Troubled or otherwise failed governments continue to yield international headlines for the violence that fills the resulting power struggle in some nations.
Meanwhile, political, military and academic leaders struggle to find ways to implement democracy amid the chaos.
“What many laypeople may intuit but fail to fully grasp is that democracy is the best-known path to peace – both in specific regions and the world in general,” says Julie Fisher, a former program officer at the Kettering Foundation and former scholar in residence at Yale University. “George Bush was right about democracy, but wrong about how to achieve it.” Continue reading
When I hear generalizations about the entire planet, I sometimes think of Hamlet’s admonition to Horatio- “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
That said, this particular morsel of conventional wisdom is not devoid of statistical evidence, since it is based on data about political rights and civil liberties compiled by Freedom House over nine years. Jay Ulfelder, however, uses Freedom House’s own data to argue that democracy has not been discarded. Continue reading
Diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana are, understandably, the big news of the day, the week and the foreseeable future. What happens inside Cuba, however, may be equally important.
What will be the internal impact on democratization of closer Cuban ties with the United States and even closer ties with the Vatican? The announcement that 53 Cuban political prisoners will be released as part of the international agreement could help strengthen law-based civil liberties, essential to democratization. Continue reading
Political parties seem to be either dysfunctional or on the decline almost everywhere. In developing countries dominated by strongmen, so-called opposition parties do not always oppose and are often little more than personal vehicles for their own leaders. Even in 32 of 36 developed countries party membership has declined since 1990.
Political parties used to be described as “loyal opposition,” combining support for a democratic political system with opposition to a particular regime. Once described as “the most advanced and institutionalized form of political conflict,” loyal opposition seems to have declined almost everywhere, along with parties. Even where political parties persist, as in the United States, the very idea of loyal opposition seems to be missing. Continue reading
The contrast between what is happening in Hong Kong and in the Middle East couldn’t be greater. In Hong Kong idealistic young people fill the streets because they know that a better society and greater prosperity depend on democratization. They are asking, not just for elections, but for elections that are not limited and censored by the regime in Beijing.
In the Middle East young men are in such despair that they have joined a vicious, violent movement that gained publicity-most recently– by beheading an idealistic British cab driver who went to Syria because he wanted to help. Continue reading
Democratization is a long, hard slog. What can accelerate the process? Consider, for a moment, the possibility of a “democratization triangle,” with the three corners being popular protests, civil society and a loyal opposition.
James Russell Lowell, enjoying a sunny June day sometime in the 1840s, must have just experienced days of New England rain when he wrote “Oh, what is so rare as a day in June?” I remembered his poem when I heard of the death of the great Nelson Mandela. My answer to Lowell’s question, on this sad day, is – “a great political leader.”
Mandela’s ideas and character, forged in the fiery crucible of apartheid, were refined on Robben Island, where he learned that treating a bitter, angry jailor as a human being might produce a blanket for the night. Continue reading
Part 1 of this blog dealt with the streets protests occurring everywhere, organized by social media. The second corner of the democratization triangle is civil society. There are two major questions about this corner of the triangle, in any country:
1) How strong and dense is civil society?
2) Are street protests linked to civil society?
In many countries, such as Libya, the Arab Spring led to a proliferation of new civil society organizations. But these new Libyan organizations have to compete with armed militias tied to political leaders. Continue reading
Earlier this summer, Julie Fisher appeared as a guest blogger for The Council on Foreign Relations. The following post appeared on their blog on August 8.
Although democracy brings no guarantees, there is growing global awareness that repressive systems of government are incapable of implementing the socioeconomic and environmental changes essential for the survival of humanity. Fortunately, frustrated citizens around the world are taking to the streets and demanding more honest, accountable, and democratic governance. Continue reading
Democratization is a long, hard slog and it doesn’t happen in the same way in different places, as Roger Hardy of BBC News recently pointed out. Are there any ideas out there that could accelerate the process? Hardy himself observes that “people power is not enough.” So what else is needed? Continue reading