Thursday, February 09, 2006

what democracy requires?

time article from last week about "bringing democracy" to other places and why it succeeds and fails.

i've often been curious about this and am not nearly enough of a political scientist/ historian to know.

but here is what joe klein says:

It is common wisdom among serious democracy advocates that there are preconditions for successful representative government. There must be a solid middle class; there must be the rule of law and freedom of speech. But a more elusive human quality is necessary as well: a drastic change of public sensibility from passivity toward active engagement. In a place like Iraq--or the former Soviet Union--passivity was a survival mechanism. The best way to live with a tyrant like Saddam was to draw as little notice to yourself as possible. A Russian friend once told me that he was taught as a child never to smile in public. You never knew when a smile might be interpreted the wrong way.

Democracy requires the exact opposite. It demands that people take charge of their lives and make informed decisions. That takes time, the careful accumulation of the habits of citizenship.

i really like this. i don't know that i've thought through all of the implications or, again, have enough knowledge to agree or disagree. but i like it.

i also think it has implications for our current political situation given the fact that all people think is required to be a citizen is to check that box/ pull that lever every year (or two or four).


At 1:41 PM GMT-5, Blogger gtfhwzk said...

I never smile in public. Perhaps I was secretly raised in the former Soviet Union.... That would explain a lot.

At 1:46 PM GMT-5, Blogger dlamming said...

If nothing else, I think democracy requires a mindset in which people are encouraged to complain - not just the whining I do on a daily basis, but to their representatives on various levels, friends and neighbors, and so forth. I'm pretty sure that in the places Klein mentions, complaining is a big no-no.

Of course, complaining only does so much, especially in a society with lifelong senators and gerrymandered districts.

At 5:09 PM GMT-5, Blogger catswym said...

well, you are russian, no?

and i think, dlamming, that you are specifically presenting one scenario of "active participation".

At 10:13 AM GMT-5, Blogger gtfhwzk said...

Yes, but Lexington is a long way from St. Petersburg.


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