How To Effectively Democratize

January 10, 2009

[First published March 3,2006] Freedom House has published a world wide empirical study of “How Freedom is Won.” (2005, in pdf). Paraphrasing and quoting from this study:

They examined 33 years of transitions to freedom (liberal democracy) made by 67 countries, of which before transition 31 were Partly Free, and 36 were Not Free. Today 35 are Free, 23 are Partly Free, and 9 are Not Free. They excluded transitions that occurred in small countries, defined as those with populations of less than one million. Excluded, too, are countries where major political transitions occurred in the last two years. This is because there has not been a sufficient interval since the transition from an authoritarian or pseudo-democratic rule to make firm assessments about the nature or durability of post-transition change in countries where institutional, political, legal, and human rights environments are still evolving or where reforms either have not yet been launched or fully implemented.

So, what can be said about democratization from this fascinating and landmark study (paraphrasing and quoting from this study):

SUMMARYThe most effective agent for promoting change toward democracy is broad-based, nonviolent civic resistance — which employs tactics such as boycotts, mass protests, blockades, strikes, and civil disobedience to delegitimize authoritarian rulers and erode their sources of support, including the loyalty of their armed defenders

The central conclusion of this study is that how a transition from authoritarianism occurs, and the types of forces that are engaged in pressing the transition, have a significant impact on the success or failure of democratic reform.

In a preponderance of successful transitions, the most dramatic improvements in freedom tend to come quickly — in the first years of a transition, rather than slowly and incrementally over a long time, underscoring the importance of the civic and political forces that emerge as important actors in the pre-transition period.

“People power” movements matter, because nonviolent civic forces are a major source of pressure for decisive change in most transitions. The force of civic resistance was a key factor in driving 50 of 67 transitions, or over 70 percent of countries where transitions began as dictatorial systems fell and/or new states arose from the disintegration of multinational states.

Of the 50 countries where civic resistance was a key strategy (i.e., either countries in which there were transitions driven by civic forces or countries where there were mixed transitions involving significant input from both civic forces and power holders), 25 were Partly Free countries, and 25 were Not Free countries. Today, years after the transition 32 of these countries are Free, 14 are Partly Free, and only 4 are Not Free.

Y axis = mean degree of freedom; X axis = civic, mixed civic forces/ powerholders, powerholder’s intervention

There is comparatively little positive effect for freedom in “top-down” transitions that were launched and led by elites. Before transition, 6 were Partly Free and 8 were Not Free, while today, post-transition, 2 are Free, 8 are Partly Free and 4 are Not Free. On a 7-point rating scale, top down transitions led to an improvement of 1.10 points in the combined average freedom score, while transitions with strong civic drivers led to an improvement of nearly 2.7 points on the same 1-to-7 scale.

Of the 35 Free countries post-transition, 32 (or more than 9 in 10) had a significant “bottom up” civic resistance component. Twenty-two (63 percent) of them had mixed transitions, driven by a combination of civic resistance forces and segments of the power holders, while 10 (29 percent) had openings driven by primarily by the force of civic resistance. Only two transitions that have led to high levels of freedom today were driven from the top-down by power holders and one by external military intervention.

Y axis = mean degree of freedom; X axis = civic, mixed civic forces/ powerholders, powerholder’s intervention

In 32 of the 67 countries (nearly 48 percent) that have seen transitions, strong, broad-based nonviolent popular fronts or civic coalitions were highly active, and often central to steering change. In these 32 instances, prior to the transition there had 17 Partly Free countries, and 15 Not Free countries. Now, years after the transition, 24 of the countries (75 percent) where a strong nonviolent civic movement was present are Free and democratic states and 8 (25 percent) are Partly Free states with some space for civic and political life, while none of the states whose transitions featured a strong civic force are Not Free.

The presence of strong and cohesive nonviolent civic coalitions is the most important of the factors examined in contributing to freedom. In 32 of the 67 countries (nearly 48 percent) that have seen transitions, strong, broad-based nonviolent popular fronts or civic coalitions were highly active, and often central to steering change. In these 32 instances, prior to the transition there had been 17 Partly Free countries, and 15 Not Free countries. Now, years after the transition, 24 of the countries (75 percent) where a strong nonviolent civic movement was present are Free and democratic states and 8 (25 percent) are Partly Free states with some space for civic and political life, while none of the states whose transitions featured a strong civic force are Not Free.

