Comments: Is Democracy too much work?

I admit to my students that Latin American history is something of a blur to me, that it never really interested me because the issues are so different from the issues which I address in my main areas of interest. I've gotten better at it over the last few years, as I survey the textbooks and read my students' essays and learn to listen to the news more carefully. But it ought to be a required subject, in depth and with high standards, for anyone thinking of involving themselves or their country in foreign policy.

I think the short answer to the question "where did they get the idea that democracy would solve their problems?" is: "from us." We've been pushing them hard in that direction (when we haven't been supporting anti-communist fascist thugs) and arguing from the example of our own experience that democracy and development are linked phenomena, and that the institutions of democracy naturally create the culture of democracy (which also creates the culture of investment and development) without any other intervening cultural development. We've been telling them this for years.

Posted by Jonathan Dresner at April 23, 2004 03:08 PM

Implicit in my remarks, but probably not implicit enough, was much the same thought. I know very little about Latin American history and I should know more.

I've commented on our "say one thing, act another way" foreign policy before and would like to discuss it in more depth but, again, a knowledge of Latin American politics and our history of involvement would be necessary.

You bring up some good points that I hadn't thought of. Like the relationship between the "institutions" of democracy and the "culture" of democracy. There's a world of complexity in that idea.

I suspect you're right and it's never been our (foreign) policy to discuss the potential pitfalls and detours of starting a democracy.

Posted by Anne at April 23, 2004 04:31 PM

They've had what, 10, 12 years of being allowed to run their own countries for their own benefit after spending a good bit of the Cold War as proxy-war pawns, and the prior centuries as sporadicaly sovereign colonies - mainly alternating between political/military subserviance and economic subservience.

They haven't had much chance to own their countries and economies. Under the circumstances, they are doing astoundingly well.

Civil wars that killed tens of thousands and seemed unsolvable have evaporated. Economies based on theft and corruption have been replaced by economies tainted by theft and corruption. Domination by thugs posing as govornments has been replaced by govornments troubled by thuggery.

Lots of problems, lots of work to be done. But now it is being done.

Posted by Mike at April 29, 2004 11:07 AM

It is, and I don't doubt that democracy can eventually become successful in those countries. But there's a serious possibility that people are going to tire of waiting for it - that they've been, as previously discussed, sold a bill of goods.

Also, for the record, I consider much of what's happening in Latin America today to be much more than regimes "tainted" with corruption.

Posted by Anne at April 29, 2004 12:43 PM