Tim Hackler asks, Is democracy a natural state of mankind?, in a provocative editorial. He offers this:
Here is a thought experiment to put things in perspective. Imagine a map of the world in 1800. color in all the countries that took part in or were directly influenced by the Enlightenment (let us say, England, Scotland, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, the US, Canadian, and the Scandinavian countries).
Now jump forward two centuries and color in all the countries with working democracies (as defined by the Economist Intelligence Unit). It is virtually the same map. Every one of those 22 nations (or their derivatives) today has a working democracy. And how many countries have a fully functional democracy but were not among, or did not spring from, those 22 countries? Just one – Japan.
I completely agree that Enlightenment thinking is predecessor to democracy - or at the very least, it needs to be coincident with it. A particular way of thinking about the world based on reason and data is necessary as a foundation for one particular version of that - the use of reason and votes in the formulation of policy.
But as with the shark, context is often the least visible thing in the equation - yet it is crucial.
The whole notion of evolution, though, depends on context. The environment determines what works and what does not – natural selection is a slow but appropriate response to the environment. Without an environment, natural selection has no traction, no relevance. The finches immortalized by Darwin’s study were different from one another because the food they ate – their environment – was different.
It is likely no coincidence that the man who though he could kerplunk democracy down into Iraq without a context like Enlightenment thinking is a man who is disdainful of evolution. “Let there be democracy,” George declared, but to no avail. He was speaking into a void.
It is not bigotry to point out that different societies are at different stages of development. It says nothing about a 6 year old’s intelligence to suggest that she is not ready for college. It says nothing about Iraqi’s potential to say that the country is not ready for Western-style democracy.
At least 150,000 Iraqis have been killed since our invasion. About 4.2 million Iraqis have been displaced by the violence (a comparable percentage of the US population would equate to nearly 2 million dead Americans and 50 million American refugees.) Now, we've reached the milestone of 4,000 dead American soldiers.
Some brave souls continue to work on reviving the shark. It’s not obvious, though, what they can do without water. If you bring a shark into the forest, you can pretty much guarantee casualties. This, more than anything else, will be George Bush’s legacy. When future generations talk about his lack of environmental awareness, they could just as easily be talking about his foreign policy as his energy policy.