31 March 2010

Book: Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe

In July 2009, the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute published the book "Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe" (Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Distinguished Fellow with the Mises Institute), edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann (University of Angers, France/Mises Institute) and Stephan Kinsella (Mises Institute).

The full text of the book can be read free of charge here:


Part Four of this contributed volume is titled "Democracy Reconsidered" and comprises of four short articles. Among them:

Doug French (Mises Institute), "The Trouble with Democracy: Maslow Meets Hoppe" (pp. 237-42).

Excerpts: "[T]o be elected and stay elected in American politics to any full-time position requires the suspension of any ethics or good sense a person may possess. [...] Democracy makes it possible for the demagogue to inflame the childish imagination of the masses, 'by virtue of his talent for nonsense.' [...] Because democracy is open to any and all who can get themselves elected, either through connections, personality, or personal wealth, it is a social system where leadership positions become a hotbed for sociopaths. [...]
[T]hose stuck on the need for esteem are drawn to it like flies to dung. [...] So while the electorate recognizes that they are electing, at best incompetents, and at worst crooks, the constant, naïve, pro-democracy mantra is that 'we just need to elect the right people.' But, the 'right people' aren't (and won't be) running for office."

Robert Higgs (Independent Institute), "Democracy and Faits Accomplis" (pp. 249-62).

Excerpts: "No institution of modern life commands as much veneration as democracy. It comes closer than anything else to being the supreme object of adoration in a global religion. Anyone who denies its righteousness and desirability soon finds himself a pariah. [...] Many people are atheists, but few are anti-democrats. [...] Although democracy made giant ideological strides in the nineteenth century, a few writers had the courage to condemn it even well into the twentieth century. [...] [O]ffice-seekers typically either speak in vague, emotion-laden generalities or simply lie about their intentions. After taking office, they may act in complete disregard of their campaign promises, trusting that when they run for reelection, they will be able to concoct a plausible excuse for their infidelity and betrayal of trust. Thus, the voters remain permanently immersed in a fog of disinformation, emotional manipulation, and bald-faced mendacity. No matter what a candidate promises, the voters have no means of holding him to those promises or of punishing his misbehavior until it may be too late to matter. [...] Contemplating this situation, one readily recalls Goethe's dictum that 'none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.'"

Some other articles from the book also discuss Hoppe's anti-democratic convictions.

30 March 2010

Interview: Putting democracy on hold to fight climate change

More from the environmental front: Yesterday, the "Guardian" newspaper printed an interview with the 90-year-old independent British scientist James Lovelock, named one of the world's top-100 global public intellectuals by "Prospect" magazine in 2005 (article "James Lovelock: 'Fudging data is a sin against science'" by Leo Hickman):


During the interview, Lovelock reportedly fired "off verbal thunderbolts at the various 'dumbos' with whom we have bestowed our collective fate: namely, 'the politicians, scientists and lobbyists'. [...] He is not one to toss around crumbs of comfort when he believes they're not justified, and displays a great deal of contempt for what he believes to be the naive idealism and ideologies of much of the current environmental movement – a significant proportion of which still looks up to him with a certain reverence. For example, it was his high-profile switch a few years ago to promoting nuclear energy as the best hope for saving ourselves that helped convince many environmentalists to rethink their instinctive opposition to this technology. Now, he says, he is not convinced that any meaningful response to 'global heating', as he likes to call it, can be achieved from within the modern democracies of the western world.

"'We need a more authoritative world,' he says resolutely. 'We've become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It's all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can't do that. You've got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it. They should be very accountable too, of course – but it can't happen in a modern democracy. This is one of the problems. What's the alternative to democracy? There isn't one. But even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.'"

In a full transcript of the interview posted by Hickman on the Guardian's environment blog, Lovelock is quoted as saying: "Elitism is important in science. It is vital. [...] Science was always elitist and has to be elitist. The very idea of diluting it down [to be more egalitarian] is crazy. We're paying the price for it now."

And on the Copenhagen summit: "The UN was a lovely idea, but its primary objective was to make sure the British Empire was got rid of. You just can't get all those people to agree."

29 March 2010

Book: Non-Democratic Regimes

A revised and updated second edition of Paul Brooker's "Non-Democratic Regimes" was published by Palgrave Macmillan in January 2009:


Publisher's description: "Despite talk of the 'triumph of democracy', much of the world is still ruled by political or military dictatorships. Paul Brooker provides a comprehensive assessment of the nature of authoritarian regimes, their changing character in the 21st Century world, and the main theoretical explanations of their incidence, character and performance."

Contents: Theoretical Approaches; Monarchical and Personal Rule; Military Rule; One-Party Rule; Consolidation, Legitimacy and Control; Parties and Performance; Democratization and the Demise of Dictatorship; Semi-dictatorships and Semidemocracies; The Future of Non-Democratic Regimes

No editorial reviews of either the first or second edition of this book are to be found.

Paul Brooker is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

26 March 2010

CONF: Orthodox Constructions of the West

The Solon and Marianna Patterson Triennial Conference for the Theological and Historical Examination of the Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue "Orthodox Constructions of the West", hosted by the Orthodox Christian Studies Program at Fordham University, Rose Hill Campus, O'Hare Hall, New York City, USA, 28-30 June 2010


From the rationale: "Orthodox authors, especially in the twentieth century, had created artificial categories of 'East' and 'West' and then used that distinction as a basis for self-definition. The history of Orthodox Christianity is typically narrated by Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike as developing in the 'East', which is geographically ambiguous, but usually refers to the region in Europe east of present-day Croatia, Hungary and Poland. In contemporary Orthodoxy, 'West' refers not simply to a geographical location, but to a form of civilization that was shaped and influenced by Latin Christendom, which includes both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The 'West,' thus, represents a cluster of theological, cultural and political ideas against which Orthodox self-identify. In other words, Orthodox self-identification often engages in a distorted apophaticism: Orthodoxy is what the 'West' is not.

"Given that much of the Orthodox world has until recently suffered oppression from the Ottomans and the Communists, one can read the creation of the 'East-West' binary as a post-colonial search for an authentic Orthodox identity in the wake of such domination. After centuries of repression, it is not surprising that the Orthodox recovery of identity would take the form of opposition to that which is seemingly the religious, cultural and political 'Other.' The question that the conference will attempt to answer is whether such a construction has as much to do with Orthodox identify formation vis-à-vis the West as it does with genuine differences. By creating this opposition to the 'West,' do Orthodox communities not only misunderstand what Western Christians believe but, even more egregiously, have they come to believe certain things about their own tradition and teachings that are historically untrue?

"The importance of addressing these questions is not simply limited to the theological realm. There is evidence of anti-democracy and anti-human rights rhetoric coming from traditional Orthodox countries that have recently been liberated from communism, and this rhetoric often associates liberal forms of democracy and the notion of human rights in general as 'Western' and, therefore, not Orthodox. In other words, the self-identification vis-à-vis the 'West' is affecting the cultural and political debates in the traditional Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe. Insofar as this conference addresses the broader theme of identity formation, its impact is potentially far-reaching, as it hopes to influence the production of theological, cultural and political ideas within contemporary Orthodoxy."

Keynote speakers: Robert F. Taft, SJ (formerly Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome) and Sarah Coakley (Cambridge)

According to the website, registration for the conference was set to begin in February. There is however no registration information to be found yet. I presume that it may be added soon.

Alternatively, contact one of the Co-Founding Directors of Fordham's Orthodox Christian Studies Program, George Demacopoulos: damacopoulos@fordham.edu
or Aristotle Papanikolaou: papanikolaou@fordham.edu

24 March 2010

Book: Russian Resistance to Democratization in the Former Soviet Union

Thomas Ambrosio, "Authoritarian Backlash: Russian Resistance to Democratization in the Former Soviet Union" (Ashgate, January 2009):


Publisher's description: "Authoritarian Russia has adopted five strategies to preserve the Kremlin's political power: insulate, bolster, subvert, redefine and coordinate. Thomas Ambrosio examines each of these in turn, all of which seek to counter or undermine regional democratic trends both at home and throughout the former Soviet Union. Policies such as these are of great concern to the growing literature on how autocratic regimes are becoming more active in their resistance to democracy. Through detailed case studies of each strategy, this book makes significant contributions to our understandings of Russian domestic and foreign policies, democratization theory and the policy challenges associated with democracy promotion."

