Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

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aneeshm
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Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby aneeshm » Mon Dec 08, 2008 6:47 pm UTC

If we look at the spread of democracy around the world, the only places it has managed to get a foothold and last is in the countries inhabited by either ethnic or cultural Indo-Europeans. Starting in antiquity with Athens, evolving in Rome, surviving the onslaught of the Church and breaking through in England, continuing with America, then slowly spreading all over Europe, the democratic ideal has toady finally managed to spread itself to all places whose heritage is either ethnically or culturally Indo-European. All the lands either conquered, colonised, or culturally assimilated by the descendants of the speakers of Proto-Indo-European are now democratic.

Indonesia, being dominated for over its entire history by the Indo-Aryan ideals of its cultural superior in the North (India), has recently managed the transition. In the tiny nation of Bhutan, which was until recently a full-fledged monarchy, the King himself decided to shift to a democratic system. Australia, being similarly dominated by the western branch of the Indo-European tree, is another example. South Africa, another state with massive Indo-European influence, is democratic today.

However, all attempts to spread the same ideals to peoples who are not ethnically or culturally Indo-European have failed. Africa - the entire continent testifies to this fact. The Arab Muslim world - another subcontinent where no democratic idea penetrates. China - they decided that state-corporatist fascism was better than democracy.

The only counterexamples are Japan and South Korea - and both are or were massive strongholds of Buddhism, an Indo-European offshoot.



This raises an interesting question - is there something about the cultural attitudes of the Indo-European countries which somehow makes democracy "work" in those regions? Is there something embedded in Indo-European thought that allows democracy to survive and thrive? Is it that all attempts to broaden the democratic circle beyond this group are bound to fail? They have so far, at least.



Thoughts?

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Gunfingers » Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:21 pm UTC

Keep in mind the timeframe we're talking here. You're talking about cultures that are thousands of years old, including the now democratic ones. The concepts of individual rights didn't pop up in Yerp until a few hundred years ago, a comparatively insignificant time, and it took hundreds more years before that was followed through on to make a representative government. In the grand scheme of things democracy is very new, and non-democratic cultures are simply a short ways behind.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby aneeshm » Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:29 pm UTC

Gunfingers wrote:Keep in mind the timeframe we're talking here. You're talking about cultures that are thousands of years old, including the now democratic ones. The concepts of individual rights didn't pop up in Yerp until a few hundred years ago, a comparatively insignificant time, and it took hundreds more years before that was followed through on to make a representative government. In the grand scheme of things democracy is very new, and non-democratic cultures are simply a short ways behind.


Quite true. It's very possible that I'm reading meaning into what is just a historic coincidence.

But I thought it an interesting idea to discuss, so I threw it out here.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:32 pm UTC

Considering just how recently some Indo-European nations became democracies, I think yeah, you're reading too much into it.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:34 pm UTC

You also seem to have a bit of confirmation bias going on here, some countries have been just as dominated by Europe as Indonesia (like all of Indochina, really; perhaps Singapore, Hong Kong and a few other ports were moreso but Indonesia as a whole not so much) yet have not found the foundations to stable democracy. Also, Africa has a history of such domination and the amount of democracy there is highly variable, with regimes ranging from relatively stable and non-corrupt governments as in Kenya to the dictatorship in Sudan, not to mention that the Middle East has a very spotty history with democracy despite technically falling under the cultural Indo-European group. Most countries have a detailed history giving rise to their current democratic situation, and while this can be influenced by affairs with Indo-European culture/domination its hardly the sole or even dominating factor.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby ArchangelShrike » Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:36 pm UTC

Is it possible for non-Indo-Europeans to be democratic? Yes, I think. Will it take some time to focus away from group focus to individual focus? Yes. The core unit in my neck of the woods is still the family, not the person, but with every generation it shifts a bit more towards person.

Also, as everyone has said, most non-Indo-European peoples have not been given any sort of deal that would be conductive to them setting up any form of government for themselves.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Lemminkainen » Tue Dec 09, 2008 3:33 am UTC

Until very recently, most Indo-Europeans lived in societies that were authoritarian, collectivist, or both. Modern, free-market, liberal democracy only began to emerge in Britain about 300 years ago, and was slow in developing-- it was another several hundred years before big ideas like rights for women and minorities and representation and equality of opportunity for commoners began to catch on. Really, the time in which individualistic liberal democracy has existed in any polity larger than a city-state has been a blip on human history.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby JoshuaZ » Tue Dec 09, 2008 4:18 am UTC

It depends to some extent on what you mean by a democracy or democratic Republic. For example under your view is Iran a democracy? One can make an argument that the answer is yes.