The data suggest that the prospects for freedom are significantly enhanced when the opposition does not itself use violence. In all, there were 47 transitions in which there was no (or almost no) opposition violence. Before the transition, 23 were Partly Free, and 24 were Not Free. Today, years after the transition, 31 are Free, 11 are Partly Free, and 5 are Not Free.

Therefore, recourse to violent conflict in resisting oppression is significantly less likely to produce sustainable freedom, in contrast to nonviolent opposition, which even in the face of state repression, is far more likely to yield a democratic outcome.

Y axis = mean degree of freedom; X axis = nonviolent/mostly nonviolent opposition, significantly/highly violent opposition.

Given the significance of the civic factor in dozens of recent transitions from authoritarianism, it is surprising how small a proportion of international donor assistance is targeted to this sector.

One way to increase the odds for successful transitions to freedom is to invest in the creation of dynamic civic life. Such support is most effectively rendered in the following sequence:

General assistance for civil society forces.
Targeted assistance focused on education and training in civic nonviolent resistance.
Assistance for cohesive civic coalitions through which such resistance is expressed.

Such developments also should be matched by efforts to establish a broad-based civic coalition focused on nonviolent resistance. There are many reasons why such umbrella civic coalitions are important in the outcomes for freedom. In short, broad-based democracy coalitions can imbue leaders and activists with the principles and experience that makes for successful democratic governance.

Opposition forces can be helped in more effectively achieving their aims if they are assisted in thinking strategically about how to push change through nonviolent means. A growing civic infrastructure of well-trained activist groups and their coalescing into broad-based coalitions also needs to be coupled with knowledge on how to devise effective strategies of nonviolent resistance to authoritarian power.

Another crucial way of assisting democratic transitions is to work to constrain insurrectionist and state violence and to expand the political space for nonviolent civic action. This means that in the cases of civil wars, governments and international organizations should seek solutions that lead to an end to hostilities and to internationally supervised or monitored elections. Democracies also should engage in preventive diplomacy to avert violence and support policies that prevent or limit the spread of violence in its earliest stages.

Authoritarian leaders lack democratic legitimacy, and this lack of legitimacy needs to be challenged by democratic civic forces. But, because repressive governments limit or control media and communications, pro-democracy activists must develop independent outlets of communication to stake their claim to represent the legitimate aspirations of the people. Invaluable in this effort are the Internet; independent newspapers and newsletters; unauthorized or external broadcast facilities; and cell phones, satellite phones, and text-messaging devices.

Much of what is recommended here is being done in Iraq by the U.S. and its coalition partners. In evaluating this, one has to keep in mind that the reason for the Iraq war to begin with was to eliminate the danger that Saddam posed to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and American national security. Once he was gone and the battles won, the question was what to do with Iraq. Democratization was the answer, and that is now what is in process against the wishes of foreign terrorists and insurrections. With this in mind, and consistent with How Freedom Is Won, what are we doing in Iraq, as shown by my two posts (here, and here) that provided details:

Aiding and assisting cohesive civic coalitions and civil society.
Seeking solutions to constrain and end violence through direct action and international organizations.
Encouraging independent communication outlets, such as newspapers, internet, telephones, and cell phones galore.
Internationally supervised and monitored elections.
Establishing central government legitimacy.

Links on Iraq

“U.S. Troops in Iraq: 72% Say End War in 2006” This is a very suspicious Zogby poll just released, and did in conjunction with the far left, “anti-war” Le Moyne College’s Center for Peace and Global Studies. For some questioning comments on it, see below:

Murdoc Online

“Mystery Pollster”

“The Officer’s Club”

“The Soldiers Speak. Will President Bush Listen?” (subscription required) Of course, Nicholas D. Kristof at The New York Times likes it.

Now, how can we explain the incredible contradiction between what American troops believe according to Zogby, and what public opinion polls show the Iraqis themselves believe as given in the chart below.

Why Foster Global Freedom

January 10, 2009

[First published March 8, 2006] I’ve noticed a trend in the major and alternative media towards a neorealism, which is away from fostering freedom abroad toward accepting the status quo, especially if it means that the Islamicist/terrorists will be denied an election they might win, and we will not be caught in the “quagmire” that is another Iraq. Better the friendly dictator we know than an election of a Terrorist group or Islamicists. Note this rhetoric from Niall Ferguson in the LATIMES:

The Republicans would certainly be foolish to cling to what is left of Bush’s foreign policy. Nearly all of its premises are crumbling before our eyes. The theory of a democratic peace is a chimera; give Muslims the vote and they vote for militants. Regime change in Iraq has not enhanced American security; its principal beneficiary has been Iran. As for the unipolar world….