Contents: The authoritarian backlash against democracy; The external promotion of democracy and authoritarianism; Political trends in the former Soviet Union: an overview; Insulate: shielding Russia from external democracy promotion; Redefine: rhetorical defenses against external criticism; Bolster: Russian support for authoritarianism in Belarus; Subvert: undermining democracy in Georgia and Ukraine; Coordinate: working with others to resist democratization; The Russian 2007–2008 election cycle; The future of democracy and the challenge of authoritarianism

Reviews: "[O]ffers a cutting edge account of active international strategies of authoritarian persistence and survival. Studies of international democracy promotion should take note. Future research will profit by building on the book's analysis well beyond its focus on Putin's Russia." (Peter Burnell, University of Warwick)

"[A] compelling framework for how dictators resist internal and external pressure to expand rights and freedoms for their citizens. Authoritarian Backlash contributes to our understanding of Russia as a consolidated dictatorship, rather than democracy, from its chilling portrayal of the 'Putin Youth' to the ominous signs of a budding partnership with other dictatorships around the world." (Joel M. Ostrow, Benedictine University)

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search:


Thomas Ambrosio is Associate Professor in Political Science at North Dakota State University.

The recent Briefing Paper 2/2010 of the German Development Institute, "Russia: Supporting Non-Democratic Tendencies in the Post-Soviet Space?", authored by Antje Kästner, appears to be drawing on Ambrosio's book.

The article can be read free of charge here:


From the abstract: "Over the last decade, Russia has not only adopted a more authoritarian form of government, but has also become more active in the former USSR. Russia's growing engagement in its 'near abroad' has been paralleled by the rise of illiberal regimes in the region, a development precipitated by active Russian policy action constraining the rise of Western democracy and reinforced by interests shared by the various governments."

Excerpts: "The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was the key event that led Russian authorities to fear the spread of political unrest into Russian territory. In reaction, the Russian government adopted an overtly critical stance towards Western democracy promotion efforts and began to develop its image as an alternative donor in the region. At the same time, Russia stepped up its efforts to cooperate more closely with authoritarian countries [....] Central Asia's natural resources are vital if Russia's authoritarian form of government is to be maintained, while the promotion of controlled instability in the post-Soviet space strengthens Russia's economic and political influence with the aim of ensuring Russian hegemony in the region. [...] Russia is not only supporting incumbent dictators in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but also reinforcing undemocratic practices in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and trying to prevent democratisation in Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. [...] For many leaders in the 'near abroad', Russia has become an attractive alternative to Western donors, not least because the conditions which the Russian government attaches to its commitment pose less of a threat to the incumbent government's position than democratic conditionality."

Antje Kästner is an Associate Fellow at the German Development Institute.

23 March 2010

Article: Understanding Iran's New Authoritarianism

Elliot Hen-Tov, "Understanding Iran's New Authoritarianism" ("The Washington Quarterly", 30 [1], January 2007: pp. 163-79):


Excerpts: "Iran is in fact undergoing a gradual process of regime change, not moving toward democratization but rather modifying Iran's brand of authoritarianism. It constitutes the beginning of a marked shift from the existing clerical theocracy toward a more conventional authoritarian regime. [...] This transition will therefore see remnant democratic features erode as the evolving regime concentrates power among a small number of key decisionmaking centers. Similar to other authoritarian regimes, the role of the military-security apparatus will be enhanced, as will the regime's dependence on tools of patronage or repression to assert full control. [...] Profound structural problems in Iran's economy will prevent the leadership from implementing the China model – authoritarianism with high economic growth – but Iran's oil-based economy nevertheless provides the regime with sufficient resources to satisfy its supporter base and discourage opposition. [...]

"After years of reformist meddling, [...] the conservatives used antidemocratic measures to recapture municipalities in 2003, the Majlis [parliament] in 2004, and the presidency in 2005. [...] The June 2005 presidential elections bore more resemblance to elections in other semicompetitive authoritarian regimes. Although antidemocratic in nature, the elections did offer an array of choices. [...] The prominent elevation of intelligence and security figures under Ahmadinejad is a product of their increased role during the Khatami years of silencing and intimidating reformist sympathizers. [...] The successful acquisition of nuclear weapons would accelerate a militarization of Iran's regime. [...]

"Even if the regime has recently had to subdue disgruntled youth, demographic trends indicate that the regime might soon not even be required to call on its coercive apparatus. As birth rates began to drop toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, demographic pressure has been easing, with the last of the baby boomers due to enter the labor market by the end of this decade. Subsequently, the labor force growth rate will shrink to 1.7 percent, about half of the rate in 2000 and easily supported by current [economic] growth. Recent evidence of Iran's economic and social order suggests that the regime does not face an imminent popular challenge and certainly has the means to confront any domestic opponents until this demographic reversal is completed."

Elliot Hen-Tov, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, has been advising senior officials at the United Nations on Middle Eastern and European issues since 2006.

22 March 2010

Book: Where Have All The Fascists Gone?

Tamir Bar-On, "Where Have All The Fascists Gone?" (Ashgate, 2007), with a foreword by Roger Griffin (Professor in Modern History, Oxford Brookes University):


Publisher's description: "The Intellectual European New Right (ENR), also known as the nouvelle droite, is a cultural school of thought with origins in the revolutionary Right and neo-fascist milieux. Born in France in 1968, it situated itself in a Gramscian mould exclusively on the cultural terrain of political contestation in order to challenge the apparent ideological hegemony of dominant liberal and leftist elites. It also sought to escape the ghetto status of a revolutionary Right milieu wedded to violent extra-parliamentary politics and battered by the legacies of Fascism and Nazism. This study traces the cultural, philosophical, political and historical trajectories of the French nouvelle droite in particular and the ENR in general. It examines the ENR worldview as an ambiguous synthesis of the ideals of the revolutionary Right and New Left. ENR themes related to the loss of cultural identity and immigration have appealed to anti-immigrant political parties throughout Europe. In a post 9/11 climate, as well as an age of rising economic globalization and cultural homogenization, its anti-capitalist ideas embedded within the framework of cultural preservation might make further political inroads into the Europe of the future."

Reviews: "Post-war right-wing extremist movements come in a bewildering variety of shapes and forms, but this book provides a well-written and masterly guide (the first one in the English language) to the evolution of one particularly influential variety known as the European New Right. It deserves to be read by all who care about the future of Europe." (Cyprian Blamires, editor of "World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia")

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Also of interest may be a recent article by Bar-On, "Understanding Political Conversion and Mimetic Rivalry" ("Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions", 10 [3-4], December 2009: pp. 241-64):


From the abstract: "In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the French nouvelle droite under its doyen Alain de Benoist claimed that it had made a political 'conversion' from the revolutionary Right (or conservative revolutionary) milieu to 'democracy' and that it had created a 'post-fascist' political synthesis. The paper under consideration will argue that the nouvelle droite's political 'conversion' process was only exoteric in nature by mimicking the ideas of the New Left and that its esoteric orientation was of 'true believers' who never left a political pantheon of conservative revolutionary ideas with roots largely in the 1920s and 1930s. Using the model of the nouvelle droite, as well as the ideas of René Girard and Emilio Gentile [...], I trace a model of political conversion for the twentieth century and new millennium, with particular emphasis on conversionary prerequisites and processes, as well as the mimetic symbiosis and rivalry between Right and Left."

Excerpts: "It is no accident that the nouvelle droite leader in France, Alain de Benoist, argues [...] that his fundamental quarrel is with egalitarianism, which he argues in a Nietzschean vein produced the mass 'slave' ideologies of the Judeo-Christian tradition and its secular derivatives, namely, liberalism, social democracy, socialism, communism and Marxism. [...] Furthermore, in ideologically diverse journals, de Benoist never tires of pointing out that the shifting sands of the political landscape might dictate if he converts towards the Right or Left. This calculation will presumably be based on whether extreme radicals of the Right or Left can better assist in the destruction of liberal democracy. [...] [H]is conversion to 'democracy' is circumscribed, as it must be direct democracy in the ancient Athenian or Icelandic mould. It [...] bypasses his vehement rejection of liberal and socialist variants of democracy."

