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What does it mean to live in a democracy around the world?

What does it mean to live in a democracy around the world?

Autor:

Simeon Mitropolitski, University of Ottawa, simeon.mitropolitski@gmail.com


ISSN: 1335-3608

Abstract

People around the world overwhelmingly support democracy and also in quite large numbers equate this political regime with the right to elect politicians in free elections, suggests the data from the most recent available wave of World Values Survey (WVS). These people, however, are not always equating democracy with free elections only. They may consider other attributes of democracy as important and even as essential for its good functioning. Finding this or these attributes represents the main goal of this paper. Beyond this universally accepted procedural minimalist definition of democracy, do people around the world interpret democracy in the same way? Is political culture providing additional signifiers that pluralize democracy to the point of blending different political regimes under the same semantic umbrella? This study gives affirmative answer to pluralistic understanding of democracy. It makes secondary analysis of WVS for all countries that provide data from the most recent 6th wave of survey (2010-2014). To begin with, it tests the level of correlation between democracy and some intuitively alternative forms of political system, among which most important are having a strong leader not having to bother with parliament and election; having experts, not government, make decisions; and having the army rule. The preliminary conclusion here is that it is impossible to find comprehensive solution to the research question for the entire world population. For this reason, methodologically, I divided the world into geographic cultural clusters of countries. The entire world population of 59 available countries thus falls into 5 clusters, each of which with sufficient number of cases to allow for bivariate statistical analysis: Latin America and Caribbean; Middle East and North Africa; Europe; Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); and the rest of Africa. In two of these regions, Latin America and Europe, people make quite clear distinction between democratic, military, autocratic and expert rule. Two other regions, Middle East and CIS, are suggesting an enlarged meaning of democracy, embracing elements of authoritarian rule. In addition to presenting democracy in its relation to other political regimes, the meaning of democracy may also be understood through its relation to some social and political attributes that have been presented for assessment within the WVS. I am especially interested in presenting democracy in relation to attributes that usually lie outside the liberal democratic theory, such as the opportunity of the governments to tax the rich and subsidize the poor; the possibility of religious authorities to interpret the laws; and the cases in which the army takes over the government because it is considered incompetent. Again, the findings suggest that there is no universal answer covering all regions. Dividing the world into geographic and cultural clusters unveils again hidden pieces of information regarding research question. As in the earlier stage, Latin America and Middle East stand above the other regions as far as the support for wealth redistribution is concerned as true representation of democracy. After presenting the raw findings, this study also discusses specific cases of enlarged meaning of democracy, e.g. the compatibility of democracy, on the one hand, and technocracy and autocracy, on the other hand, for the people living in North Africa and the Middle East; the compatibility of democracy, on the one hand, and the army rule and autocracy, for the people living in the CIS; the compatibility between the idea of democracy and the idea that governments should tax the rich and subsidize the poor, expressed by the people living in Latin America and Caribbean, in North Africa and the Middle East; and the compatibility between the idea of democracy and the idea that the religious authorities should interpret the laws, and that the army should take over when government is incompetent, mainly expressed by the people living in North Africa and the Middle East. Regarding the Middle East, the analysis reveals the special role of senior males in putting together different forms of government and making it responsible to the entire population, not always through the power of the ballot boxes but always through the symbolic power of the patriarchs. Regarding the CIS, the discussion answers the question by pointing at two types of personality, the alpha-males who admire army rule and autocracy because they represent the force, but also gender-neutral beta-types who look for strong Leviathan state for protection and for keeping comparative position in society. The discussion makes interesting distinction between Latin America and Middle East despite their common attachment to wealth distribution as a central symbol of democracy. If in Latin America democratically-minded people want to use the state because it symbolizes economic management, in the Middle East democratically-minded people want to integrate the state in its capacity of security provider. Regarding the last question, as expected, the compatibility between the idea of democracy and the idea that the religious authorities should interpret the laws in the Middle East can be explained by the strong positive role the religion plays in general social affairs. Sub-Sahara Africa, a region in its own league, represents completely different vision of politics, which is not based on the relatively autonomous state. For the people in this region the democracy makes sense as a bottom-up construction in which the central authority is but an ultimate level of organic development of local community, not a world of politics that stands apart from society. To wrap-up the main points, this study suggests that regional clusters of states may relate democracy to regimes that favor strong authoritarian leaders, army rulers, expert rulers and religious authorities with a final say in interpreting the laws. Clusters of countries may also relate democracy to centralized wealth redistribution and centralized security arrangements that respect local traditional authorities without necessarily respecting the liberal vision of democracy. Finally, democracy may refer to a political system without conceptual autonomy vis-à-vis local community.

Keywords

Democracy. Values. Survey. Culture. World.

Bibliografické informácie (sk)

MITROPOLITSKI, Simeon. What does it mean to live in a democracy around the world? Človek a spoločnosť [Individual and Society], 2016, roč. 19, č. 4, 86-100.

Bibliographic information

MITROPOLITSKI, Simeon. What does it mean to live in a democracy around the world? Človek a spoločnosť [Individual and Society], 2016, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 86-100.

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