September 20, 2017, 10:11 PM, Wednesday
  • eng
  • nep
  • chn
  • tib
Chomolungma logo

Breaking News

Difficult Democracy and Easy Revolution

- Gaurav Bhattarai

September 20

All sorts of revolutions necessarily don't give birth to democracy. Chaotic transitional period, disorders resulting from the failure to have a proper form of governance, complexities in state restructuring, high levels of crimes and violence, which are deemed as the prominent attributes of a state in transition have often metamorphosed a feudal and despotic state into a failed state, not a viable democracy, in an endeavor to reform the erstwhile state structure. Occurrences are not just limited to the post-conflict governance however.

Threat to the process of democracy formation multiplies extremely in weak and failed states. In such case, a full-fledged democracy still seems far-off. To exemplify, African countries like Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Asian countries like Cambodia and Middle-east countries like Lebanon are some of the post-conflict states which paid as a huge price to democratize themselves.
British statesman and leader during World War II Sir Winston Churchill truly said that "To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day". Revolution seems easier but democracy is difficult. It is easier to handover guns to the poor peasants of the peripheral spheres of an underdeveloped country and to influence them shrewdly advocating the cause of Communism and Maoism, but it is always harder to keep patience and endow better education and distribute fruits of development over the long haul. Reiterating Mao Zedong's belligerent statement," power comes from the muzzle of the gun" and agitate the poor to revolt against the state system and existing power structure by propagating the ideas from Communist Manifesto and Red Books merely requires an emotion of an intense dislike of the affluent corporations and some readings since Marx and Engels. But, toppling of feudal regime via means of peaceful uprising by disseminating the ideas of equality, justice, freedom, peace and reforms require purposeful and industrious undertakings. United States Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. resorted to peaceful demonstrations not the use of guns or any forms of violence to fight against the segregation of Blacks. He even advised his adherents to be maneuvered by democratic norms. He said to his audience from Lincoln Memorial," Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline".

Even at the behavioral level, to be a democrat is not an easy chore but an uphill task subject to alterations and adjustments as per the combination of circumstances at a given time. Democracy is not constituted and conditioned by conforming to specific manifestos or proclamations like the other doctrines, philosophies and school of thoughts do. Since its ideas and principles are deeply rooted in the belief of promoting human values, to aver that the animating force of democracy is in human blood, air, and water won't be a phony and delusive assumption. The understanding about democracy cannot be confined to a mere political orientation but ought to be also understood as an ongoing organic process, whose success is however driven by the degree of rhetoric employed to achieve the democratic causes. Thomas L Friedman in his book The World is Flat writes: "The good news in India and China and the countries of the former Soviet Empire today is that, with all their flaws and internal contradictions, these countries are now home to hundreds of millions of people who are hopeful enough to be middle class. The bad news in Africa today, as well as rural India, China, Latin America, and plenty of dark corners of the developed world, is that there are hundreds of millions of people who have no hope and therefore no chance of making it into the middle class. They have no hope for two reasons: Either they are too sick, or their local governments are too broken for them to believe they have a pathway forward" (538). Take the case of South Korea and North Korea. Technically, North Korea and South Korea are in a state of war as the enmities of 1950-53 war were concluded with a ceasefire rather than a formal peace treaty. Ceasefire is the state of negative peace not real peace and there are always the chances of escalation. Look at Latin-American countries. Except Brazil and Costa Rica, others are undergoing through internal turmoil. African country like Somalia plunged into starvation due to tribal wars and famine. The predicament of Latin- American countries and African countries have bespoken that every internal problem has however created inter-state problems and every inter-state problem eventually creates regional problems.

It is crystal clear that there is no alternative to democracy as there is no other option to human co-operation. Negative peace should be overpowered by positive peace through social justice, democracy, and development wherein state is committed to protect ethnic, social, religious and legitimate minorities. There is no alternative to democracy because revolutions hitherto haven't yielded any constructive resolutions besides generating chaos and the fermenting minds with the whim of impractical and unattainable utopias.

Bruce Russett in his illustrious book, Grasping the Democratic Peace, published by Princeton University Press, New Jersey in 1993, argues in favor of democracy by reiterating that democracies do not fight each other. Russett believes that it is possible to replace the realist principles (anarchy, security dilemma of states) by the help of democratic peace theory. He considers that Democratic peace primarily envisioned by Immanuel Kant and Woodrow Wilson, can be achieved by advocating the cause for a shared peace among democracies. For Russett, peace exists among democratic countries because of shared norms and institutions, not as the result of their wealth, alliances and their distance from each other. In his words, peace is the product of "structural and normative characteristics" of the democracies. However, Russett is also concerned by the rise of new democracies propelled by the protests and uprisings tailored by nationalism and ethnicity, which might disquiet the process of democratic peace. He says, “A Muslim fundamentalism movement might achieve power in the name of democracy” (135).

