Spreading Democracy

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The desire for freedom lies in all people and people of all cultures can establish a democracy, but there have to be some prerequisites in place for it to succeed and there are some barriers to be overcome.

Doubt about "the others" being suitable for democracy

For as long as democracy has existed, there have also been those among debating circles in democratic countries who have questioned whether certain other peoples were even capable of democracy. One's own culture has been regarded as particularly democratically suitable in preference to other cultures, instead of regarding freedom and democracy as universal human phenomena.

At one time, it was the Germans who were regarded by the other Europeans and the Americans as congenitally unfit for democracy; at another time, it was the Japanese. Nowadays, it is mostly Muslims who, in the Western debate, are considered unfit, funnily enough mainly by priests and other conspicuously Christian debaters.

It has turned out that Germans are excellent democrats and the same applies to the Japanese. There are forces in both countries that oppose democracy, but that is so for all democracies. There is therefore nothing in either the German or the Japanese "national psyche" that prevents democracy. At the same time, there are both uniquely German and uniquely Japanese cultures that have not been eroded or otherwise damaged by democracy - on the contrary, both are flourishing. Why should it then be different for Arabic, Iranian, Afghan or other Muslim cultures? Or for Russian, Chinese and African cultures?

Turkey is both Turkish and Muslim, while still being a democracy. The democratic teething troubles in Turkey are no different than those in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy; they are just 30 - 60 years later.

There is no-one in Europe who believes, for example, that the Russians are not suitable for democracy. There are no repeated allegations that the Russian people's psyche is something that prevents democracy or that it is actually the Russian Orthodox Church that is to blame for democracy in Russia being undermined time and again. Instead, it is considered a manifestation of the political and economic circumstances when democracy doesn't succeed.

This is the same in all other places where liberty, equality and democracy do not manage to take hold; some people prevent other people from sharing in power. They can use either historical or religious arguments or conspiracy theories as an excuse, but there are no people that are born more democratic and with more of a desire for freedom than others. The desire for freedom exists in every human being and democracy can be awakened in every culture.

How can democracy be spread?

How then can democracy, freedom and equality be spread in concrete terms? Military power doesn’t work - or does it?

Germany and Japan are interesting examples.

Germany already had a tenuous democratic tradition when it was democratised in the wake of World War II. There was also an intellectual tradition, a well-educated population, an education system and an administration which the Allied victors of the war could build upon. There were a number of social institutions that could continue. At the same time, Germany was already a part of the Allies’ cultural sphere, and the Americans in particular were specifically aware that the errors of the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I, in which Germany had been turned into Europe's scapegoat, should not be repeated. Moreover, the Americans gave Marshall Aid to a bomb-flattened Europe, hoping to stimulate development in both Europe and the USA.

Democracy in Germany was thus built up along with their economy; it didn't come about as a break with the prevailing German culture or with the social order.

Japan had been undergoing extensive industrialisation since the late 19th century, but the form of government was a military dictatorship with a divine emperor at the top. In practice, however, the emperor was without influence. When Japan surrendered after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and he spoke to the nation on the radio, it was the first time ever that the Japanese people had heard their emperor speak.

The Americans were alone in staying in Japan and got going with formulating a constitution, just as they did in Germany, but they left the emperor in place, because they didn't want to offend the Japanese and make them hostile to the democratisation process. Furthermore, they retained the administrative tradition and part of its structure, but they had to twist some arms within the system to force democracy through. The form of government was thus changed but was built on the existing culture and administration. From an economic and technological point of view, the country was already modern and efficient, so even though the Americans didn't put as much money into Japan as they did into Europe, the Japanese still experienced a rapid increase in prosperity which gave them confidence in the new regime.

So it was a military invasion that led to the establishment of democracy in both countries, but it was accompanied by economic prosperity, and - equally important - the existing administration was used as the foundation and the regime which was replaced had not previously been created or supported by the invading power. In contrast, before the U.S. led invasion of Iraq and to some extent in Afghanistan, the regimes which were overthrown had received a degree of US support.


Industrialisation is important for democracy. Industrialisation does not automatically bring democratisation, as the Soviet Union, China, the Third Reich and 19th century Japan illustrate clearly, but a durable democratisation has not yet taken place without industrialisation.

Industrialisation has the effect on a society of getting people to move away from their home districts to where the work is. This relocation means that the old power structures lose their effectiveness and legitimacy. Instead, new groupings of people are formed and they start getting together in new communities with new power structures. In addition, ideas and experiences are exchanged which people have to relate to. Furthermore, industrialisation brings about a change in the economy.

The traditional political spectrum in the West is based on an industrial economy with a wage earner group on one wing and an investor and/or employer group on the other wing. At the time when industrialisation was taking place in the West, employees and investors were both connected to the same economy. In other words, the investments benefited the local economy when the dividends were paid out. Whatever the industry moguls chose to spend their profits on, the money was not taken out of the country, and out of the economy, but was put back into circulation in the same economy. When the Western democracies were created, and when the German and Japanese democracies came into being in the 1940s, capital and labour, along with the electing and electable populations, were therefore all within the same area and within the same economy, so the political issues revolved around how the money in society should be spent. Democracy thus came to be a question of a range of economic and social issues, which were based on how society should distribute the profits that arose from some people investing and others working. There was actually something to negotiate and vote on.

In a globalised economy, where money is seeping in and out across national borders, the conditions are fundamentally different.

Lack of industry

The same applies to countries with oil or other natural resources which can be sold unprocessed. In these countries, there is no incentive to make a start on industrialisation. Those who are already in power can earn enough to keep a country running militarily and economically without involving the people. This applies to Russia, most of the Middle East and large parts of Africa.

For the same reason, a political theory has now arisen which says that the degree of democracy is inversely proportional to the oil deposits, even though there can easily be a lack of democracy without oil, of course.

One possible solution to this problem would be to find real, preferable renewable alternatives to oil. This would make the leaders of the current oil countries dependent on their populations and would also solve a major pollution problem.

So can democracy be spread to the entire planet?

Absolutely. There just has to be something real to vote on in the new democracy and, if a superpower has been keeping the old regime in power, then it will have to win the people's confidence before it invades militarily. Anything else is an insult to people's intelligence. In addition, the local economy should be boosted so that people feel real benefits with the new regime.

The prerequisites for democracy in Europe were mutually recognised borders, economic development, education, a broad middle class, and religion having no political influence. As regards the democratisation of the rest of the world, there is little reason to believe that it should be otherwise. The democracy that is going to ensure people their freedom and security needs to be recognised by its surroundings and actually have an economy to work with.

Next chapter: The Opportunities of Civilizations