04 January 2010

Article: Was Democracy Just a Moment?

Already in 1997, Robert D. Kaplan wrote his excellent and far-reaching article "Was Democracy Just a Moment?" for the "Atlantic Monthly" (280 [6]: pp. 55-80):


Some excerpts: "To think that democracy as we know it will triumph – or is even here to stay – is itself a form of determinism, driven by our own ethnocentricity. Indeed, those who quote Alexis de Tocqueville in support of democracy's inevitability should pay heed to his observation that Americans, because of their (comparative) equality, exaggerate 'the scope of human perfectibility.' Despotism, Tocqueville went on, 'is more particularly to be feared in democratic ages,' because it thrives on the obsession with self and one's own security which equality fosters.

"I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington.

"History teaches that it is exactly at such prosperous times as these that we need to maintain a sense of the tragic, however unnecessary it may seem. The Greek historian Polybius, of the second century B.C., interpreted what we consider the Golden Age of Athens as the beginning of its decline. [...]

"[W]hen voter turnout decreases to around 50 percent at the same time that the middle class is spending astounding sums in gambling casinos and state lotteries, joining private health clubs, and using large amounts of stimulants and anti-depressants, one can legitimately be concerned about the state of American society. [...]

"Just as Cambodia was never really democratic, despite what the State Department and the UN told us, in the future we may not be democratic, despite what the government and media increasingly dominated by corporations tell us. [...]

"Democracy is a fraud in many poor countries [...]: Africans want a better life and instead have been given the right to vote."

"My point, hard as it may be for Americans to accept, is that Russia may be failing in part because it is a democracy and China may be succeeding in part because it is not."

Robert D. Kaplan is a prolific American journalist and book author.

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