Israeli-born Tamir Bar-On is Professor of Humanities and International Relations at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

21 March 2010

Books: Tales from the climate-change crossroads

The international weekly science journal "Nature" has caught on to the anti-democratic sentiment discernible, post Copenhagen, in the environmental movement. In its latest issue (464, 18 March 2010:
pp. 352-3) it published an article by Roger Pielke, Jr., a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, titled "Tales from the climate-change crossroads", which reviews four recent books written by other environmentalists.

The article can be read free of charge here:


The relevant excerpts: "Two first-hand accounts by distinguished climate scientists who advocate action, James Hansen and Stephen Schneider, left me feeling that their convictions have pushed them towards simplistic, almost authoritarian visions of political decision-making. [...] Hansen and Schneider each provide a troubling inside view of the political battle over climate change in their respective books, Storms of My Grandchildren [subtitled "The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity"; Bloomsbury, December 2009] and Science as a Contact Sport [subtitled "Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate"; National Geographic Society, November 2009]. Hansen invokes religious terms, characterizing himself and Schneider as witness and preacher, respectively. Both are evangelists who hold science as an ascendant authority. [...] [B]oth books largely comprise strong ideological and political commentary based on an unstated assumption that science compels action on climate change. [...]

"Both scientists express a desire to influence political outcomes. [...] Schneider and Hansen relate how they have had considerable access to government decision-makers around the world, with whom they have shared their policy recommendations. [...] Hansen's complaint that leaders of sovereign countries have not acceded to his demands implies a criticism of democracy, also present in Schneider's book. If science leads inexorably to particular political outcomes, then it would seem to favour autocratic forms of governance. The middle man – the general public – is easily ignored if heads of state need only hear the expert voice of science. Schneider worries that democracy finds it hard to deal with complex issues: if only the public understood the real risks, he explains, they would be 'much more likely to send strong signals to their representatives'. He bemoans a public debate that includes the participation of 'special interests' and that is filtered through an inept media, a perspective echoed by Hansen."

Stephen H. Schneider is Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford and an expert on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Here a link to his book:


James Hansen is Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), based at Columbia University, where he is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Here a link to his book:


From another review: "After sounding the climate alarm in papers and conferences for two decades, here Hansen takes off the gloves, faulting 'the undue influence of special interests and government greenwash' for the failure to take the actions necessary to stabilize Earth's climate. [...] Unlike politicians, he writes, nature does not compromise. He dismisses key aspects of legislation now before Congress as well as the Kyoto approach to international climate treaty-making, arguing that setting goals for a gradual slowing down of emissions will not solve the problem. 'Ladies and gentlemen, your governments are lying through their teeth,' he writes." ("Kirkus Reviews")

We should take note of this anti-democratic trend in environmentalism whatever we may think of "climate change" and "global warming".

19 March 2010

Article: Democracy at a crossroads

"Democracy at a crossroads" is an unsigned article that was published on 16 March on the website of the South African magazine "Leadership: Interviews, Insights, Intelligence". The subtitle or lead reads: "Globally, democracy has become stale – even corrupt".

The article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "South Africa is not the only country that has, in recent history, found it difficult, troublesome and at times extremely challenging to make a transition to a democratic dispensation. [...]
[T]housands of Germans, on a cold November day in 1989, came together to pull down a concrete wall that had symbolised the divide between democracy and communism [...]. The jubilation and euphoria soon was replaced by disillusionment and disgust, as organised crime and unscrupulous politicians stepped into the void left by a discredited state-controlled system [...]. There is a growing disenchantment around the globe and the public is fast losing its interest and support for the democratic system. Democracy has become stale, predictable, uninspiring and perhaps – worst of all – corrupted. It is no coincidence that the decay comes less than a generation after the end of the Cold War and the demise of the traditional ideologies of left and right. The drive to assert the superiority and longevity of democracy vis-à-vis the stifling repression of the old communist system has disappeared and has been replaced by a mediocrity that is downright depressing. [...]

"[G]laringly lacking is inspirational and visionary leadership required to generate energy and vitality necessary to rekindle the enthusiasm and will that is already lost, to face the challenges of the 21st century. The excitement and expectations when Barrack [sic] Obama entered the White House [...] have evaporated and the 'Yes, we can' cry has been replaced by a 'Yes, we'll try' whisper. Obama discovered what others before him also experienced; democracy has become a comfortable vehicle for those seeking an easy ride to self-enrichment. [...] Politics has become a very expensive game and fund-raising has become one of the main functions of candidates, leaving the door wide open for big business, interest groups and those with the finances to buy influence. [...] So lucrative and effective has it become that the corporations and big businesses are bankrolling all political parties to cover all possible election outcomes and keep the smaller ones quiet and dependent.

"If left unchallenged, corruption will signal the end of democracy as we know it. In recent years, corruption has embedded itself in the historical as well as the newly established democracies. [...] Small wonder that the public is disillusioned and disheartened. Corrupt politicians and their accomplices unashamedly will exploit and abuse democracy as cover to gain access to the trough where they and their cohorts can guzzle with gay abandon at government tenders, embezzle government funds and gorge on all the other delicatessen served. After all, no one joins politics or a freedom struggle to stay poor. The fruits of victory are there to be picked and devoured, even if it is reserved only for the privileged few to show the masses in a perverted way how it should be done and what could be attained under the banner of democracy. No wonder democracy is under fire."

18 March 2010

Article: What's So Good About Democracy?

The article "What's So Good About Democracy?" by Norman Barry was published in "The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty" (53 [5], May 2003: pp. 44-8), the near-monthly magazine of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

The article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Some words convey descriptive information about the world – like those used in the weather forecast – while others are designed not to tell us anything factually important but to act on our emotions and garner our support, such as advertising slogans and political words. This is true of democracy: If anybody confesses to being anti-democratic he is likely to be called a fascist. In its emotive sense, all sorts of good things, such as liberty, rights, majority rule, and the public interest, are bundled up and marketed under the label 'democracy.' [...] A modern critique of democracy must proceed from [...] nineteenth-century skeptical insights – but with one crucially important qualification: the threat to civilization has not actually come from the unfettered mob but from the uncontrollable influence of pressure groups ([James] Madison's 'factions') on the social and economic process. They are much more dangerous than majoritarianism precisely because they can claim the imprimatur of liberal democracy for their anti-individualistic and anti-market effects. [...]

"It was the Italian theorists of elitism who first produced a powerful, theoretical critique of democracy, and some of their strictures are relevant to modern considerations. [...] Although [Joseph] Schumpeter had the key to a wholesale critique of democracy, he still supported it. Democracy could work, he thought, if a society were reasonably homogeneous, had a reliable bureaucracy [...], and not too many affairs were subject to political, as opposed to private economic, decision-making. He thought that the level of rationality fell as soon as people left the marketplace and played politics, either as voters or activists. This seems to be true. Just watch the supreme rationality of the housewife quickly responding to price changes at Wal-Mart, compared to her ignorance of the policy proposals of political parties at an election. [...] The problem is that it is not in her interest to be well-informed about politics. It is simply in no one's rational self-interest to be informed about what is in the 'public interest.' Least of all is it in anyone's interest to sacrifice his well-being for the 'common good.' Democratic theorists have never solved the problem of why rational people vote at all, given the nugatory effect a single vote can have on the result of an election. [...]

