What if America is wrong about democracy? With all that America and its allies do to support the spread of democracy, what if the advice we generally give–that countries hold elections as soon as possible–is actually not the right advice? Regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t produce democracy. Neither did the Arab Spring. The fact is that the spread of democracy isn’t going well at all. This film asks why democracy is so difficult and explores an issue that deserves much more attention—culture and its role in the development of democracy around the world.
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Below and on our blog page is more material relative to the topic of culture and its relationship to development and democratization.
We made our award-winning short documentary film, Democracy Road, in part to make the point that we actually aren’t very good at spreading or even assessing democratization around the world so maybe we ought to rethink our approach.
Just because a country has elections, doesn’t make it a real democracy. Many countries are simply “dysfunctional democracies,” so full of corruption, police coercion, electoral irregularities, etc., they don’t look anything like more advanced democracies.
Virtually all poor countries are either non-democratic or highly dysfunctional democracies. The link between prosperity and democracy is seems extremely strong and consistent. That should tell us something about democracy.
You only vote once every two years. You serve on a jury less than that. On the other hand, you go to work and the market every day. For most people, who they work for and what they do is more important than who wins an election. In a nutshell, this is why capitalism comes before democracy.
Since WWII, those countries that have started with economic reform, and saved elections and democracy for later, have outperformed those that have held elections early in the development process. India and Taiwan are an excellent comparison of this trend. If China stays on the same path, it too will likely pass India on the road to democracy.
It is the people that determine if a country is democratic, not the leaders. If the people learn to think and act democratically, democracy will follow. While the Chinese government might not be moving toward democracy, the Chinese people are. As long as economic liberalization and growth continue, so will the people’s progress toward democracy.
Culture can be a sensitive topic. But we can’t understand human progress without analyzing culture, identifying strengths, weaknesses, patterns, etc. We can’t truly understand the human condition if we aren’t willing to analyze culture and confront our own cultural shortcomings.
“Culture” is both everywhere, i.e., defined as traditions, cuisine, the arts, etc., and also ignored, i.e., not taken seriously as relates to societal progress and priorities. We have scholarship and research that helps us define culture more precisely and understand why it is so critical.