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Question: What were the key findings of the Empire and Democracy Project?

 

Andrew Kuper: What we found was that unilateral attempts to promote democracy and of course retrospectively this is proof true are generally ineffective. That it requires not only multilateral stakeholders at the global level but really a multilevel approach that starts from the grass roots right up to the grass tips. I had written my PhD on democracy, promotion and restructuring democracy globally called, “Democracy Beyond Borders,” eventually and what the fundamental insight there is that globally we need a balance of power so that people check and balance one another, we’re not going to be able to have global elections and the like but as you’ll notice within states, one of the profound mechanisms for maintaining democracy and promoting diversity of voices and accountability is the division of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. And what I had tried to show was that you could have a similar balancing of powers at a global level between nonprofit states, corporations, local communities and so on. And that we needed to think much more in terms of this multilayered approach to governance and multi stakeholder approach to governance.

Now, what the Empire and Democracy Project did was it took it to a new level, we worked with Joseph Stiglitz, Mary Robinson, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Richard Goldstein, Aryeh Neier [IB] in this field talking about their particular areas of expertise and trying to bring those together.

So, Joseph Stiglitz looking at what kind of economic mechanisms within countries would promote democracy and so forth. And we came to a number of interesting conclusions, I would say the most important among them and this is interesting in the year of Obama is that you do have to do it all at once.

You can’t simply say, “Oh, we’ll do it militarily or we’ll do it economically,” and people who are reductionists in that way, I think, has a very implausible view of how you truly build democracy.

I’m South-African and I can tell you from both from just pre the end of apartheid period and the post apartheid period, it’s been absolutely central that there’d be all sorts of development in the media, in government, in the legislative and executive branch in the judiciary across all this different levels.

And that’s part of the success of the new democracy that is South-African, if you look at other successful democracies, that’s also the case. So the major lesson is avoid reductionism, use multiple stakeholders and not just on different levels but of different types that are able to check and balance one another.

 

Question: Should the U.S. be aggressively promoting democracy?

 

Andrew Kuper: I think there’s a very big distinction between promoting democracy and imposing democracy. I’m deeply skeptical of Asian autocrats or African or Latin American or for that matter, anywhere else who say, “I know the will of the people,” and when someone tries to encourage woman to have the vote or trust to create a scenario where people can speak out their infringing on our values. I think that’s profoundly implausible because you’re infringing on the autocrat’s values, you don’t even know what the people’s values are at that point.

So to be clear, what I’m suggesting is that we promote democracy.

Promoting democracy involves giving people a voice, it doesn’t involve arriving with your own system and telling them what to vote for, it involves encouraging the creating of systems that allow for people to be heard, to elect their own representatives, and to have those representatives be held accountable for when they fail.

And let me tell you a few reasons why this is so important, never mind if things go fantastically, let’s talk about if things go very badly, what [IB], who was my PhD supervisor, his study show is that there has not been mass famines in democracies, there has been mass famines in autocracies. So while you do have long nourishment and terrible situations in India the reality is since it became a democracy, you have not had a mass famine. In China, you have a series of famines over the years and in several other countries that are autocratic countries, now why is that? Well, it’s quite a simple and intuitively plausible reason, where millions of people are starving, that democratic leaders tend to get voted out, they failed in a profound way and they will be replaced by someone who tries to take action on this desperately or they will be thrown out, that is not the case with an autocrat.

The autocrats, the people starve, it makes them less effective at protesting, they’re hungry often, it makes them less able often to take action, sure it sometimes leads to them to take action but fundamentally the autocrat looks to the military to support them. Now, those are two very different systems so if you want. Democracy doesn’t secure all the best things in the world but what it does help you protect against is the worst and it does give people a voice.

 

Recorded on: May 1, 2009

 

 

More from the Big Idea for Monday, August 01 2011

 

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