In any event Japan and South Korea are well-functioning democracies which are not of Indo-European descent. Mongolia also fits. That's just off the top of my head. There are likely others that I'm not thinking about.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Ari » Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:46 am UTC

I think the outposts of democracy we do have are mostly to do with regional pressure towards more representative governments as local trade and travel become more common, rather than any sort of inherent indo-european bias to democracy. Of course, language and shared cultural context makes that sort of pressure easier- hence why parliamentary and presidential democracy has largely started out among indo-european nations. Keep in mind our style of government is still relatively young.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Iv » Tue Dec 09, 2008 9:07 am UTC

Paraphrased: "I'm being patronizing and dismissive while trying to point out that people should do their research before tossing about opinions or theories for discussion."

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You will see that Africa has a huge diversity of countries, that South Africa is not an exception but the rule for a dozen countries. You will see that colonization by this or that power has nothing to do with the current political system of the country. Some former colonies are democracies despite their former colonial power.

While I'll agree that there is some overlap with the extent of Indo European languages, I find it rather anecdotal and would like to point out that many discrepancies are present.

Africa and middle-east have the same issue : the borders of these countries are recent and many feuds still exist. The notion of a big country is recent for many of them. While some populations have been thinking of themselves as being part of one united country since several centuries, many of the "problematic" countries do not have this chance.

China, Russia, could be democratic. Both had their people revolting against a dictatorship especially because it was a dictatorship. They failed their transition, just like France failed its own at first, just like Iran did, but I fail to see anything cultural or genetic in this fact.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Indon » Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:56 pm UTC

This thread's premise is flawed.

I might point out that the Iriquois League had the whole democratic confederate thing going without indo-european influence.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Diadem » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:40 am UTC

aneeshm wrote:If we look at the spread of democracy around the world, the only places it has managed to get a foothold and last is in the countries inhabited by either ethnic or cultural Indo-Europeans. Starting in antiquity with Athens, evolving in Rome, surviving the onslaught of the Church and breaking through in England, continuing with America, then slowly spreading all over Europe, the democratic ideal has toady finally managed to spread itself to all places whose heritage is either ethnically or culturally Indo-European. All the lands either conquered, colonised, or culturally assimilated by the descendants of the speakers of Proto-Indo-European are now democratic.


I'm sorry, but even your introduction doesn't make much sense. Athens had some democratic ideas, true, but it was never a true democracy. Only a tiny minority of the population could vote. And they had some crazy stuff as well. And anyway, the Athenian democracy failed. Rome was a republic for a while, but it was never a democracy. So where you get this 'more evolved' bit from I really don't know. Also, again, the Roman replubic failed.

You say the idea of democracy survived the onslaught of the Church either, but that's not really true either. There hasn't really been any democracy in europe anywhere during the Roman area or the middle ages. And the influence that the classical ideas of democracy had in the emergence of democratic ideas in Europe is greatly overexaggerated. They were really basically reinvented.

England had a parliament, but not a democracy. The Dutch declaration of independence was probably the first attempt at creating something like individual rights. The idea that government itself should be limited in power and that the people have the right to revolt against a tyranny is first found here. But while The Netherlands became a republic where power was held by the citizens, they never really became a democracy either.

There are two essentional ingredients for a (modern) democracy. Government being elected by the people is the most obvious one, and the one you are talking about in your post. But the idea of individual rights is equally important. The idea of Rule of Law and the idea of inalienable rights is essentional for a modern democracy. Unfortunately this condition is often forgotten. This is why the USA is failing so spectacularly in forming a democracy in Iraq, they seem to have completely forgotten the second ingredient for a democracy. But I disgress.

America is probably the first 'modern' democracy. Though let's not forget that the USA initially restricted voting rights to male, white, property owners. However government was elected, and it did recognize individual rights. So I guess it counts. France followed suit only a year later, but the French democracy almost immidiately failed.

Apart from the USA I don't think any of the major powers in the world were democratic in 1800. There's a few democracies, such as New Zealand (which even had univeral suffrage), but they are exeptions rather than the rule.