"A coherent critique of democracy requires things of which Schumpeter never dreamt: first, a logical explanation of why the public good cannot often be transmitted through the voting mechanism (not merely the casual observation that it rarely happens) and, second, a theory of why, in practice, democratic politics degenerates into a squabble over benefits among rival interest groups. [...] In fact, a democracy would work better if the people voted directly on separate issues rather than having their representatives vote on bundles produced by the parties. Contra conventional conservatism, direct democracy is actually better than representative government. [...] Because of its emotive appeal, selling an anti-democratic idea is politically difficult. Various alternatives have been suggested, but most are infeasible whatever their internal logic. As suggested above, an effective approach, paradoxically, might be to demand more democracy, with choices put to the people rather than to their elected representatives. [...] All of this is rather tame for an anti-democrat. Even the Swiss [model's] constraints are not insurmountable; they have failed to resist some advances of centralized government. But they do constitute a model from which further dents in the edifice of conventional majority rule and almost unlimited sovereignty might be made."

Personal experience from Switzerland tells me that there is no significant difference in outcomes between representative democracy and direct democracy.

The late Norman Barry (1944-2008) was a libertarian Professor of Social and Political Theory at the University of Buckingham.

17 March 2010

Article: Winter in America: Democracy Gone Rogue

"Winter in America: Democracy Gone Rogue" is an op-ed article by Henry A. Giroux that was published on the alternative news website "Truthout" on 4 March:


Excerpts: "Democracy in the United States is experiencing both a crisis of meaning and a legitimation crisis. As the promise of an aspiring democracy is sacrificed more and more to corporate and military interests, democratic spheres have largely been commercialized and democratic practices have been reduced to market relations, stripped of their worth and subject to the narrow logics of commodification and profit making. [...] When not equated with the free market capitalism, democracy is reduced to the empty rituals of elections largely shaped by corporate money and indifferent to relations of power that make a mockery out of equality, democratic participation and collective deliberation. [...] As part of the crisis of legitimation, democracy's undoing can be seen in the anti-democratic nature of governance that has increasingly shaped domestic and foreign policy in the United States [...]. What is often missed is how such anti-democratic forces work at home in ways that are less visible and when they are visible seem to become easily normalized, removed from any criticism as they settle into that ideological fog called common sense. [...]

"[D]emocracy is [...] transformed from a mode of politics that subverts authoritarian tendencies to one that reproduces them. [...] Used to gift wrap the interests and values of an authoritarian culture, the rhetoric of democracy is now invoked to legitimate its opposite, a discourse of security and a culture of fear [...]. When tied to the discourse of democracy, such practices seem beyond criticism [...] – beyond ethical and political reproach. As the country undermines its own democratic values, violence and anti-democratic practices become institutionalized throughout American culture, their aftershocks barely noticed, testifying to how normalized they have become. [...] Emerging out of this void and shaping a more militaristic anti-politics are the anti-public intellectuals and their corporate sponsors, eager to fill the air with populist anger by supporting right-wing groups [...] and self-styled patriots that bear an eerie resemblance to the beliefs and violent politics of the late Timothy McVeigh, who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995. [...]

"Under its common-sense rubric, homelessness and poverty are now criminalized, schools are dominated by zero-tolerance policies that turn public schools into a low-intensity war zone, school lockdowns are the new fire drills, the welfare state morphs into the warfare state, and university research is increasingly funded by the military and designed for military and surveillance purposes. [...] Zombie politics loves to depoliticize any vestige of individual agency and will. [...] Under such circumstances, memory is lost, history is erased, knowledge becomes militarized and education becomes more of a tool of domination rather than empowerment. One result is not merely a collective ignorance over the meaning, nature and possibilities of politics, but a disdain for democracy itself that provides the condition for a lethal combination of political apathy and cynicism on the one hand and a populist anger and an ethical hardening of the culture on the other. [...] [U]nderlying [...] is a hatred not merely for government, but for democracy itself. [...] Going rogue is now a metaphor for the death of democratic values and support for modes of symbolic and potentially real violence in which all vestiges of thought, self-reflection and dialogue are destroyed."

Henry A. Giroux is the prime example of a chronologist of the failure of democracy in the United States. With increasing frequency he publishes books and articles (on "Truthout" and elsewhere) that show how democracy is the problem. He has not been able to make the mental leap, though, to realizing that the problems caused by democracy can only be overcome by opposing and overcoming democracy itself. Democracy (not the abuse of it) is the root cause of the ills Giroux keeps highlighting.

American-born Henry A. Giroux is Professor of English and Cultural Studies and Global TV Network Chair in Communications at McMaster University, Canada.

16 March 2010

Article: Can we afford this democracy?

"Can we afford this democracy?" is an article by Moses Ochonu that appeared serialized over the past few weeks in Nigeria's "Peoples Daily" newspaper.

The article can be read free of charge online:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Excerpts: "I am starting a three-part commentary to raise some pertinent questions about our so-called democratic dispensation. [...]
I am resentful of the finality and triumphalism with which democracy fanatics define their fanciful concept. I have also sensed a disturbing complacency in our politicians and intellectuals as they try to enunciate democracy for the rest of us. They assume erroneously that democracy is its own justification – that simply being baptized with the moniker of democracy is sufficient. And that Nigerians, dispossessed they may be, will be satisfied with a political concept that, as currently practiced in Nigeria, stands empty of its substantive content. [...] My good friend, Ikhide Ikheloa, a literary critic and Next columnist, has been on a personal mission. His aim: to orchestrate the demise of our current 'democracy.' He is so convinced that democracy is a mortal danger to Nigerians that he equates its dissolution to an epic struggle for political liberation; liberation from predation and legalized, 'democratic' oppression.

"For Ikhide, democracy has, far from doing Nigeria good, set the country back decades and provided a perfect alibi for the political class to bankrupt and bury the country once and for all. [...] The material promise of democracy, that is, the supposed correlation between democracy and improved standards of living, has yet to materialize for Nigerians in almost eleven unbroken years of 'democracy.' [...] Even advertized abstract benefits like press freedom, human rights, the right to free political choice, and the right to make deliberative input in governance have all been denied Nigerians under this democracy. While we saw flickers of these benefits in the wake of military disengagement in 1999, today's 'democratic' environment resembles the regimented, freedom-less days of military rule. [...] 'Democracy' has provided the perfect alibi for corruption – massive corruption. 'Democracy' has – forgive the redundancy – democratized corruption. Under the military, corruption was essentially a quasi-monopoly; it was tightly controlled by a small cohort. Under our 'democracy,' the need to cultivate political support and immunity means that the loot has to circulate.

"Democracy has also made corruption legitimate. [...] Under our current 'democratic' practice public officials steal legally. They only have to underwrite what they steal as a licit item in the budget bill. [...] Democracy has licensed and unleashed novel evils on our country. [...] Nigerian public office holders at all levels are the highest paid in the world. Together with their string of assistants and advisers (who also have their own paid advisers), our public officers gobble up at least half of our revenue and budgetary appropriations in legitimate rewards. [...] This prohibitive overhead has left us with a smaller pool of funds than ever to invest in the things that matter to Nigerians: roads, healthcare, schools, water, electricity, and food. This odd financial state of low return on 'democratic' investment is unsustainable. Something has to give. [...]

"The country now teeters precariously because the ritualistic niceties of democracy stand in the way of pragmatic, decisive, patriotic action. This preference for process over productive outcomes is one reason why democracy is losing its appeal with many Nigerians. [...] The irritant [...] is that 'democracy' has been reduced in practice to – and accepted as being constituted by – only one of its many elements: the ritualistic conduct of periodic, incumbent-rigged elections. Every other hyped benefit of democracy has eluded Nigerians. [...] Instead of asking how a policy might help Nigerians, officials ask how it would win them the next elections – how it would enrich campaign donors and party godfathers and how much it would generate for the election war chest. This permanent campaign culture is a costly drawback of democracy [...]. With such a low return on democracy, and with 'democracy' being so costly and toxic to the body politic, it is no surprise that many Nigerians have begun to question their loyalty to the received wisdom that democracy is superior to its alternatives.

"For many Nigerians and Africans democracy has failed. [...] So glaring is this failure and so painful are the betrayals of Africa's 'democrats' that ten thousand Nigeriens recently poured into the streets of Niamey to rally in support of the new military regime there. Westerners may be scrambling to comprehend this dramatic reversal of public opinion from a craving for a democratic overthrow of a military dictatorship eleven years ago to an enthusiastic embrace of a military overthrow of a 'democratic' regime today. But this is something that people in neighboring Nigeria can explain and understand. [...] There is no innate or sacred loyalty to democracy in Nigerians – or, for that matter, in any other people. The degree of Nigerians' attachment to the concept corresponds to the benefits that they see it delivering or the damage it is doing to their lives. This is why democracy is suffering setbacks across Africa. [...]

