February 22, 2011

A Re-imagined World

Democracy Index according to the EIU. Click the picture for source.
At some point after fire started reigning down from the sky on patriots marching for freedom in Libya, it became readily apparent that the United States and Europe haven't adjusted to the new world order. The foreign policies of nations like the United States, Britain, France, and Germany are still based on reactions to the fall of European colonialism and the Cold War. The western powers (and it's people) tend to have this sort of hubris that only "we" can handle democracy.

While this belief is tinged with racist overtones it is also a reflection of how long it took us to achieve a working form of democracy. People tend to forget that although the American Revolution started in 1776, not everyone was allowed to vote until 1964. It's also easy to forget that only 65 years ago Western Europe nearly destroyed itself before it found it's path to freedom. People standing in line to sign up for Social Security benefits today were born into a time where freedom and democracy were anything but certain. In a single lifetime, Japan and Germany went from being two of the most militaristic societies in human history to peaceful nations in which the idea of authoritarian rule seems unfathomable.

Despite the incredibly rapid growth of democracy in the "developed" world, the leaders of the west have only stood on the side of the people when it was economically beneficial for them to do so. We had no problem with tyranny in Iran and Iraq until the oil stopped flowing. We had no qualms about funding military coups in South America, that brutally murdered thousands, to keep out the Soviets and give us cheap fruit. Why are we so hesitant to embrace the ideals of our founding fathers that are manifesting themselves in the rest of the world as we speak? What happened to that good old American optimism? Are we just worried about the skeletons in our closet coming back to haunt us?

The old (false) moral justification for colonialism was that these countries need to be kept in check with a strong hand because they aren't capable of ruling themselves. Whenever I turn on the news I still hear these sentiments. "Sure Mubarak was bad, but what if the next guy is worse?" They all point to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as the prime example for being cautious about supporting revolution. People seem to think that Iran turned so anti-west just because of where the country is located, or that they just don't understand freedom. The people of Iran turned against us because we stood on the side of their oppressor. We can't side with bad people and then expect good people to side with us. When we refuse to side with the people looking to overthrow their dictator the results will end up like they did in Iran.

The march towards democracy, universal human rights and peace is not a pipe dream, it is inevitable. In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to allow all adult citizens to vote. In less than 120 years since, about half of the world's population (according to here) has at least some say in how they are governed. Authoritarian rule is quickly becoming a thing of the past and we need to start planning for it. Only a lifetime ago, peace in Europe seemed as unbelievable as peace in the Middle East seems today. If we stand on the right side of history, as we did then, there is no reason to believe that we can't make as much progress in our lifetimes. It's not a matter of if we all become free, it's a matter of when.


  1. "something that we learn from history is that we never learn from history"

  2. The march towards democracy has always been peaceful... right? Right?

    Cue French Revolution... Every War from 1774-Civil War in the United States, and not to mention the various atrocities that were fueled by racism.

    Ah, yes.

    I hate watching the news. They're so unintentionally bigoted.

  3. some great points - I see some kind of parallels between what's going on in the Middle East now and Europe in 1848. But the revolutions in the Middle East are coming more quickly than in Europe, probably because of the Internet

  4. Yeah I'm rooting for those under the thumb of despots, dictators, and tyrants. I hope they get their "freedom" -- maybe they can even outdo us Westerns and have actual democracy not the semblance of democracy heavily steeped in capitalism.

  5. very good words. i was watching the news and them worrying about 'the stock market' because of oil reserves and could just imagine all the a-holes out there worried that those doggone kids are gonna screw up their stocks because they're trying to overthrow khadafi (or however the latest spelling of his name is).

  6. I long for the audible comment as my all caps THANK YOU just isn't loud enough.

    I also took note that we aren't even the "greenest" on your map.

  7. a truly interesting graph/post.


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