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Jan 5, 2005 9:52 am

Moving Toward Democracy?

As we near the long-awaited"democratic elections" in Iraq, amidst growing violence across that country, much more attention is being given to the"nation-building" enterprise. In the current Winter 2004-2005 issue of Political Science Quarterly, Eva Bellin's essay,"The Iraqi Intervention and Democracy in Comparative Historical Perspective," offers some very insightful commentary.

Bellin begins with appropriate questions:"Is military occupation likely to be the midwife of democracy? Can democracy be imposed by force from the outside?" Since this is the"assumption driving America's intervention in Iraq and posited as a potential new pillar of ambition for U.S. foreign policy elsewhere," Bellin thinks the time is ripe for a thorough historical investigation of this strategy as a means to an end.

Many nation-builders point to Germany and Japan, for example. Clearly,"indigenous 'authoritarian' culture ... need not be an insurmountable obstacle to implanting democracy." Bellin understands, however, that"Germany and Japan began with a set of endowments, many of them anticipated by democratic theory, but others peculiar to the cases' unique historical context and time, that favored democratic outcomes." Bellin states unequivocally:"These endowments are not replicated in Iraq ..." Showing an almost Hayekian flair in her understanding of the role of unintended consequences, Bellin writes:

Historical experience suggests that although military occupation may increase the likelihood of democratization, and wise policy choices certainly improve its chances, the outcome is largely shaped by factors, both domestic and international, that cannot be controlled by military engineers operating within the confines of current cultural norms and conventional limits of time and treasure.

Whereas Iraq has never developed into a truly"advanced industrialized country," Germany and Japan were"highly industrialized countries with developed economies" prior to the Second World War, needing a major infusion of financial capital after the war. Democracies rarely endure in poorly developed countries like Iraq, which have also had few"prior experiences" with representative models. Moreover, unlike Iraq,"Japan and Germany were relatively homogeneous ethnically.""Nation building" becomes far more possible in countries where the population has a firmer"national identity" and"social solidarity." To a certain extent, that lack of"national identity" is what enabled Saddam Hussein to divide-and-rule. The Hussein regime, lacking any rule-bound state institutions, learned to exploit the social divide among Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish, in order to retain power in Iraq."Deliberate state practice of privilege and prejudice meted out along primordial lines fueled suspicion and distrust among the different communities of Iraqi society."

Bellin understands that"the rule of force" in Iraqi society has become endemic to political institutions there. It is part of the political culture as such."As a consequence, there are few institutional remnants or habits of mind ... to draw upon to help build democracy in Iraq." With no party institutions, except those rooted in" cliques of ethnic or religious elites," and with no genuine leaders of truly"national stature" (such as Emperor Hirohito in Japan) granting their imprimatur, the quest for"vibrant democracy" is severely hampered.

The article is not available free to readers, but can be ordered online here.

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Max Swing - 1/7/2005

There are at least some liberal traditions in Germany (although Germany was always very statist) like Max Weber or as a party (I know this is a difficult issue for Libertarians) the FDP. Their roots are in the South-West, where the first constitutional state of Germany Baden had been around 1848. So, yes, there were liberal traditions and the US government or the British government tried to use them. For example in the British zone around Cologne, there was a lot of laissez-faire capitalism, which vanished when the German parliamant was assembled and started passing restrictive rules.

So, yes, there were some liberal elements in Germany, rather more than in Iraq.
I'd also like to point out that by 1919 women had the right to vote, which was the first time in europe women were regarded to do such a thing..

All these incidents draw a picture that is entirely different from Iraq or even Japan, so we couldn't even compare Japan and Germany as examples.

Max Swing - 1/7/2005

And if we remember Germany, then we should also remember that it took four years before there were something like a solitary state, but still the allied powers did not want a constitutional Germany by then. It took Germany until 1990 with the 4-2 treaty to get their state in paper.
So, how long would it take in Iraq? while Germany was relatively peaceful after the war, we have a hostile environment in Iraq. We had (at least in the population) common ideals and values between the Unitd States and some of the population of Germany. We have a lot less here in Iraq with a completely different culture and ideology to begin with...

