Western Institutions: Should They Be Exported?

Democracy, liberalism, free markets: all concepts that we regard highly in the West. They are products of our historical and political tradition and they are surely seen as fundamental instruments in the toolkit for future problems and uncertainties. But sometimes we tend to forget exactly this, that they are instruments, not ends in themselves. And this leads me to question whether other parts of the world agree on their uniqueness.

In this article, I would like to explore whether or not the upper mentioned concepts hold some ground in non-Western regions of the world or they are simply seen as empty buzzwords. Before beginning, I would say that I expect to find out how these ‘other’ societies respect our political and economic systems but most probably would choose their own paths toward the same level of human development achieved here in the liberal-democratic hemisphere.

Liberty Close-Up

Source: Brian [email protected]

First, it is wise to make an essential distinction between values/principles and instruments used to pursue the former. Democracy, liberalism and free market are ways of organizing societies for the purpose to bring about desired outcomes. These outcomes offer to us the satisfaction of certain needs in terms of values and principles: equality, a multitude of freedoms and liberties, toleration, justice and fairness, well-being in general. We do not seek fair and free elections for the sake of electing but because we want to choose those leaders that would support us in getting what we need.The same with constitutionalism, which is in a sense a sum of ideas and patterns of behaviour that have the aim of guaranteeing the rights of the individual which are sometimes under threat from democratically elected power centres.

Read  The Louisiana Floods: An Environmental And Political Disaster

These paths to ‘a good life’ are our own and are the result of a turbulent, violent, and tyrannical past. There has of course always existed a lot of debate between more conservative and more progressive views on the efficiency and legitimacy of these ways forward in terms of stability and peaceful development. But even the most skeptical ones would agree that following a different radical route for preserving and going forward with our Western achievements would be too risky, having learned some lessons from the deadly ideological experiments of the 20th century.

8855065770_9f01b0205b_z

Source: Mark K.@Flickr

With regard to ‘the others’, it would be critical to understand the effects of the imposition of ‘our model’ on non-Western communities. There is a lot of literature on the failures of doing precisely this, therefore I will leave this discussion for another time. What I want to see is if people from other places are curious or not about ‘our way’ of doing things.

One first revealing case is the Russian Revolution of 1917 which ended not in the installment of liberal capitalism and a pluralistic democracy but in Marxist-Leninism and in the ultimate rule of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This state of affairs did indeed come to replace the old Czarist autocracy and truly embodied the hopes and aspirations of the Russian people for a fair, equal and progressive society. Nevertheless, the means to achieve these goals were not embodied by European-style political and economic institutions. Furthermore, this system lasted for almost 70 years and even today there are quite a few ‘nostalgics’ out there both in Russia and in the post-soviet space. This to say that the consensus on the legitimacy of the ‘soviet path’ was close to our consensus on the liberal-democratic path.

1434119192_e943a0f3d0_o

Source: [email protected]

Another curious example is Cuba. If during the Cold War it was understandable why the Castro regime prevailed over the US liberalisation agenda, now that the Soviet Union is gone, what could explain the continuation of a socialist and illiberal type of economic, social and political environment? More than this, Fidel Castro has been replaced as top figure , therefore the leader’s charisma can no longer be the answer. The relevancy of the Cuban exiles in American elections still cannot bring about the integration of Cuba into the US sphere of influence. The power of globalization, EU aid and trade and its political conditionality, the spread of Western ideals all over the globe- they do still not produce a Cuban Spring. Why is this? The mainstream response places the blame on the oppressive political regime. But what about the idea that maybe despite the shortcomings of their situation, Cuban citizens would actually prefer to gradually find their own way to a better life? I think it is a thought worthy of consideration.

Read  Iran's Nuclear Bomb

Since we touched on the concept of Spring, the Arab revolutions of the recent years are also exemplifying cases of the principles vs instruments misunderstanding. What all protests had in common was a deep desire for ethical and moral principles such as justice, freedom, dignity and respect. Western leaders embarked on a liberal-democratic wave of support and mistook the genuine demands of the Arab people for the success of the Western model. Unfortunately, this turned (in an extreme case) into a regime change in Libya whose truly ‘democratic’ future is still far from reality . Also, it lead to the spread of instability in the region due to the free movement of weapons that fueled the Tuareg rebellion and the increasing role of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Northern Mali.

6904946068_92a2283c10_z

Source: [email protected]

To conclude, I will restate that so far the model of liberal-democracy is the best one for countries in the West. This is because it provides the organizational means to promote those values that we long for. In other situations though, these very same values and principles can be pursued through different actions and institutional frameworks. If our system proves itself to the rest of the world as being efficient and beneficial, then I think nothing can stop other communities from incorporating it. What we must not be tempted to do is to lecture people on how to organize themselves and to patronize their leaders. Nobody likes to have another’s agenda pushed on them. Advice is always better then sterile criticism.

Claudiu Sonda
Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.