Posts tagged ‘bob marley’

November 10, 2011

How To: Democracy

by nkwilczy

A Professor today, towards the end of a class which had predominantly featured the Frontline Special “The Long Walk of Nelson Mandella” asked us how democracy could be “taught” to people inexperienced in its practice.

The words, though I know he did not mean them in such an abrasive way, struck me as thick in Western thoughts of cultural superiority; I had this vision of unwashed masses beseeching the wisdom of a “more experienced” people. I saw Kipling, and he asked me to share his burden.

But I know my Rousseau, so I tried to explain that a government of any sort, and especially a democracy, if it is to succeed it has to be tailored to the needs and customs of the people who practice it. Greek democracy did not look like German democracy, does not look like American democracy, and none of these look like Japanese, Brazilian, or Swedish democracy.

So I tried to go into details, about how you have to know the nuances of a culture, that the concepts must be translated into their intellectual pantheon building on what these hypothetical unwashed masses already know and believe. Most of all, that if what you seek to impose on these masses is an idea formulated by foreign academics without popular support, then what does democracy even really mean? It must build on the democratic tendencies of the culture and seek to combat the harmful civic tendencies, or else it fails to incorporate the ideas of the governed and fails primae facie to be a democracy.

Like many things I say, no one seemed to understand.

So, after a few moments of awkward silence he ended the class with the question, “Well, who would want the job of teaching these emerging countries about democracy.”

No one raised their hand and I was not surprised, it is hard enough to teach people in the United States about democracy.

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