So democracy is really quite new. My own country, The Netherlands, became democratic in 1848 (well actually it was a gradual proces that had started long before, but 1848 the constitution was written). France in 1870. Germany only in 1918, but it failed. Italy, Spain, Greece, they are all even later. And Eastern Europe hasn't been democratic for more than 20 years. Democracy is really something very new.

Looking at how long it took us modern western nations to form democracies, and how often these attempts failed, it's really not strange that the rest of the world is not very democratic yet. Give it time. The number of democracies is definitely on the rise.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Poopraham Lincoln » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:53 am UTC

Indon wrote:Iriquois League
Beat me to it. Of great note is this section.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Wed Dec 10, 2008 8:40 am UTC

Diadem wrote:I'm sorry, but even your introduction doesn't make much sense. Athens had some democratic ideas, true, but it was never a true democracy. Only a tiny minority of the population could vote. And they had some crazy stuff as well. And anyway, the Athenian democracy failed. Rome was a republic for a while, but it was never a democracy. So where you get this 'more evolved' bit from I really don't know. Also, again, the Roman replubic failed.

I don't think that's entirely fair. The Roman republic lasted for 482 years years. The Athenian democracy between 140 and 272 years, depending on your definition. Both have lasted longer than modern democracy has. Of course I'm not suggesting that the lifespan of a society is the only indicator of success, but you're looking thousands of years into the past, and while I don't think that's wrong per se, the fact that we know they fell at some point does distort our view of their success. It is worth keeping in mind therefore that every civilisation fails eventually.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Wed Dec 10, 2008 1:54 pm UTC

It's funny that you mention SOuth Korea as an example of an exception to the 'rule.' Until the 90s, it was a military dictatorship (for example, it's only been twenty years since they started having civilian presidents). Indonesia has historically employed what it calls 'guided democracy.' Japan consciously modelled itself on Prussia in the eighteenth century, rapidly modernizing to establish itself as the colonial power China caught the blunt end of in the twentieth century. Then the Americans rewrote their constitution and 'ta-da' democracy. Just pay no mind to the corruption.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby iop » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:17 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:I'm sorry, but even your introduction doesn't make much sense. Athens had some democratic ideas, true, but it was never a true democracy. Only a tiny minority of the population could vote. And they had some crazy stuff as well. And anyway, the Athenian democracy failed.

If you mean "failure" as "being overrun by the Macedonians", then yes, it was a failure. Losing a war does not count as the failure of a society in my book, however. Also, one thing I have always found amazing is that despite all the coups throughout the years, the democracy always came back. Thus, it turned out to be quite a resilient system.
Also, the rules for who was allowed to vote were about the same in the early US than in Athens. There were just more foreigners and slaves in Athens.

I agree on the crazy stuff, btw: Picking officials by lot? Having a group of voters who could only gain from war?

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:31 pm UTC

iop wrote: If you mean "failure" as "being overrun by the Macedonians", then yes, it was a failure. Losing a war does not count as the failure of a society in my book, however. Also, one thing I have always found amazing is that despite all the coups throughout the years, the democracy always came back. Thus, it turned out to be quite a resilient system.


Overrun by the Spartans, actually. But it was a failure, partly because almost every Athenian intellectual was opposed to democracy. See, for example, Plato's Republic, which is often still required reading for politics students. He said something like, 'a democracy will act to a politician trying to help it like a child does to a doctor. If the medicine is yucky, the child will not like the doctor, and find another one. If the doctor gives the child sweets, the child will like him, as it slowly dies from whatever it was that needed curing in the first place.' Modern democracies try to counter these sorts of things, including the rise of demogogues (ie leaders who win on popularity usually, but not always, at the expense of those who are more capable), by incorporating republican elements into the government not entirely unlike those used by Rome (who, it must be stressed, were not democratic). This is why citizens don't vote on every single issue, but instead choose representatives who will essentially vote on their behalf.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Iv » Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:16 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:This is why citizens don't vote on every single issue, but instead choose representatives who will essentially vote on their behalf.

This is why Switzerland has been overly failing as a democracy since Napoleon. (and the 13th century if we could erase the Napoleonic period)
They are the world 7th country when listed by GDP per capita and the 7th country by life expectancy. And people can directly vote for laws and constitutional amendments.