"The question is: what is democracy's worth if the way we practice it imperils our country and its people and widens the crevices that divide us? Would we rather preserve a pretentious democracy and lose the nation? [...] Most Nigerians [...] would prefer an effective military regime that consciously improves their lives to a 'democratic' regime that is preoccupied with a systematic violation of their lives and rights. [...] Nigeria's intellectual and political elites are fond of saying that the worst democratic regime is better than the best military regime. This is at best elitist, out-of-touch rhetoric, a talking point of pro-democracy advocacy. Most Nigerians would reject this proposition outright."

Nigerian-born Moses Ochonu is Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University in the USA.

15 March 2010

Book: Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter

Rick Shenkman, "Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter" (Basic Books, June 2008):


Publisher's description (hardcover edition): "Levees break in New Orleans. Iraq descends into chaos. The housing market teeters on the brink of collapse. Americans of all political stripes are heading into the 2008 election with the sense that something has gone terribly wrong with American politics. But what exactly? Democrats blame Republicans and Republicans blame Democrats. Greedy corporate executives, rogue journalists, faulty voting machines, irresponsible defense contractors – we blame them, too. The only thing everyone seems to agree on, in fact, is that the American people are entirely blameless. [...] Shenkman takes aim at our great national piety: the wisdom of the American people. The hard truth is that American democracy is more direct than ever – but voters are misusing, abusing, and abdicating their political power. Americans are paying less and less attention to politics at a time when they need to pay much more: Television has dumbed politics down to the basest possible level, while the real workings of politics have become vastly more complicated. Shenkman offers concrete proposals for reforming our institutions – the government, the media, civic organizations, political parties – to make them work better for the American people. But first, Shenkman argues, we must reform ourselves."

From the publisher's description (paperback edition): "Fifty percent of Americans can name four characters from 'The Simpsons,' but only two out of five can name all three branches of the federal government. No more than one in seven can find Iraq on a map. Just how stupid are we? Pretty stupid."

Reviews: "Shenkman [...] makes the provocative argument that as American voters have gained political power in the last 50 years, they have become increasingly ignorant of politics and world affairs – and dangerously susceptible to manipulation. The book provides a litany of depressing statistics – most Americans cannot name their representatives in Congress, only 20% hold a passport, 30% cannot identify the Holocaust – as Shenkman inquires whether Americans are capable of voting in the nation's or even their own best interests. Although Shenkman clearly derives some pleasure in pointing out the stupidity and irrationality of the American public, his concern is genuine and heartfelt. In lucid, playful prose, he illustrates how politicians have repeatedly misled voters and analyzes the dumbing down of American politics via marketing, spin machines and misinformation." ("Publishers Weekly")

"With wit, passion and devastating evidence, Shenkman compels us, the praised and petted 'American people,' to look in the mirror for an explanation of why our elections are travesties of informed, intelligent debate. Lively and crucial, the book reminds us, however we vote, that there's no such animal as 'democracy for dummies.'" (Bernard A. Weisberger, formerly University of Rochester)

Rick Shenkman is Associate Professor of History at George Mason University.

Book: Why Democracy Won in the 20th Century and How it is Still Imperiled

Azar Gat, "Victorious and Vulnerable: Why Democracy Won in the 20th Century and How it is Still Imperiled", published by Rowman & Littlefield in cooperation with the Hoover Institution (December 2009):


Publisher's description: "In the blink of an eye, liberal democracy's moment of triumph was darkened by new threats, challenges, and doubts. Rejecting the view that liberal democracy's twentieth-century victory was inevitable, distinguished student of war Azar Gat argues that it largely rested on contingent factors and was more doubtful than has been assumed. The world's liberal democracies, with the United States at the forefront, face new and baffling security threats, with the return of capitalist nondemocratic great powers – China and Russia – and the continued threat of unconventional terror. The democratic peace, or near absence of war among themselves, is a unique feature of liberal democracies' foreign policy behavior. Arguing that this is merely one manifestation of much more sweeping and less recognized pacifist tendencies typical of liberal democracies, Gat offers a panoramic view of their distinctive way in conflict and war. His book provides a politically and strategically vital understanding of the peculiar strengths and vulnerabilities that liberal democracy brings to the formidable challenges ahead."

Reviews: "[Gat] suggests that general moral and legal parameters can be refined, through policy and strategy, using 'a better awareness of the underlying patterns of the democracies' behavior in conflict.' In particular, he finds fault with 'normative-legal aspects' of liberal national defense that favor pacifism and appeasement: such tendencies render them vulnerable to a determined enemy without such scruples. Opposition to detention without trial, torture, and wiretapping, Gat says, has 'a bitterly ideological and righteous character,' rigid where it should be adaptable to changing realities and enemy tactics; on the battlefield, 'self-imposed restrictions on violence against civilian population' can 'render often-successful military operations futile.'" ("Publishers Weekly")

"In this brilliant and highly original work, Gat shows not only why democracies triumphed over their authoritarian, fascist, and communist adversaries in the past century, but simultaneously calls attention to the democracies' unique vulnerabilities." (Robert J. Lieber, Georgetown University)

Azar Gat is Ezer Weizman Professor of National Security at Tel Aviv University.

14 March 2010

Book: The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy

Just published: Richard A. Posner, "The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy" (Harvard University Press, March 2010):


Publisher's description: "Following up on his timely and well-received book, A Failure of Capitalism, Richard Posner steps back to take a longer view of the continuing crisis of democratic capitalism as the American and world economies crawl gradually back from the depths to which they had fallen in the autumn of 2008 and the winter of 2009. By means of a lucid narrative of the crisis and a series of analytical chapters pinpointing critical issues of economic collapse and gradual recovery, Posner helps non-technical readers understand business-cycle and financial economics, and financial and governmental institutions, practices, and transactions, while maintaining a neutrality impossible for persons professionally committed to one theory or another. He calls for fresh thinking about the business cycle that would build on the original ideas of Keynes.

"Central to these ideas is that of uncertainty as opposed to risk. Risk can be quantified and measured. Uncertainty cannot, and in this lies the inherent instability of a capitalist economy. As we emerge from the financial earthquake, a deficit aftershock rumbles. It is in reference to that potential aftershock, as well as to the government's stumbling efforts at financial regulatory reform, that Posner raises the question of the adequacy of our democratic institutions to the economic challenges heightened by the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The crisis and the government's energetic response to it have enormously increased the national debt at the same time that structural defects in the American political system may make it impossible to pay down the debt by any means other than inflation or devaluation."

Review: "Posner [...] has enormous credibility when he casts a skeptical eye on Wall Street. As an influential free-market thinker, he helped shape the antiregulatory ideology that inspired so much public policy since 1980 [...]. In his final pages, though, the author can't muster much confidence that America will overcome its splintered politics, the 'quasi bribery' of campaign money, or the bipartisan myth that we can thrive indefinitely on low taxes and profligate public spending." (Paul Barrett, "BusinessWeek")

According to the book's index, "democracy" is discussed only on four (of 400) pages. Interesting, too, that the title speaks of "capitalist democracy", while the blurb has "democratic capitalism".

Richard A. Posner is Circuit Judge at the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago.

13 March 2010

Article: How Democracy Dies

The US magazine "Newsweek" runs an article in this week's issue titled "How Democracy Dies". Written by Joshua Kurlantzick, the subtitle or lead reads "A global decline in political freedom is partly the fault of the middle class".

The full text of the article (in the browser window alternatively titled "The Global Decline in Democracy") can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Many of the same middle-class men and women who once helped push dictators out of power are now seeing just how difficult it can be to establish democracy, and are pining for the days of autocracy. [...] The global economic crisis has also damaged democracy's appeal. To many middle-class men and women in the developing world, the spread of democracy was linked to the spread of capitalism, since many of these countries opened their economies at the same time as they embraced political freedom. As the crisis cuts into people's incomes, many blame democracy, in part, for the economic downturn. [...] The result is that on nearly every continent, democracy is sputtering out. [...]

