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An Eastern outlook

| Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Western consensus with regard to how a country’s government should run places great emphasis on the value of representative democracy. In their eyes, some semblance of a democratic republic is the best way for a country to organize its governance. Monarchy is permissible, if and only if it is constitutional and the powers of the Sovereign are constrained to a purely ceremonial role. For several decades, Western powers have made exporting democracy a foreign policy priority, structuring the governments of their former colonies in the image and likeness of their own and going as far as militarily intervening in other nations in an attempt to install like-minded democratic regimes. This mentality, despite having been prevalent throughout the most part of the twentieth century, was perhaps the most prevalent toward the end of the Cold War and the turn of the Millennium during the beginning of the Global War on Terror. This mentality was perfectly encapsulated by President George W. Bush in his second inaugural address when he affirmed that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” This statement laid the groundwork for what became known as the Freedom Agenda, a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s foreign policy that sought to assist other nations in attempts to transform into more stable, democratic states.

The Western zeal with regard to exporting Democracy has generated great successes in the past, as the Allied Powers managed to transform West Germany and Japan into model democratic states after their defeat in the Second World War. However, it has brought about an equal if not greater amount of failures. Western interventions in other countries with the hopes of turning authoritarian regimes into civic-oriented democracies have failed spectacularly, and a quick gloss at the current state of Libya and Iraq will suffice. Afghanistan is perhaps the mother of all Western endeavors, as twenty years of fighting only resulted in a return of the status quo antebellum. Afghanistan is once again ruled by the Taliban, and NATO’s multi-trillion dollar attempt at nation-building failed spectacularly. 

Why does democracy tend to fail when installed in states with little to no experience in it? If people in the West managed to figure it out, then it is certain that people in other parts of the world will eventually come to decipher its inner workings in due course as well. Nowadays, as the West reaps the benefits of well-established democratic coexistence, it might be easy to overlook the painful path it took for these countries to get there. The road to the West’s current stability is paved with the remnants of coups and civil wars, and when the news tells stories of coups and civil wars throughout the world, it is because other countries did not have the luxury of paving their own path a century ago, and now must do so today. 

I believe that democracy can only work when there is a collective understanding of the rules we all ought to play by. Any breakdown of communication can and will result in a less than desirable outcome. A healthy democracy is not a starting point, but the endgame societies ought to work towards. 

My favorite class this semester is arguably Chinese Civilization and Culture, a requirement for my minor that is for all intents and purposes, a Chinese history class. Throughout the semester, Professor Yang has guided us through the story of the world’s oldest living civilization, exploring different currents of Chinese philosophy and political thought. As we learned about the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in the early twentieth century and the turbulent decades that followed, the arguments of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, considered to be the “Father of the Nation” by Taiwan and the “Forerunner of the Revolution” by Mainland China, provide insight into how democracies can be built in states with a weak democratic tradition. 

Dr. Sun Yat-sen believed that immediately transforming China’s form of government from an absolute monarchy into a Western-styled democracy would be disastrous, as millions of his compatriots did not have the slightest clue on how to live in one. In his “Fundamentals of National Reconstruction,” he outlined the Three Stages of Revolution, stating that China needed to go through a period of military rule, followed by one of political tutelage before reaching the constitutional period. Although these principles were unable to be applied in Mainland China as the country fell victim to a series of unfortunate events, the Nationalist Government in Taiwan built the country on the foundations of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s thoughts surrounding how to establish a well functioning democracy. Taiwan was effectively a one-party state as it navigated the first two stages of revolution, eventually transitioning into a constitutional democracy in the late 1980s. In 2021, the EIU ranked Taiwan as Asia’s top democracy, and the eighth strongest democracy in the world. Evidently, the Three Stages of Revolution worked marvels for Taiwan. In the span of a lifetime, they were able to transform two millennia of absolute monarchy into a democracy the United States ought to envy. 

The Western world’s push to expand democracy to all corners of the world is an admirable effort based on good intentions. However, an overreliance on military aggression and direct nation-building have rendered many of its efforts futile. Democracy cannot be turned on with the flick of a switch. Like a delicate orchid, it must be cultivated and cared for until it can mature. As the twenty-first century barrels on and democratic challenges linger, a change in approach is long overdue, better tailored to suit the realities of the nations of the world, and not the expectations of suited-up bureaucrats with a bad case of tunnel vision.  

Pablo Lacayo is a junior majoring in finance with a minor in Chinese. Originally from Nicaragua, he is now a happy resident of Stanford Hall. Reach him at [email protected] over email.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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