I don't know any other country where this kind of system exists or has existed. I would be interested in reading about failures of such systems.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Wed Dec 10, 2008 7:01 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:Overrun by the Spartans, actually. But it was a failure, partly because almost every Athenian intellectual was opposed to democracy.

Not terribly important but Sparta only curved Athenian power, they never conquered and held the city (here's a relevant Wikipedia article). Perhaps I'm wrong, but Athenian intellectuals didn't seem overly opposed to democracy so much as they felt it should just rest in a certain number of elite hands, which while not being the equivalent to modern democracy was still reasonably progressive for the day, perhaps enabling some 20% of the population able to vote, probably not much worse then early America.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby iop » Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:40 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:But it was a failure, partly because almost every Athenian intellectual was opposed to democracy. See, for example, Plato's Republic, which is often still required reading for politics students.

Plato had many reasons for disliking democracy. His uncle was involved in a coup that eventually failed, his beloved teacher Socrates was sentenced to death, and he had to share power with people who were intellectually beneath him.
Of course, the Founders were quite fond of Plato, who gave them good arguments why they should model their government so closely after Britain's, instead of giving even more power over the people (it is possible that they didn't actually know better). And while it is very admirable how the US got out of the swamp of corruption around 1900, it is still nothing compared to how the Athenean democracy kept bouncing back after all the coup d'etats.

And really, it was the Macedonians.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Diadem » Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:24 am UTC

Mzyxptlk wrote:
Diadem wrote:I'm sorry, but even your introduction doesn't make much sense. Athens had some democratic ideas, true, but it was never a true democracy. Only a tiny minority of the population could vote. And they had some crazy stuff as well. And anyway, the Athenian democracy failed. Rome was a republic for a while, but it was never a democracy. So where you get this 'more evolved' bit from I really don't know. Also, again, the Roman replubic failed.

I don't think that's entirely fair. The Roman republic lasted for 482 years years. The Athenian democracy between 140 and 272 years, depending on your definition. Both have lasted longer than modern democracy has. Of course I'm not suggesting that the lifespan of a society is the only indicator of success, but you're looking thousands of years into the past, and while I don't think that's wrong per se, the fact that we know they fell at some point does distort our view of their success. It is worth keeping in mind therefore that every civilisation fails eventually.


You (and others who have pointed out the same thing) are right. Saying Athens and Rome failed is a bit over the top. But the point I was trying to make is that they didn't have flawless democracies that lasted without any problems. They had ups and downs, revolutions, coups, etc, etc. And many troublesome laws that don't belong in a democracy.

Many countries have tried democracy and failed. Throughout history there have been failed attempts, wrong turns, dead endings, etc, etc. Succesfull democracies are actually quite rare, and the majority of "Indo-European" countries being democratic is something very, very recent. That was the point i was trying to make.

So to say that only Indo-Europeans are suitable for democracy just isn't correct. It's probably true that non Indo-Europeans aren't very suitable for democracy. But neither are we. So we're not that different. Just maybe a hundred years ahead of other cultures. Which can hardly be a big surprise, given that we are ahead with wealth, science, etc, etc, too. Exactly why Europe developped faster than any other continent is a very interesting question, but off-topic.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:50 am UTC

Diadem wrote:Exactly why Europe developped faster than any other continent is a very interesting question, but off-topic.


Well, it's been pretty well established that the thread's original premise is flawed. So ... let's open things up a bit.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby nazlfrag » Thu Dec 11, 2008 7:59 am UTC

Sorry for the quote-a-thon, I'm just discovering most of this myself following up a comment from a Muslim that Sunni Islam has always been a democracy, so I thought it best to show my sources directly.
Sunni Muslims believed the caliphate was elective, and any member of the Prophet's tribe, Quraysh, might serve as one.

Right at the start it seems there are democratic elections, even if you could only elect those of the Prophets tribe.
One scholar argues that for hundreds of years until the twentieth century, Islamic states followed a system of government based on the coexistence of sultan and ulama following the rules of the sharia law. This system resembled to some extent some Western governments in possessing an unwritten constitution (like the United Kingdom), and possessing separate branches of government - two not three, the sultan and ulama - which provided Separation of powers in governance.