"[I]n many of the countries where democracy has recently been rolled back, the middle class that once promoted political freedom is now also resorting to extralegal, undemocratic tactics – supposedly to save democracy itself. Middle-class Thai urbanites, for instance, bitterly disappointed by Thaksin's abuses and worried he was empowering the poor at their expense, have rebelled. Rather than challenging Thaksin through the democratic process, such as by bolstering opposition parties or starting their own newspapers, they tore down democracy by shutting down institutions of government and calling for a military coup, even while claiming to support democracy. [...] Many called for a military intervention or some other kind of benign despotism to restore the rule of law and fight corruption, which they claimed had worsened under Thaksin. 'We had to save democracy, even if it meant [ignoring] elections,' said one Thai diplomat sympathetic to the protesters. The Thai elites got what they hoped for: Thaksin is in exile, his opponents are in power, and Thailand's democracy is shattered. [...]

"In Africa, recent coups in Mauritania and Niger were welcomed by the urban middle class, while data from the Asian Barometer surveys, regular polls that examine Asian attitudes toward democracy, show that many respondents have become dissatisfied with their democratic systems. [...] Such is the case in Russia as well, where Putin, even as he wipes out most of the democratic institutions, enjoys staggeringly high poll numbers from the middle class and other segments of the population. [...] Even in China, where it is the poor in rural areas who now take the lead in protests, the urban middle class appears comfortable with the ruling regime. [...]

"The middle class's push back against democracy, by way of coups and other antidemocratic means, has disenfranchised the poor, sparking still more protests. In Thailand, crowds of protesters, most of them poor, have launched their own violent demonstrations that target the middle classes who tried to push Thaksin out of office. Similarly in Bolivia, the middle-class anti-Morales protesters now have been met with angry pro-Morales protesters mostly drawn from the ranks of the poor. In the Philippines, poor men and women furious that their hero Estrada had been forced out by the middle class launched their own counter-protests. Now, with the nation heading to another election, Estrada, out of jail and running again, is picking up support from the poor for his presidential bid."

Joshua Kurlantzick is a journalist and author, a Fellow at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy, and a Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

12 March 2010

Article: The Politics of Development

Brij Mohan, "The Politics of Development", Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, 25 (3), October 2009: pp. 255-67:


Abstract: "Global poverty and inequality, in the context of current capitalist crisis, will remain a daunting challenge in the twenty-first century. This reality will unleash an era of post-democracy bedeviled by multifaceted meltdowns in political, cultural and economic structures. The outcome will be a catastrophe that will be beyond any human intervention unless we think self-critically and fast. This article seeks to theorize the main processes that thwart the rational-humane logic of development in the 'post-American world'."

Some excerpts: "A hedonist culture wallowing in hubristic delusions is bound to crash. The contradictions of a society based on unprincipled consumption and consumerism is bad news for the future of humankind. [...] All political roles are implicated in a culture of deceptions and depredations until proven not guilty. Will there ever be an acceptable rationale and due compensation for the Iraq war that was launched by neo-cons based on lies? Can anyone on this planet rewind world history and undo India's partition that created a phony – now a failed – state named Pakistan, which has become the womb of world terrorism? [...] A cultural meltdown reflects on the nature of social contract that serves as the foundation of modern society. The rusted fabric of social institutions is in disarray. Social institutions are losing legitimacy and their leaders are guilty of bad faith. Banks cheat; schools do not teach; hospitals sometimes kill; prisons dehumanize; markets collapse; ideologies mislead; academe sucks; and faith corrupts. [...] It is cultural meltdowns of varied hues that destabilize systems of sustenance that render democracies vulnerable to the creatureliness of reptilian behaviors. From the Wall Street to Rwanda, the gluttony of greed and gloom has produced widespread dysfunctionality that thwarts all democratic institutions."

I venture the opinion that the acceptance of this incoherent little piece that reads as if it had been written on speed was greatly helped by the fact that the author is himself Editor-in-Chief of the journal it was published in.

Indian-born Brij Mohan is Professor of Social Work at Louisiana State University.

11 March 2010

Book: Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy: Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy

William Dinan and David Miller are the editors of "Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy: Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy", published in 2007 by Pluto Press in association with the UK organization Spinwatch.

From the publisher's description: "This book unmasks the covert and undemocratic world of corporate spin – [...] The public relations industry is not just about celebrity gossip. This book shows how, whenever big business is threatened, spin doctors, lobbyists, think tanks and front groups are on hand to push the corporate interest, often at the public's expense. Written by leading activists and writers, this book reveals the secrets of the PR trade including deception, [...], spying and dirty tricks. The impact can be devastating – when the public is denied access to the truth, the results are rising inequality and environmental catastrophe. The authors expose the misdeeds of famous companies including Coca Cola, British Aerospace, Exxon and Monsanto. They also reveal startling new information about the covert funding of various apparently independent thinks tanks and institutes."


Includes chapters and sections like "Public Relations and the Subversion of Democracy", "How Corporations Use Spin to Undermine Democracy", and "Globalising Politics: Spinning US 'Democracy Assistance' Programmes".

Excerpt: "David Miller and William Dinan begin by setting out the case for the prosecution, arguing that the PR industry is anti-democratic in intent and effect."

Endorsement: "Corporate Spin is one of the great toxins of democracy and a free society. This is a foundational book to educate us about this sleazy realm and equip us to do battle with it." (Robert W. McChesney, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

David Miller is now Professor of Sociology and William Dinan is Lecturer in Sociology, both at the University of Strathclyde.

09 March 2010

Book: The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad

A short notice for a well-known book: Fareed Zakaria, "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad" (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003):


From the publisher's description (of an earlier edition): "Democracy has reshaped politics, economics, and culture around the world. This provocative book asks, can you have too much of a good thing? Today we judge the value of every idea, institution, and individual by one test: is it popular? Or, more practically, do the majority of those polled like it? This transformation has affected not just politics but also business, law, culture, and even religion. Every institution and profession in society must democratize or die. Democracy has gone from being a form of government to a way of life. Like any broad transformation, however, the trends that democracy unleashes are not uniformly benign. Democracy has its dark sides, yet to question it has been to provoke instant criticism that you are 'out of sync' with the times."

Review: "Democracy is not inherently good, Zakaria [...] tells us in his thought-provoking and timely second book. It works in some situations and not others, and needs strong limits to function properly. The editor of Newsweek International and former managing editor of Foreign Affairs takes us on a tour of democracy's deficiencies, beginning with the reminder that in 1933 Germans elected the Nazis. While most Western governments are both democratic and liberal – i.e., characterized by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic rights – the two don't necessarily go hand in hand. Zakaria praises countries like Singapore, Chile and Mexico for liberalizing their economies first and then their political systems, and compares them to other Third World countries 'that proclaimed themselves democracies immediately after their independence, while they were poor and unstable, [but] became dictatorships within a decade.' But Zakaria contends that something has also gone wrong with democracy in America, which has descended into 'a simple-minded populism that values popularity and openness.' The solution, Zakaria says, is more appointed bodies, like the World Trade Organization and the U.S. Supreme Court, which are effective precisely because they are insulated from political pressures." ("Publishers Weekly")

Excerpt: "Silenced by fears of being branded 'antidemocratic' we have no way to understand what might be troubling about the ever-increasing democratization of our lives. [...] What we need in politics today is not more democracy but less."

08 March 2010

Article: The Democratic Domino Theory: An Empirical Investigation

Peter T. Leeson and Andrea M. Dean, "The Democratic Domino Theory: An Empirical Investigation" ("American Journal of Political Science", 53 [3], July 2009: pp. 533-51).

