I stumbled upon a piece by Francis Fukuyama recently that basically confirmed something I’ve been nagging about for some time: democracy is not a cause, but instead, a consequence of a well-arranged and developed society.
There is strikingly little evidence that current donor and NGO efforts to promote good governance through increasing transparency and accountability have had a measurable impact on state performance. The theory that there should be a correlation between the increased availability of information about government performance and the quality of final government outputs rests on a number of heroic assumptions—that citizens will care about poor government performance (as opposed to being content to benefit from practices like ethnic-based patronage); that they are capable of organizing politically to put pressure on the government; that the country’s political institutions are ones that accurately transmit grassroots sentiment to politicians in ways that make the latter accountable; and finally, that the government actually has the capacity to perform as citizens demand.
The actual history of the relationship between state modernity and democracy is far more complicated than the contemporary theory suggests. (…) The sequence by which democracy and state modernity were established has determined the long-term quality of government. Where a modern state has been consolidated before the extension of the franchise, it has often succeeded in surviving into modern times; where the democratic opening preceded state reform, the result has often been widespread clientelism.
Francis Fukuyama: Why is Democracy Performing so Poorly?, Journal of Democracy, January 2015
To try to extrapolate and extend this theory into practical examples, what it basically says is that not only you can’t push a community into a modern era by “inoculating” it with democracy and expect that everything else will sort itself out, but, even worse, deterioration of other aspects of an already advanced society – education, economy, social consciousness – should, by definition, also cause a decline in the level of democracy.
Approaching this from another angle, it also leads to conclusion that democracy is not really a crucial point in civilizational development, removing it from the pedestal of a Holy Cow, something that is Not To Be Doubted Nor Questioned. Instead, it turns out to be only a symptom, an added touch for show of an advanced community, but not something that, in itself, is the source of this community’s superiority.
To put it bluntly, if you live in a society where people are stupid, poor and don’t care about anything, turning this society into a democratic one isn’t really going to make things better. Also, when living in a society whose democracy is threatened, maybe you don’t defend it it by defending the democracy, but instead, by defending the foundations that support it.