Saturday, March 03, 2007

Fashioning Democracy

A democracy cannot be fashioned out of whatever people happen to be around in a given region; it cannot be promoted from outside by strangers; and it may still be impossible when attempted from inside by determined natives. Just as life on the earth depended on a particular coming together of unrelated factors, so a cluster of disparate elements and conditions is needed for a democracy to be born viable. Among these conditions one can name tradition, literacy, and a certain kind of training in give-and-take, as well as the sobering effect of national disaster — France in 1870 and Germany in 1945. The most adaptable of peoples, the Japanese, took a century to approximate Western democracy, aided no doubt by the harsh tutelage which followed a grievous defeat. And another people might have taken these same experiences the other way, as spurs to resist change.

— Jacques Barzun, Is Democratic Theory for Export? (1.5MB pdf file)



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