Abstract: "According to the democratic domino theory, increases or decreases in democracy in one country spread and 'infect' neighboring countries, increasing or decreasing their democracy in turn. Using spatial econometrics and panel data that cover over 130 countries between 1850 and 2000, this article empirically investigates the democratic domino theory. We find that democratic dominoes do in fact fall as the theory contends. However, these dominoes fall significantly 'lighter' than the importance of this model suggests. Countries 'catch' only about 11% of the increases or decreases in their average geographic neighbors' increases or decreases in democracy. This finding has potentially important foreign policy implications. The 'lightness' with which democratic dominoes fall suggests that even if foreign military intervention aimed at promoting democracy in undemocratic countries succeeds in democratizing these nations, intervention is likely to have only a small effect on democracy in their broader regions." (originally all in italics)

The full text of the article is available free of charge here:


Some excerpts: "Most recently, a democratic domino idea has been used to justify American intervention in Iraq and the Middle East [...]. Despite this idea's importance guiding global foreign affairs, relatively little research has investigated whether in fact changes in democracy spread between geographic neighbors as this theory hypothesizes. Indeed, surprisingly few papers directly address the domino theory as a general proposition at all. [...] Our results point to several conclusions. First, foreign policy should not pretend that democratic increases in one country will lead, in the words of President Bush, to a 'democratic revolution' in the larger region it is situated in. [...] Although there are a handful of intervention successes that succeeded in promoting democracy [...] most U.S. attempts at imposing liberal democracy abroad have failed."

Peter T. Leeson is BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism in the Department of Economics at George Mason University.

Andrea M. Dean is a Ken and Randy Kendrick Fellow in the Department of Economics at West Virginia University.

07 March 2010

Book: A Government by the People: Direct Democracy in America, 1890-1940

Thomas Goebel, "A Government by the People: Direct Democracy in America, 1890-1940" (University of North Carolina Press, 2002):


Publisher's description: "Between 1898 and 1918, many American states introduced the initiative, referendum, and recall – known collectively as direct democracy. Most interpreters have seen the motives for these reform measures as purely political, but Thomas Goebel demonstrates that the call for direct democracy was deeply rooted in antimonopoly sentiment. Frustrated with the governmental corruption and favoritism that facilitated the rise of monopolies, advocates of direct democracy aimed to check the influence of legislative bodies and directly empower the people to pass laws and abolish trusts. But direct democracy failed to achieve its promises: corporations and trusts continued to flourish, voter turnout rates did not increase, and interest groups grew stronger. By the 1930s, it was clear that direct democracy favored large organizations with the financial and organizational resources to fund increasingly expensive campaigns. Recent years have witnessed a resurgence of direct democracy, particularly in California, where ballot questions and propositions have addressed such volatile issues as gay rights and affirmative action. In this context, Goebel's analysis of direct democracy's history, evolution, and ultimate unsuitability as a grassroots tool is particularly timely."

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


At the time the book was published, (probably German-born) Thomas Goebel, a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, from 1997 to 2002, with a PhD from the University of Chicago, pursued an MBA at the American University in Washington, DC. He now seems to work in industrial management.

06 March 2010

Article: Iraqi Elections Show America's Wrong Ideas about Democracy's Power

On Sunday, 7 March, the Washington Post will carry an article by Marina Ottaway, the Director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, titled "American foreign policy shouldn't focus on elections, in Iraq or elsewher" [sic]. For some reasons, the article is already online:


The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace also published the article early on its website, under the alternative title "Iraqi Elections Show America's Wrong Ideas about Democracy's Power":


Excerpts (from the Washington Post): "Why are we so focused on Iraq's parliamentary election [this Sunday] – to the point that it may dictate how long American forces remain enmeshed in war? Well, we've been in love with foreign elections for two decades now. Since votes in Central and Eastern Europe came to symbolize victory for democracy over communism, the United States has looked to elections as turning points [...]. Foreign policy by election is appealing for simple reasons: We are good at organizing elections. An election result is concrete. Unfortunately, elections aren't all we've built them into. They are not defining moments, but only a small part of much larger and more complicated stories, and they can even, at times, keep democracy from taking root.

"No matter; European countries and the United Nations have joined America in raising the expectations for elections far beyond what they can deliver. While 'elections do not a democracy make' has become a common refrain in Washington and European capitals, in reality the pressure to hold votes, as soon as possible, in countries that are transitioning from autocracy or war remains extremely high. [...] The determination to spread democracy by elections continued in U.S. and U.N. policy toward African countries that were pushed, cajoled and occasionally blackmailed by the threat of suspended aid into holding multiparty balloting. [...]

"No matter how free and fair, elections can reflect only the power shifts that have already taken place, and are not the cause of these shifts. [...] Typically, dozens – or in the case of Iraq, hundreds – of parties form to compete in elections, but they almost always fail against well-established political forces. [...] The groups with the greatest success at the ballot box have usually been those appealing to nationalist sentiments or, more dangerously, to ethnic identities. [...] In Afghanistan, [...] old autocratic trends are reasserting themselves under the democratic veneer [....] Iraq will remain a country riven by sectarian and ethnic divisions [...]. Once the campaign billboards come down in Baghdad, the same politicians will make deals and the same groups will try to make up for their lack of political clout with violence."

05 March 2010

Trend: Quality of democracy deteriorating

The German pro-democracy Bertelsmann Stiftung (Foundation) has released its Transformation Index (BTI) 2010 (the fourth edition, after 2003, 2006, and 2008), "a global ranking that analyzes and evaluates development and transformation processes in 128 countries" with regard to "how each of these countries is progressing toward democracy and a market economy".

The overview report can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "[W]ith the exception of a very stable group of top performers, the overall quality of democracy has deteriorated and – in some cases – considerably. [...] 53 countries are now classified as 'defective democracies.' [...] The failing states of Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and the Central African Republic are included in the group of 52 autocracies because, although they have held elections, [...] each has created a situation in which no truly democratic system can be established. [...] Of the 15 countries that have suffered a significant deterioration in the quality of their political systems over the last two years, nine are found in sub-Saharan Africa. Among them are countries that once inspired great hopes for democracy, such as Madagascar, Senegal and Tanzania, each of which is now close to becoming a 'highly defective democracy.'"

The English version of the full report was supposed to be published by Bertelsmann as a 260-page book in February 2010, but appears not yet to have been released. It will include all 128 country reports and relevant data, documented on an enclosed CD.

04 March 2010

Book: Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa

Dambisa Moyo, "Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa", with a foreword by Harvard professor Niall Ferguson (Allan Lane/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009):


From the publisher's description: "In the past fifty years, more than $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Has this assistance improved the lives of Africans? No. In fact, across the continent, the recipients of this aid are not better off as a result of it, but worse – much worse. In Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo [...] illuminates the way in which overreliance on aid has trapped developing nations in a vicious circle of aid dependency, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty [...]. Dead Aid is an unsettling yet optimistic work, a powerful challenge to the assumptions and arguments that support a profoundly misguided development policy in Africa. And it is a clarion call to a new, more hopeful vision of how to address the desperate poverty that plagues millions."

Excerpts: "Alongside [the aid requirement of good] governance emerged the West's growing obsession with democracy for the developing world. The installation of democracy was the donor's final refuge; the last-ditch attempt to show that aid interventions could work, would work, if only the political conditions were right. [...] For the West, the process of open and fair elections had taken centuries to evolve, but the hope was that (coupled with aid) shoe-horning democracy into underdeveloped nations would guarantee that African countries would see a sudden change in their economic and political fortunes. Yet [...] any improvements in Africa's economic profile have been largely achieved in spite of (nominal) democracy, not because of it. [...]

"In a perfect world, what poor countries at the lowest rungs of economic development need is not a multi-party democracy, but in fact a decisive benevolent dictator to push through the reforms required to get the economy moving [...]. One only has to look to the history of Asian economies (China, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand) to see how this is borne out. And even beyond Asia, Pinochet's Chile and Fujimori's Peru are examples of economic success in lands bereft of democracy. [...] What is clear is that democracy is not the prerequisite for economic growth that aid proponents maintain. On the contrary, it is economic growth that is a prerequisite for democracy; and the one thing economic growth does not need is aid. [...]