There's an implied constitution and seperation of powers.
Al-Mawardi said that if the rulers meet their Islamic responsibilities to the public, the people must obey their laws, but if they become either unjust or severely ineffective then the Caliph or ruler must be impeached via the Majlis ash-Shura. Similarly Al-Baghdadi believed that if the rulers do not uphold justice, the ummah via the majlis should give warning to them, and if unheeded then the Caliph can be impeached. Al-Juwayni argued that Islam is the goal of the ummah, so any ruler that deviates from this goal must be impeached. Al-Ghazali believed that oppression by a caliph is enough for impeachment. Rather than just relying on impeachment, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani obliged rebellion upon the people if the caliph began to act with no regard for Islamic law.

We also have the people impeaching the Caliph via their priest representatives or by direct action.

Source for above quotes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_aspects_of_Islam

Some Muslims believe that Islam requires all decisions made by and for the Muslim societies to be made by shura (mutual consultation) of the Muslim community and believe this to be the basis for implementing representative democracy. This belief is characteristic of liberal movements within Islam.

There is scriptual basis for democratic decision making.
Many contemporary Muslims have compared the concept of Shura to the principles of western parliamentary democracy. For example:
What is the shura principle in Islam? ... It is predicated on three basic precepts. First, that all persons in any given society are equal in human and civil rights. Second, that public issues are best decided by majority view. And third, that the three other principles of justice, equality and human dignity, which constitute Islam's moral core, ... are best realized, in personal as well as public life, under shura governance.

We have all people are created equal, majority decision making and justice, equality and dignity for all.

Source for above quotes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shura

Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami, in a television interview in June before that country’s presidential elections, noted that “the existing democracies do not necessarily follow one formula or aspect. It is possible that a democracy may lead to a liberal system. It is possible that democracy may lead to a socialist system. Or it may be a democracy with the inclusion of religious norms in the government. We have accepted the third option.” Khatami presents a view common among the advocates of Islamic democracy that “today world democracies are suffering from a major vacuum, which is the vacuum of spirituality,” and that Islam can provide the framework for combining democracy with spirituality and religious government.

Here's a modern day refrence describing how Iranians view themselves as a religious democracy and not a theocracy.
There are a number of specific concepts that Muslims cite when they explain the relationship between Islam and democracy. In the Qur’an, the righteous are described as those people who, among other things, manage their affairs through “mutual consultation” or shura (42:38 Qur’an). This is expanded through traditions of the Prophet and the sayings and actions of the early leaders of the Muslim community to mean that it is obligatory for Muslims in managing their political affairs to engage in mutual consultation.

And again, here's how they trace this back to the origins of Islam.
In theory and concept, Islamic democracy is, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, quite well developed and persuasive. In actual practice the results have been less encouraging.

Of course, not all is as peachy and rosy, while all this is well and good in theory most modern day Islamic political structures are viewed as autocracys.

Source for above quotes: http://www.neh.gov/news/humanities/2001-11/islam.html

So while it seems mostly rhetoric and little practised, many concepts appear quite similar to Athenian and modern concepts of democracy.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Dec 11, 2008 4:07 pm UTC

By no means was the Athenian experiment with democracy unique. The reason it gets mentioned so often in regards to modern democracy is that we have alot of the literature from that period which detailed, if you will, the results of that experimentation. This literature survived the dark ages, and partly informed the renaissance thinkers who rekindled the interest in democracy at the same time as monarchies were dissolving and nations were emerging. To look at Sunni muslim law and say it has 'always been a democracy' is a little bit revisionist, and a little bit of an embelishment. Saying 'the caliphate was elective' begs the question... who could vote? The plebs could vote for representatives but this did not make Rome democratic, and likewise aristocracies and oligarchies also elected their leaders. I don't believe the Sunni muslims incorporated universal suffrage into their elections. And 'possessing an unwritten constitution' is a phrase that leaves alot of ambiguity. There is a lot of ambiguous language in the quotes you have supplied.

Essentially, I think the word 'democracy' has a nice ring to it, which conjurs up ideas like 'liberty', 'progression,' 'modernism' and 'happiness.' It's why Bush uses the word about fifteen times in every speech regarding terrorism or Iraq. It's also why north Korea claims the official title 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea,' it's why East Germany was officially the 'German Democratic Republic', and it's why the state in the centre of Africa claims to be the 'Democratic People's Republic of Congo.'
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Dec 11, 2008 6:34 pm UTC

Iv wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:This is why citizens don't vote on every single issue, but instead choose representatives who will essentially vote on their behalf.