In the process of analyzing methodically the statement that democracies do not fight each other, Russett studies and rejects the counterexamples that can be brought to refute his thesis statement. (e.g., the Boer War, the Spanish-American War, U.S. covert action against Guatemala and Chile). He writes, “ The Boer War was not interstate war but extrasystematic war...the Orange Free State was not an independent state...Spain after 1890 had universal male suffrage ...but ministry was selected by the king...competitive elections were manipulated...the system lacked the democratic quality...”(17-19). Russett further writes, "the Guatemalan, Indonesian and Nicaraguan regimes had accepted arms from communist states ...governments were not fully democratic but autocratic ...In Guatemala, Arbenz was elected by free elections in 1950 but his regime turned from autocratic to authoritarian in 1954. ..Sukarno came to power after first election in Indonesia but the parliamentary system was messy and unstable... Chile was regarded as a democracy until the Pinochet Coup ...” (121-123).
Arguing that Democracies haven’t fought each other since 1815, he explains the contradictory cases of the American Civil War, and Finland against the West in World War II. He says they don’t fit the criteria for war between democracies. On American Civil War, he writes, “Confederacy never gained international recognition of its sovereignty “(17). He further writes, “Finland was actively at war only with the Soviet Union, in an attempt to wrest back the territory taken from it in the Winter War of 1939-40...there is no record of combat or casualties between Finland and democratic states...the 1863 war between Ecuador and Colombia also doesn’t fit the criteria as both the governments came to power through revolutions. Lebanon’s involvement in the Six-Day War of 1967 is another case. Lebanon was not fully democratic and Israel had not yet held a national election.
To state the proposition more clearly that violent conflict between democracies are rare but frequent between non-democracies, Bruce Russett comes up with two models:
a. Cultural/ Normative Model: In democracies, “decision makers resolve conflicts by compromise and nonviolence, respecting the rights of opponents...peaceful conflict resolution...the more stable the democracy , more strong the democratic norms to govern institutional behavior....but nondemocracies use violence to resolve conflict ...”(35).
b. Structural/ Institutional Model: “checks and balance, division of power, the need for public debate is higher in democracies due to which there is no fear of surprise attack and for democratic states to use force against each other ... (40).Both the aforementioned models believe in strengthening democracy, prioritizing conflict resolution strategies among democracies, but at the same time encourage democratic regimes to use force to get rid of the violent tendencies associated with authoritarian regimes. As a result, wars between democratic and non democratic regimes are common.

Drawing a distinction between the two models, Jack S. Levy in his research work, The Democratic Peace Hypothesis: From Description to Explanation, says, " Although the normative and institutional models overlap to a considerable extent, Russett finds that the former is somewhat superior whereas the normative model accounts for both the tendency of democracies not to get involved in disputes with each other and the tendency of those disputes not to escalate to war, institutional constraints are more important in preventing the escalation of disputes between democratic dyads to war than in preventing the outbreak of disputes in the first place"( 353).

While making the empirical analysis of the Greek city-state system of the fifth century B.C., Russett states that institutional constraints were weak and normative conditions were only partially developed. As a result, democracies often went to war with each other (Athens and Syracuse) as democracies themselves were not more peaceful than oligarchies (a political system governed by a few people). But Russett believes that in comparison to ancient city states and pre-industrial tribal states, democracies in the modern world are unlikely to go to war against each other.

But his proposition is prone to flaks variously. At the time when he penned the book with the collaboration of William Antholis, Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember, Zeev Maoz, peace among democracies was merely the result of shared interests during the Cold War. Russett’s democratic peace proposition not only challenges the predominating realist nature of international relations, which calls for an equilibrium of power between nations (balance of power) and common strategic interests, but also claims that democracy has no alternative and denies the validity of all other political systems (Communism, Anarchism, Stalinism, Monarchy, Caesarism, Fascism...) to explain the peace and stability that characterizes relations between liberal democracies. Hence, he is criticised by the scholars who believe that democracy is an essentially contested and time-tested topic of discussion.

There will always be some differences between newer democracies and the nations with high-standing democratic traditions and Russett is sure to encounter a question, how will democracy increase peace in the world if democracies keep on fighting against nondemocracies. Meanwhile, instability and uncertainty prompted during the process of democratizing the nondemocracies reflects that the international system is still not completely free of Hobbesian state of anarchy. It appears as if Democratic Peace proposition appears merely an empirical law in international relations. Lastly, liberal principle among democratic countries is not the sole cause to prevent war between democracies, but their state of economy also play a vital role, since they are aware that war inflicts economic ruin. Probably Russia and Ukraine are also aware of this and refrain from attacking one another, or are they confused to choose or not to choose between Kant (idealism, democratic peace theory) and Hobbes (realism, anarchical world system?

Despite of these criticisms of Russett's propositions in the book, Grasping the Democratic Peace, sometimes even "democrazy" works but violent revolutions, war, conflicts have always failed to address the hopes and aspirations of the people. It's so simple: guns impart wars and violence, while talks confers a long-lived peace, and propels cooperation. Hence, power doesn't come from the muzzle of the gun but through understandings, co-operations and coactions and collaborations. We need democratic revolutions not revolutions without democracy.

In a knowledge based economy,it is highly desirable that the new economic drivers of the 21st century such as intellectual property rights (IPRs) should be harnessed to stimulate the economic growth and foster social well-being. Unfortunately, the developing countries are still struggling to optimally use the IPRs for economic development and resource creation. However, much responsibility lies upon the government to promote and create conducive environment to capitalise on IPRs…

Opinion view all »


The Return of History

-associated press
-September 20

AN Islamic philosopher in Karachi, an ideologue who provides violent ideas to some of Pakistan’s fiercest extremist groups, once told me that there are two…