"[L]ike it or not, the Chinese are coming. And it is in Africa that their campaign for global dominance will be solidified. [...] Whether or not Chinese domination is in the interest of the average African today is irrelevant. [...] [I]n the immediate term a woman in rural Dongo cares less about the risk to her democratic freedom in forty years' time than about putting food on her table tonight. [...] The secret of China's success is that its foray into Africa is all business."

Zambian-born Dambisa Moyo, a former consultant for the World Bank and Head of Economic Research and Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa at Goldman Sachs, holds a PhD in Economics from Oxford.

Book: Feedback: Television Against Democracy

David Joselit, "Feedback: Television Against Democracy" (MIT Press, 2007):


From the publisher's description: "American television embodies a paradox: it is a privately owned and operated public communications network that most citizens are unable to participate in except as passive specators. Television creates an image of community while preventing the formation of actual social ties because behind its simulated exchange of opinions lies a highly centralized corporate structure that is profoundly antidemocratic. In Feedback, David Joselit describes the privatized public sphere of television and recounts the tactics developed by artists and media activists in the 1960s and 1970s to break open its closed circuit. [...] These strategies, writes Joselit, remain valuable today in a world where the overlapping information circuits of television and the Internet offer different opportunities for democratic participation. In Feedback, Joselit analyzes such midcentury image-events using the procedures and categories of art history. The trope of figure/ground reversal, for instance, is used to assess acts of representation in a variety of media – including the medium of politics. In a televisual world, Joselit argues, where democracy is conducted through images, art history has the capacity to become a political science."

Endorsements: "Feedback is an incisive take on a period when art and life overlapped, and when intellectual activists regarded TV as an indispensable opponent – the number one medium which we had to hijack, or else die from the banality it radiated." (Andrew Ross, New York University)

"Feedback grips the reader as well with challenging analyses of image creation, proliferation, and circulation today. Drawing on a wild history that includes psychedelia, blaxploitation, video art, guerrilla TV, Nam June Paik, Hubert Humphrey, Lucille Ball, and Melvin Van Peebles, Joselit inspiringly entreats the reader to 'assess the image ecology ... and respond to it' and 'use images to build publics' now." (Maud Lavin, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

David Joselit is now Carnegie Professor in the Department of the History of Art at Yale.

02 March 2010

Book: Democracy is a system of Kufr: It is forbidden to adopt, implement or call for it

Abdul Qadeem Zalloom is the author of a 50-page book(let) titled "Democracy is a system of Kufr: It is forbidden to adopt, implement or call for it", the second edition of which was published in 1995 by London-based Al-Khilafah Publications. Presumably, this is the English translation of a text originally written in Arabic. The book (or maybe the translation?) was completed on 27 May 1990.

Palestinian-born Yusuf Sheikh Abdul Qadeem Zal(l)oom (also spelled Abd al-Qadim Zallum or Abdul Kaddim Zalloum), apparently a cleric and one-time professor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, became global leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist revolutionary party present in many Muslim countries as well as Western Europe, in 1977. He died in hiding, probably in Amman, Jordan, or in Saudi Arabia, in 2003.

The full text is currently available free of charge here:


Should the link not work anymore, please contact me for a copy of the PDF file.

Some excerpts: "The democracy which the Kaafir [infidel] West promotes in the Muslim countries is a system of Kufr [disbelief]. [...] It completely contradicts the rules of Islam whether in the comprehensive or partial issues, in the source from which it came, in the 'Aqeedah [beliefs] from which it emanated, in the basis on which it is established and in the thoughts and systems it has brought. [...] Democracy emanated from the creed of separating religion from life, which is the creed on which the capitalist ideology is established. It is the creed of the vague compromise solution, [...] based on lies and deception. We shall clarify its corruption and rottenness and what it has brought to the world in terms of misfortune and affliction, and the extent of the corruption of societies in which democracy is implemented. [...]

"The big capitalists are the ones who bring to power or into the representative assemblies those who will realise their interests. They are the ones who pay for the costs of the elections for the post of head of state and the membership of parliament. [...] The laws passed in these parliaments, and the decisions issued by these states, take into consideration the interests of those capitalists more than the interests of the people or their majority. [...] One of the severest afflictions brought to humanity is the idea of general freedoms initiated by the democratic system. [...] How ridiculous and disgusting it is that the colonialist democratic countries like America, Britain and France boast and brag of democratic values and human rights, and at the same time they trample all over all the humanitarian and ethical values. [...] As for the idea of personal freedom, it has turned societies [...] to a level of filthy promiscuity that even animals cannot reach. [...]

"In Islam the issue is quite different: Legislative matters do not depend on the opinion of the majority or the minority. Rather, they depend on the Shari'ah texts because the legislator is only Allah [...]. A Muslim is bound in all his actions by the Shari'ah rules and he is not free in any action. There is no freedom in Islam [...]. From all that we have discussed previously, it is extremely clear that the Western culture (Hadharah), values and Western viewpoint about life, Western democracy and the general freedoms, all completely contradict with Islam and its rules. They are Kufr thoughts, Kufr culture, systems of Kufr and laws of Kufr. [...] That is why it is forbidden for the Muslim to adopt it, call for it or establish parties on its basis, or to take its viewpoint about life, to apply it, to take it as the basis or source for the Constitution and laws or to make it a basis for education or objective. [...] It is obligatory on the Muslims to completely discard democracy. It is filth. It is the rule of Taghut [idolatry/Satan]."

Some questions remain regarding the correct dating of this text or possible later additions or alterations (most likely made by someone other than the original author). One passage reads: "[I]t has moved to legislating the permissibility of deviant sexual practices. Some democratic countries have even permitted marriage between sexually deviant people, where they have allowed a man to marry a man, and a woman to marry a woman." Quite obviously, legislation recognizing same-sex partnerships (let alone marriage) had not been introduced anywhere by either 1990 or 1995.

01 March 2010

Reports on Islamist opposition to democracy

In November 2009, the centre-right think tank Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) published a report titled "Hizb ut-Tahrir: Ideology and Strategy", authored by Houriya Ahmed and Hannah Stuart.

The full text is available free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) is a revolutionary Islamist party that works to establish an expansionist super-state in Muslim-majority countries, unifying Muslims worldwide as one political bloc, or 'ummah'. [...] Inherent to HT's worldview is a clash between 'Western' and 'Islamic' civilisations. [...] Promoting democracy, for example, is seen as part of a Western conspiracy to weaken Islam. [...] HT actively seeks mass support for its Islamist revolution among Western Muslims. Party ideology commands them to oppose Western civilisation and to subvert their societies. All Western states are considered 'enemies' of Islam and potential land for HT's expansionist Islamist state via jihad. [...]

"Furthermore, the party denounces Muslim integration, forbids Muslims from voting in democratic elections and describes Muslims who call for human rights and democracy as apostates. [...] HT describes democracy as: '… (T)he political framework of the Capitalist thought…' [....] The party believes that Muslims who adopt democracy reject Allah as the sole legislator: 'For Muslims to adopt democracy means to disbelieve in all – may Allah forbid – the decisive evidences and conclusive evidences, (...) which oblige them to follow Allah and to reject any other law.' [...] Islam is a divinely-inspired political system and therefore superior to liberal democracy which is man-made."

Another CSC publication of possible interest in this context is "Virtual Caliphate: Islamic extremists and their websites" by James Brandon (January 2008).

The full text is available free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Abu Hamza described democracy as un-Islamic because it allows mankind to make laws which are not based on the Quran. [...] The Islambase website contains audio recordings of several of al-Faisal's sermons given prior to his imprisonment. One recording, [...] contains denunciations of democracy as shirk (idolatry) [....] Abu Uthman [...] attacks democracy as 'man-made law' and [...] urged his audience to struggle against western influences and to actively reject modern-day corruption such as democracy [....] 'Voting in Democratic Elections: The Islamic Ruling concerning its participation' by 'Abu Osama' [...] says that democracy is un-Islamic and that it is not permissible for Muslims to take part in any aspects of the democratic process [....] Democracy: A religion [...] is one of the most important modern works on jihad. The book seeks to persuade the reader that a Muslim who believes in democracy thereby makes himself a 'kuffar' or unbeliever. Those who support the 'man-made' system of democracy, Maqdisi says, should be killed".