Friday, July 4, 2008

Foundations of Democracy

Back in 1883, Alexander de Toqueville noted that "Municipal institutions constitute the strength of free nations. Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people's reach, they teach men how to use and enjoy it. A nation may establish a free government, but without municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty." (Democracy in America, Vol 1, Chapter V) Maybe this is why democracy often doesn't export well: it has to grow from the ground up rather than be imposed from above. Instead of creating a democratic national government in a country with no history of civic involvement, maybe the best starting point is in the villages, where people can learn the basics with things they understand and people they know. Once they are comfortable with that, then democracy can flow upwards. More likely, it is best to start at both ends at once; but leaving warlords in charge of village would seem to be a prescription for democracy's failure.

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