This is why Switzerland has been overly failing as a democracy since Napoleon. (and the 13th century if we could erase the Napoleonic period)
They are the world 7th country when listed by GDP per capita and the 7th country by life expectancy. And people can directly vote for laws and constitutional amendments.

It also didn't allow women to vote in federal elections until 1973, so it's not certain that Switzerland is really the best shining example of a democracy.

I would say that a fairly reasonable objective measure of whether a country is a democracy is to see if they have universal suffrage *and* more than one candidate to vote for. (100% of Iraqis voting to reelect Saddam Hussein doesn't really count, for example.)

Also not counting, I'd say, would be Cuba. Which is definitely Indo-European. They understand the appearance of democracy, to be sure, but their current government isn't all that good at it...
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby iop » Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:17 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Iv wrote:They are the world 7th country when listed by GDP per capita and the 7th country by life expectancy. And people can directly vote for laws and constitutional amendments.

It also didn't allow women to vote in federal elections until 1973, so it's not certain that Switzerland is really the best shining example of a democracy.


Yes, they didn't do well in terms of universal suffrage (though in turn they were the first country to approve civil unions for gays by popular vote). However, the point in question was stability, which, according to Plato and then the Founding Fathers cannot be achieved by having the people vote on issues. In this regard, Switzerland is quite a nice example of how "direct" democracy can work just fine.

I would say that a fairly reasonable objective measure of whether a country is a democracy is to see if they have universal suffrage *and* more than one candidate to vote for.

I agree with the number of candidates, and that more universal suffrage is more democratic (not many places let foreigners vote yet, for example, and requiring citizens to register to vote can already be considered a limitation). In addition, the number of directly or indirectly elected political decision-makers versus the number (and power) of non-elected decision-makers should be considered (Turkey, for example, requires de facto a military placet for the government). Finally, I would claim a country is more democratic, the more people decide directly (can they elect representatives, is there a facultative ballot, is there a mandatory ballot).

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby LeopoldBloom » Fri Dec 12, 2008 7:17 am UTC

Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Yes

(apologies for the simplified response but, well, its a stupid premise)

I'm leaving this comment here simply because others have responded to it. For the record, one word answers followed by calling the questions of the OP stupid are not acceptable. Not to mention the fact that you disrupted the ongoing conversation, which you shouldn't do.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby tpd » Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:14 am UTC

LeopoldBloom wrote:
Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Yes

(apologies for the simplified response but, well, its a stupid premise)


Thank you for this response. To give any other answer is, by definition, racist. Actual, true, racism as well, not the hyperbolised racism you hear about on the 6 o'clock news. This is a stupid premise.

A better topic might be, is democracy actually the best we can do?

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Iv » Fri Dec 12, 2008 9:33 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:It also didn't allow women to vote in federal elections until 1973, so it's not certain that Switzerland is really the best shining example of a democracy.

To allow women to vote required a constitutional change. That means the referendum was mandatory and that a majority of 2/3 had to accept the change. It requires a huge popular support, it requires reflexion and acceptance. In Switzerland, unlike in other countries, a leader does not decide what is good and will be accepted with the test of time and make it a law despite what most of its voters think. In 1973, more than 66% of male Swiss recognized that women had the right to vote. I am unsure that at this time most countries had a similar proportion.

That is usually (with a strict immigration policy) the main reproach made to this system. And this reproach is not about being wrong, but about being late. Sorry, I think these "mistakes" are far more acceptable than the other democracies' and proves the viability of a direct democratic system in the long run (what is usually decried). In a direct democracy, elites are not the owners of society's issues. People are. A trust has to exist between intellectuals, politicians and voters and such a system favors just that.

Yes, Swiss people are a bit xenophobic and (so I heard) phallocratic. One could attribute that to a culture. But a good healthcare, a good education system, sane banking institutions, top R&D institutes (the EPFL is probably the best European research center) are hard to attribute to anything else than political system.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby aneeshm » Fri Dec 12, 2008 10:35 am UTC

tpd wrote:
LeopoldBloom wrote:
Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Yes

(apologies for the simplified response but, well, its a stupid premise)


Thank you for this response. To give any other answer is, by definition, racist. Actual, true, racism as well, not the hyperbolised racism you hear about on the 6 o'clock news. This is a stupid premise.



