. Media is not helpful either. Like Egypt, they make foolish (in this case extremely poor) mistakes at first. Making your own decisions can be hard and even daunting. Ask any teenager (lacking pertinent knowledge) going out on their own how those first 6 months went without their family. Most wishing for democracy have no realistic view of what and how one works and their part in it other than voting. A democracy is not made with one national vote.
    The reason Europe and those surviving and some struggling democracies are doing as they are is because every single one of them has had extraordinary support from the US. Most for several decades. They are just now beginning to stand on their own and become a force for change in other parts of the world. Look at each democracy's early history to include the US. Each had great struggles; none ever knew for sure if it would work. Hitler is the poster of one failing.
    It takes two generations for a change to take root, three to become the norm.
    • Sep 5 2013: Notice that in your argument, you're making the unspoken assumption that the push and political will for a democracy are both inexhaustible.

      That's simply not the case.
      Its very easy for the process to stagnate and die. After which, all you're left with is the instability of a new regime which isn't even democratic. If you removed the old regime by force, the cost is probably a lot higher.

      Taking your analogy of a teenager going off to live alone for the first time, timing is everything. Some could easily handle that sort of thing at 15, others aren't ready when they're 20. The thing is, running a country is a lot harder than living alone, and the repercussions for mistakes are much graver.
      Where as an unprepared teenager probably won't manage to cause too much harm, an inept government can lead a country into ruin. In such a scenario its quite realistic for the people to just chalk off democracy as a failed experiment, and switch over to something else, after all the damage has been done, and to no real benefit.

      Sometimes, staying put with a bad situation does less harm than trying to fix it. Democratic transition can do a lot of good for a lot of countries, but it isn't for everyone.
      • Sep 5 2013: I think you have visions of the 60s and 70s when the US foreign policy was to force democracy on the world. I don't see the US forcing democracy on anyone until they have become untenable to themselves or the world. There are many places the US hasn't forcibly thrust democracy upon a nation state. North Korea is the poster example. However, when you want or expect help from me, then you have to move in a direction I believe will improve the plight of your people. (Now whether because I'm just a good guy or because it will benefit me later is not being addressed here.)

        The simply idea of democracy has provided the "culture" for improvement to everyone’s' standard of living far beyond anything before it, so why would I not push it for everyone to have it particularly when a group of people are in a struggle with other forms of governance. Democracy is in my opinion the most difficult to establish but provides the greatest benefit to its people. You may see the disaster as avoidable, but those in the middle of it see it as their path to the life they are being denied.

        We have a difference of point of view. You see us as thrusting it upon them. I see it as offering them what in their heart they already seek. It is the leaders that wish to maintain their power that creates the disaster you wish everyone to avoid. I'm not sure I can name a democratic state that didn't come from some sort of difficult transition from another form of governance. Therefore, I reject your methodical move to democracy. It comes in jerks and twists not planned and linear.
        • Sep 6 2013: That's precisely the problem right there.
          You see it as "offering them what in their heart they already seek". They see it as a form of neo-colonialism.
          You need to understand that most of the world still has bad memories from the colonial era.

          Democratic transitions need to come from within, otherwise it just looks like some foreign occupier's ideas. As I've said here before, "chosen of the people" is surprisingly easy to confuse for "western puppets".

          By the way, US foreign policy never included a worldwide democratic transition. During the cold war, setting up puppet governments was more important, and dictatorships were easier to control.
          My problem is with the more modern "lets force democracy on Iraq" mentality.

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