Term Paper: Democratization, Culture and Underdeveloped Nations

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[. . .] A society must be stable and informed for its democratic institutions to function with maximum effectiveness (Swank, 2003).

Democracy also calls for widespread participation in politics by the people; it is believed to be the duty of all adult citizens to vote in local, state or provincial, and national elections (Swank, 2003). Qualified individuals should be willing to run for public office, to serve on juries, and to contribute to the welfare of their country, and citizens should help shape public opinion by speaking out on important issues and by supporting the political party of their choice (Swank, 2003). An active citizenry is thought to be one of the best guarantees against corrupt and inefficient government (Swank, 2003).

Further, faith in the power of education is a characteristic of democracy (Swank, 2003). According to democratic ideals, widespread participation in politics does not necessarily ensure good government (Swank, 2003). The quality of government depends on the quality of participation; well-informed and well-educated citizens are able to participate more intelligently (Swank, 2003).

A democracy needs educated citizens who can think for themselves (Swank, 2003). Citizens have a duty to take part in public affairs, to keep informed on public issues, and to vote intelligently (Swank, 2003). Democratic institutions must produce leaders worthy of public trust and responsibility, and for this reason, democratic governments support education for their citizens (Swank, 2003).

A further important quality of democratic government is its emphasis on trying to get people to act on the basis of understanding and agreement instead of force (Swank, 2003). Although governments must use force sometimes, democracies usually emphasize dialogue, negotiation, bargaining, and ultimately, voluntary citizen cooperation (Swank, 2003). This approach is closely linked to the widely held democratic belief that people are generally rational and well disposed toward the common welfare (Swank, 2003).

It is a well-known fact that most successful democracies have existed in developed societies (Swank, 2003). In such societies, literacy rates and per capita (per person) incomes are relatively high; some scholars have argued that democracy works best in countries with a large middle class (Swank, 2003). Many democratic governments have collapsed during economic crises (Swank, 2003). The basic problem involved in the failures of such democracies has been the inability to maintain sufficient agreement among either the people or their political leaders on the purposes of government (Swank, 2003). Crises have often aggravated and sharpened divisions and suspicions among various classes, groups, parties, and leaders (Swank, 2003). Excessive divisions have at times blocked action by freely elected governments, often resulting in widespread public frustration and disorder (Swank, 2003).

Democratic governments are also likely to be unstable whenever people become deeply divided and suspicious of one another, and sometimes racial, ethnic, or religious differences make democracies difficult to operate (Swank, 2003). In the 1960's and 1980's, for example, intense ethnic conflicts led to the collapse of newly founded democratic governments in Nigeria (Swank, 2003). In such instances, the people may not see one another as legitimate and trustworthy partners in the enterprise of government (Swank, 2003).

What does democracy mean today, for developed, and underdeveloped countries? Most governments today claim to be democratic, but many lack some essential freedoms usually associated with democracy (Swank, 2003). In some countries, for example, the people are not allowed basic freedom of speech and of the press, or competitive elections (Swank, 2003).

One of the most important influences on democracy since the 1970's has been the economic and social globalization of the world's nations (Swank, 2003). Globalization refers to the trend toward increased business, cultural, and government interaction across international borders, which involves the loosening of trade restrictions and the movement of businesses, investments, and workers around the world (Swank, 2003). It also involves the rapid spread of information, ideas, and values, by means of the Internet and other technological advances in communications (Swank, 2003).

Some academics believe that globalization can encourage the development and practice of democracy worldwide (Swank, 2003). Increased cultural interaction may help the spread of democratic principles and the reporting of human rights abuses (Swank, 2003). In addition, democratic countries may be able to use economic pressure to make dictators give up power and establish democracy (Swank, 2003). Some international economic organizations require nations to establish and maintain democracy before gaining membership, leading to calls of cultural relativism being used for the worse by, and within, these organizations (Swank, 2003).

On the other hand, some people believe that globalization may have negative consequences for democracy (Levin, 1992): in some cases, a nation's efforts to attract international business and investment may conflict with the needs of the nation's people (Markoff, 1996; Swank, 2003). Countries may reduce social spending, cut taxes that fund public programs, or eliminate environmental regulations to decrease business costs (Markoff, 1996; Swank, 2003). In addition, many people are concerned about the growing powers of certain international organizations that are not directly accountable to the people (Swank, 2003).

Now we have seen the basic requirements of democracy, and the basic requirements for democracy to function, and also the status of democracy in the world today, we will go on to discuss the issue of culture, and later, how this relates to democracy, and democratization, in underdeveloped countries.

Culture is a term created by, and used by, social scientists to describe a particular way of life. Every human society has an individual, recognizable, culture. 'Culture' includes such factors as a society's arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, inventions, language, technology, and values. A culture produces similar behavior and thought among most of the people born within, or - even - living within, a particular society.

The issue of culture is a delicate one, especially in these days of globalization, when culture is becoming homogenized, and through this homogenization, cultural values and cultural currents are being lost, such that all countries, and all cultures within those countries, are being 'Americanized'; the first wave of this Americanization followed the introduction of television to countries across the world, which introduced the world to the American way of life, and led to children from underdeveloped countries wanting Nike trainers, and drinking Coca-Cola (Levin, 1992).

The second, potentially more destructive, wave of Americanization has been an unspoken undercurrent in international politics for decades, with successive American governments playing a role in supporting 'U.S.-friendly' foreign governments (for example, the U.S.-backed Allende coup in Chile, which put General Pinochet into power, and gave huge opportunities for U.S.-style economic development in Chile).

This second wave of Americanization is currently in vogue, enjoying a dangerous renaissance, and is currently being labelled (mainly by the U.S., but also by 'friends' of the U.S., such as the UK) as 'democratization': witness the war on Afghanistan, which was meant to bring democracy to the people of Afghanistan, and the war on Iraq, which was also fought in the name of bringing democracy to Iraq. For many people in underdeveloped nations, this process of democratization is little more than U.S. imperialism, that is a determination on the part of the U.S. To plant these countries with seeds of U.S.-style democracy, which they can then manipulate to their own ends (witness the 're-building' of Iraq, which will be conducted by U.S. companies, generating huge revenues for the U.S. economy).

This thought, that democratization equates to Americanization, and is no more than U.S. imperialism in disguise, is strangely entangled with issues of culture, especially in post-9/11 days, when 'other cultures' are routinely demonized in the U.S., and when culture, for most U.S. citizens means nothing more than, and should mean nothing more than 'American culture'. This problem, of the lack of cultural relativism in U.S. foreign policy, has sinister repercussions for underdeveloped countries, who find themselves bowing to international pressure, simply to gain aid with which to try to develop their countries (Elshtain, 1993). As this 'culture of democratization' persists within the U.S., and within U.S. foreign policy, backed as it is by U.S.-centric ideas of what democracy means, relative only to the U.S. culture, this U.S.-style 'culture of democratization' is taken on board by development organizations, which are supposedly independent, but which are largely in the pocket of the U.S.: this idea of an ideal democracy, from this U.S.-centric view of democracy, is taken forward to underdeveloped countries, on whom pressure is put to transform their political cultures, and their social cultures, in order for aid to be given (Elshtain, 1993). This is little more than a modern form of cultural slavery, with culture being subverted and used as a weapon with which to attack and diminish other cultures.

This argument is taken further by Abizedah in his 2002 paper in the American Political Science Review, where he analyzes four arguments in the socio-political literature, which support the cultural nationalist theory that liberal democracy is viable only against a background of a single national public culture: (1) social integration in a liberal democracy requires shared norms… [END OF PREVIEW]

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