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 1/6/2005

I don't think that Bellin is arguing (nor am I) that the liberal remnants are the "major explanatory factor." I think she's saying that it takes a combination of factors: industrialization (and we might add: a growing middle class), some prior institutional experience with procedural democracy, homogeneous culture and ethnicity, and so forth.

You are right about the apocalyptic nature of the Japanese and German defeat, which shook the respective people's faith in their own institutions. Of course, the victory of WW 2 was so overwhelming that it eliminated all of the Axis powers, and, thus, destroyed any potential Axis allies in the postwar period from interfering with the restructuring of Japan or Germany. The same dynamic is not at work in the Middle East.

Theocracy of any sort, including Islamic fundamentalist theocracy, seeks to destroy the distinction between civil society and state. Some sort of civil society is required for the defeat of statism. But the delicate forces that forge civil society can't be imposed on a country by writ. I think that this last point is one of the central themes of Bellin's article.

Jason Pappas - 1/6/2005

Was liberalism a potent force in Germany and Japan? After WWI, it virtually disappeared as a cultural force. The history in the 50 year period leading up to WWII shows statism competing against other types of statism. To credit the liberal remnants in Germany and Japan for the overwhelming change in direction of the post-war societies borders on "cultural homeopathy". Having been touched by liberal elements in the past but having them diluted to minute proportions isn’t solid grounds for a liberal revival.

Perhaps we should consider the other theory in circulation. Japan and German reached apocalyptic levels of destruction giving rise to a crisis in faith and the willingness to accept foreign terms (fairly liberal in West Germany but Communist in East Germany).

We haven’t and shouldn’t prepare Iraq for democracy via similar total means. Surgical removal of Iraq’s core management leaves the population unchanged in their worldview.

Or consider something worse. Western style fascism has failed while the indigenous religious/political ideology – Islam – has yet to be tried in the minds of Arabs. There is no crisis of faith. Indeed, faith is seen as the alternative to the secularist/statist failures of the recent past. Islam hasn’t lead to devastating military defeat.

I’m agreeing that the differences between Japan/Germany and Iraq are profound but I’m not sure the central element was the strong liberal traditions in the former rather than the total and apocalyptic defeat or one of the many other factors. I'm just not convinced Japan’s and Germany’s liberal history is the major explanatory factor. Are you?

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 1/6/2005

Personally speaking, I don't think so at all. I would simply say that the German and Japanese models were historically specific and cannot be compared to the Iraqi canvas. And, quite frankly, I don't believe the US should be painting on the Iraqi canvas or any other canvas for that matter. Postwar situations demand stabilization, but there is a distinct difference between stabilizing and fashioning a new body politic. That kind of thing just can't be "imposed" from without.

Sudha Shenoy - 1/6/2005

Are we saying that Germany & Japan provided good canvases for US foreign policy to paint on, but the Iraqi canvas is definitely not usable?

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 1/5/2005

Surely, the issue of the Enlightenment is indispensable to consider when focusing on the issue of the Middle East. But focusing strictly on "religion" per se tends to obscure the fact that the Nazis, for example, embraced all of the elements of occult and cult worship, worship of the charismatic leader and the secular "religion" of racial-blood ties. And in Japan, sworn allegiance to the Emperor-as-deity played a fierce role---though, in all honesty, the kamikaze pilots were not, strictly speaking, "suicide bombers." Those pilots were welded into their cockpits.

Still: "Religious" overtones can be found in virtually all forms of statism, whether they be Islamic-fundamentalist, Nazi, Communist, or otherwise.

Max Swing - 1/5/2005

One thing I am concerned with is, whether religion or better the absence of a dogmatic statist religion, a point that spoke in favor of Germany, since if we take all other points aside, religion and especially theocracies are still at large in the Middle East. So, it'd be interesting if this also played a part in WW II follow-up democratisation.
Perhaps I am wrong on this, but they never experienced something like an Age of Enlightment, where such ideals could develop against rigid religion and theocracy.