Someone once said that the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. Maybe that should be a "wise" benevolent dictatorship. What is implied is that leadership is required for effective government. When we speak of democracy, we sometimes think of a "pure" democracy where all issues are subjected to a vote by the general public. The founders of our country wisely saw the need for leadership and instituted a representative form of democracy rather than a pure democracy.
On the surface, it seems simple to set up a democracy. Just give everyone the right to vote. This may be democracy but it also may be a short lived democracy. Any form of government must have some stability for it's continued existence. But many types of government have stability. The promise of democracy is that citizens will have a voice in the government. This complicates matters. A series of requirements have been proposed by various writers as prerequisites for a stable functional democracy.
Doyle and Fakayama - These two students of democracy adopted standards which state that a "liberal democracy" must have a market economy, a representative government, and a system to maintain judicial rights. A chronology of modern democratic governments was created using these criteria. Figure 1 shows how democracy has expanded world wide since our country was founded. In 1790 only the United States, France, and Switzerland had democracies. France has backed away from democratic rule twice since then: once in the early 1800's, and again during World War II. Several other European countries also lost democratic rule in the 1940's. By 1990, however, all of Europe, Central and South America, and many of the Asian and African countries were democratic.
Samuel Huntingdon - Huntingdon used a procedural definition of democracy. He said that in a democratic government, decision makers are selected in periodic elections in which all candidates freely compete for votes and virtually all the adult popultion is eligible to vote. Huntingdon believed that, historically, democratization has occurred in waves with occasional reversions to authoritarianism.
Tatu Vanhamen - Vanhamen emphasized education, occupational diversification, and wide distribution of ownership of agricultural land as necessary preconditions for democracy. He also had a unique way of quantifying how much democracy is present within a country. He postulated an "index of democratization" or ID. This was computed by the following equation:
ID = Competition x Participation/100
Vanhamen was confident enough in his ideas concerning the necessary preconditions for democracy that, in 1984, he risked his reputation by making a prediction. Before it was evident to others, he predicted that because of rising economic and educational trends in a variety of countries "we have to expect a corresponding rise in the number of democracies." His prediction was later found to be true.
Although the number of democracies in 1990 had grown to 61, we have seen some slippage. Russia, for example, has not been able to stabilize under a democratic system. The country is being run by a favored few that have developed close relations with the ruling leader. Crime and corruption have become the easiest way for individuals to prosper. Although Russia did not produce a decent standard of living for it's citizens under communism, neither has she reaped the promised benefits of democracy. Doesn't democracy produce prosperity?
Things are not that simple. As we have noted above, before a democracy can be stable and productive, several prerequisites must be satisfied. Educational and judicial institutions must be set up. A market economy often precedes the transition to democracy and is as important as the right to vote. Such an economy allows each person a myriad of choices that democracy alone can not provide. Superimposed over the top of all this there must be a constitution that defines the role of government and has checks and balances to prevent domination by power hungry groups and individuals.
All of these prerequisites cannot be implemented overnight. It requires a rather extended evolutionary process to get all the pieces working together and functioning properly. To those who suggest that we can "give" another country democracy, we must respectfully demur. Democracy is not a gift - it must be earned.