Given that I stressed the influence of the Indo-European meme-complex being the most important factor, rather than the actual race, I say you do me an injustice.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Iv » Fri Dec 12, 2008 11:01 am UTC

aneeshm wrote:Given that I stressed the influence of the Indo-European meme-complex being the most important factor, rather than the actual race, I say you do me an injustice.

Well, yes, but then you go on choosing examples that not only are incorrect but that also completely ignore the cultural factor and only stress out the ethnic factor : You seem to say that Africa did not receive its share of Indo-European culture, that the Arab world did not either. I may be honestly mistaken but the bitterness of my first answer was due to my feeling that under the Basically Decent idea of considering culture as well as race, you have the bias of only considering ethnicity.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Fri Dec 12, 2008 11:56 am UTC

tpd wrote:
LeopoldBloom wrote:
Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Yes

(apologies for the simplified response but, well, its a stupid premise)


Thank you for this response. To give any other answer is, by definition, racist. Actual, true, racism as well, not the hyperbolised racism you hear about on the 6 o'clock news. This is a stupid premise.


True racism is "black people are lazy" or "Jews are greedy" or even "Asians are more intelligent." It is applying a characteristic to an entire race, usually with the assistance of a confirmation bias ("Asians are bad drivers...some Chinese woman cut me off today"). The question was structured as a free enquiry, and isn't simple to answer. Race stands out as a possible field of enquiry, one that a scientist would have to investigate along with the other options if he were to be thorough, but one that so far hasn't been suggested by anyone until you did. He wasn't trying to say "guys, are Africans no good at democracy or what?" As has been pointed out already, the answer is more likely to lie in the realm of how democracies tend to have wealth and political stability, which allows them to indulge in a system of government that lends itself to civil strife and internal divisions (i.e. if you want to live in a safe, clean country, go to Singapore, where the press is censorsed and dropping a cigarette butt results in a jail sentence. Dictatorships aren't all bad.)
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Dec 12, 2008 2:22 pm UTC

Iv wrote:In 1973, more than 66% of male Swiss recognized that women had the right to vote. I am unsure that at this time most countries had a similar proportion.

The United States also required a constitutional change, which requires ratification by 2/3 of the states, to allow women to vote. We did that in 1920.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Iv » Fri Dec 12, 2008 2:46 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:The United States also required a constitutional change, which requires ratification by 2/3 of the states, to allow women to vote. We did that in 1920.


While I acknowledge that the United States were among the first nation to recognize the right of women to vote, I still think that the link is weak between having 2/3 of the states (meaning 50% of the representatives, in 2/3 of the states) agreeing for a legislation and having 2/3 of the population agreeing with it.

In fact, 100% of the states could agree on something that would only be supported by 51% of the population. I am not a big expert of US politics but I think that such a decision was made without a popular vote.

Anyway, I agree that women rights in Switzerland was the biggest concern there is to formulate against their system. I think this really was a one-time paradox. A ten or twenty years delay would have been understandable, but waiting until the 70s is really a problem. However, since then, they had several female politicians and even a female president so I think the gender equality issue is now closed and we should stop calling the Swiss sexists : In how many country are most of the important laws voted by 50% of women ? This may well be the only country in the world.

I really think that we need different yardsticks for this country. Comparing it to today democracies is like comparing today democracies to the 17th century monarchies.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:42 pm UTC

Iv wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:I really think that we need different yardsticks for this country. Comparing it to today democracies is like comparing today democracies to the 17th century monarchies.


Ouch.

But to look at the Economist's 2008 Democracy Index (http://a330.g.akamai.net/7/330/25828/20 ... 202008.pdf) Switzerland is ranked 8th, after Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. The system where citizens directly vote on policy that you described does indeed sound more democratic, but it must be letting itself down in other places. Then again, perhaps the Economist is being unfair.
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Iv » Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:46 pm UTC

Of course, I question the methodology of this paper. While it probably succeeds in its main goal (establishing categories of countries like "full democracy", "partial democracy", etc...) the scales it uses are a bit useless at the higher extremum. What makes the Switzerland score go that "low" (8th best of the world!) is the political participation. Participation there is low. It is a known fact : people get to vote sometimes several times in the year. Most of the "votations" (popular initiative referendum) do not interest all of the country. It is not like other countries where you get to vote once or twice every 4 years and where that single vote will durably change the nation's policy.

