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Why “Importing Democracy?”

“Exporting” democracy, whether done militarily or peacefully, doesn’t work. Every locality and country has to develop its own political system, although wide local participation and democratization tend to go together. A narrow, authoritarian government is not a democracy, no matter how it is labeled by its rulers.

Advocates for local democracy, often members of civil society, typically “import” democratic ideas that strengthen their own goals. When combined with local democratic traditions such as village councils, imported ideas can be very powerful. My last book, Importing Democracy, tells the story of how “democratization NGOs” in South Africa, Tajikistan and Argentina combine imported ideas with local traditions to advance their cause. Since the book’s publication, however, it has become increasingly obvious that democracy is at risk in developed countries. Democratic Ideas imported from developing countries may become increasingly relevant to the survival of democracy in the developed world.

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