The power and persistence of democracy

FP has a list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers for 2009, which is interesting through. I enjoyed this description of #58 and one of my favorite economists, Amartya Sen:
Sen is that rarest of hybrids -- "the only recent or living economist who takes philosophy seriously," in the words of Martha Nussbaum (No. 93). Taking his cue from such diverse figures as Karl Marx and Adam Smith (whom he hails as an underappreciated moral philosopher), Sen earned a Nobel Prize in economics in 1998 for his groundbreaking insight: Food scarcity doesn't kill people; bad governments do. Central to his thinking is the concept of "capabilities" -- the idea that it is not just the distribution of resources in a society that matters, but the ability of its members to make informed choices about the use of those resources and to punish leaders who fail them. [emphasis mine]
Sen's emphasis on the power of democracy is interesting when juxtaposed with the career-establishing claim of #65, Francis Fukuyama, that the spread of liberal democracy is inevitable:
The foreign-policy world can be pretty cleanly split into two groups: those who passionately agree with "The End of History," and those who passionately disagree. Fukuyama's seminal work came out 20 years ago, but its central conclusion -- that liberal democracy will supplant other political ideologies as the dominant paradigm of the 21st century [emphasis mine] -- remains the crucial issue of the day. With Moscow and Beijing flexing their global muscles and the recession driving Western democracies inward, Fukuyama's thesis might seem in doubt, but he's still making the case. "I am still fairly confident that democratic systems are the only viable ones," he told Newsweek. This year, Fukuyama joined in debates about the future of Iran -- arguing, against conventional wisdom, that it may be possible for the Islamic Republic to "evolve towards a genuine rule-of-law democracy," even while allowing for continued strong clerical influence.
It's hard to win the debate over whether democracy will prevail (I suspect it will remain a debate for decades). One con argument that I enjoyed was made by #66 Robert Kagan in The Return of History and the End of Dreams, which basically opposes Fukuyama’s thesis (a point not captured by FP, which only notes that he “calls for the creation of a "league of democracies" to promote political liberalization and human rights globally”).

Personally, I'm skeptical of seemingly fatalistic or starry-eyed arguments that democracy will prevail, and I'm also skeptical of the dogmatic faith that liberal democracy is the only effective way to govern, particularly from an economic perspective (see: China).

No comments:

Post a Comment