It would be easy to change this methodology to extend the scale by adding positive parameters for a democracy to have but that would probably create a category where the Switzerland would be alone, which may look a bit weird for readers. Adding the following questions would have Switzerland happily lead the scores :
- Can citizens effectively block a measure decided by the government ?
- Can the constitution be changed without a direct vote of the population ?
- Are there regular consultations of the citizens to determine the policy of the government ?
- Can the state of war be decided without popular consent ?
- Can the foreign affairs policy be determined without popular consent ?

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:57 pm UTC

Iv wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:The United States also required a constitutional change, which requires ratification by 2/3 of the states, to allow women to vote. We did that in 1920.

While I acknowledge that the United States were among the first nation to recognize the right of women to vote, I still think that the link is weak between having 2/3 of the states (meaning 50% of the representatives, in 2/3 of the states) agreeing for a legislation and having 2/3 of the population agreeing with it.

In fact, 100% of the states could agree on something that would only be supported by 51% of the population. I am not a big expert of US politics but I think that such a decision was made without a popular vote.

Sure, it was made without a popular vote, because we have a representative system, rather than a direct democracy. But all Amendments to the US Constitution have been first passed by a 2/3 majority of both houses of Congress, and then went to the states. And I was mistaken, because it then needs to be ratified by the legislatures (or conventions) in 3/4 of the states, not 2/3. (Every amendment except for, I believe, the repeal of Prohibition, has been ratified by state legislatures, while that one was done by conventions.)
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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby Rimario90 » Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:45 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
iop wrote: If you mean "failure" as "being overrun by the Macedonians", then yes, it was a failure. Losing a war does not count as the failure of a society in my book, however. Also, one thing I have always found amazing is that despite all the coups throughout the years, the democracy always came back. Thus, it turned out to be quite a resilient system.


Overrun by the Spartans, actually. But it was a failure, partly because almost every Athenian intellectual was opposed to democracy. See, for example, Plato's Republic, which is often still required reading for politics students. He said something like, 'a democracy will act to a politician trying to help it like a child does to a doctor. If the medicine is yucky, the child will not like the doctor, and find another one. If the doctor gives the child sweets, the child will like him, as it slowly dies from whatever it was that needed curing in the first place.' Modern democracies try to counter these sorts of things, including the rise of demogogues (ie leaders who win on popularity usually, but not always, at the expense of those who are more capable), by incorporating republican elements into the government not entirely unlike those used by Rome (who, it must be stressed, were not democratic). This is why citizens don't vote on every single issue, but instead choose representatives who will essentially vote on their behalf.

Wrong. Actually, there were many intellectuals that supported democracy. To mention one, Aeschylus, , the moral guide of Athen, that in the tragedy "The Eumenides", remits the decision on Oreste's life in the hands of the assembly, lauding thus the Athenian democratic government.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby SpiderMonkey » Fri Dec 12, 2008 9:45 pm UTC

Generally, places outside Europe without democracy have been subjugated by Europeans at some point. The white-mans-burden argument that they can't 'get' democracy ignores historical context. For instance, Iran had an indigenous democracy going before went in and demolished it to secure the profits for what would become BP.

In any case, Western nations are in no position to lecture anybody on being able to appreciate democracy. Our political parties have converged to the point where they are near indistinguishable, yet no new political parties emerge. Most people in our countries believe exactly what the media tells us to. Without a variance of opinion, democracy is useless. This is why we sleepwalk into idiotic crisis after idiotic crisis, most of the time hurling abuse and political slogans at the few people who predict the outcomes of our asinine policies.

Oh, and people still throw around buzzwords like 'collectivism' for anybody who wouldn't sell their own grandmother into slavery to buy a new car.

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Re: Can non-Indo-European peoples ever be democratic?

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Dec 13, 2008 12:08 am UTC

SpiderMonkey wrote:Generally, places outside Europe without democracy have been subjugated by Europeans at some point.

Yeah, I was just thinking this same thing. Quite a few of the countries in Africa and Latin America that have been autocracies in modern times were so largely because of interference from "englightened" Indo-European democracies. Because if the people were left to their own elections, they'd've picked someone less condusive to First-World interests.
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