Therefore, it is appropriate and timely to follow up my posted summary of the “U.S. National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism” and General Chong’s “This War Is For Real” with a return to the question: Why Freedom?”

President Bush summarized the answer well in his 2006 State of the Union speech. He said:

Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer — so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause.

Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, there were about two-dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we’re writing a new chapter in the story of self-government — with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom. At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half — in places like Syria and Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran — because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom, as well.

In the past too many have identified power with greatness, thugs with statesmen, and propaganda with results; they have let moral and cultural relativism silence our outrage, while conceding the moral high ground to the utopian dreamers; they have refused to recognize evil as evil; and they have ignored the catastrophic human cost of such confusions, and the natural and moral right to freedom. This cannot be said of Bush, who well recognizes why people should be free.

Today, billions of human beings are still subject to impoverishment, exposure, starvation, disease, torture, rape, beatings, forced labor, genocide, mass murder, executions, deportations, political violence, and war. These billions live in fear for their lives, and for those of their loved ones. They have no human rights, no liberties. These people are only pieces on a playing board for the armed thugs and gangs that oppress their nations, raping them, looting them, exploiting them, and murdering them. We hide the identity of the gangs—we sanctify them—with the benign concept of “government,” as in the “government” of Kim’s North Korea, Stalin’s Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Germany.

The gangs that control these so-called governments oppress whole nations under cover of international law. They are like a gang that captures a group of hikers and then does with them what it wills, robbing all, torturing and murdering some because gang members don’t like them or they are “disobedient,” and raping others. Nonetheless, the thugs that rule nations “govern” by the right of sovereignty: the community of nations explicitly grants them the right by international law to govern a nation when they show that they effectively control the national government, and this right carries with it the promise that other nations will not intervene in their internal affairs.

International law now recognizes that if these gangs go to extremes, such as massive ethnic cleansing or genocide, then the international community has a countervailing right to stop them. However, this area of international law is still developing, and in the current examples of Cuba, Burma, Iran, North Korea, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria, among others, the thugs still largely have their way with their victims. This is unconscionable. The people of these countries, and all people everywhere have the right to freedom of speech, religion, organization, and a fair trial, among other rights, and one overarching right to be free subsumes all these civil and political rights. This right overrules sovereignty, which is granted according to tradition based on a system of international treaties, not natural law. Freedom, by contrast, is not something others grant. It is a right due every human being.

For too many intellectuals, however, it is not enough to point out that a people have a right to be free. They will counter by arguing that freedom is desirable, but first people must be made equal, given food to eat, work, and health care. Freedom must be limited as a means to good ends, such as the public welfare, prosperity, peace, ethnic unity, or national honor. These intellectuals also have been allowed to assume the moral high ground. Freedom, they tell us, empowers greed, barbaric competition, inefficiency, inequality, the debasement of morals, the weakening of ethnic or racial identity, and so on.
Sometimes they are so persuasive that even reasonable people will accept their convoluted arguments. Need I mention the works of Marx and Lenin, for example, who provided “scientific” excuses for the tyranny of such thugs as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot?

To be defensive about freedom in the face of such justifications is morally wrong-headed. No moral code or civil law allows that a gang leader and his followers can murder, torture, and repress some at will as long as the thugs provide others with a good life. But even were it accepted that under the cover of government authority, a ruler can murder and repress his people so long as it promotes human betterment, the burden of proof is on those who argue that therefore those people will be better off

There is no such proof. Quite the opposite: in the twentieth century, we have had the most costly and extensive tests of such arguments, involving billions of people. The Nazis, Italian fascists under Mussolini, Japanese militarists, and Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek have tested fascist promises of a better life. Likewise, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot have tested the utopian promises of communism, to mention the most prominent communist experiments; and Burma, Iraq, and Syria, among others, also have tested state socialism. All these vast social experiments have failed, utterly and miserably, and they have done so at the vast human cost that has included global social upheaval, the displacement of millions, the impoverishment of billions, and the death of tens of millions from famine, extreme internal violence, and the most destructive wars—not to mention the many hundreds of millions murdered outright.

These social experiments have involved the mass murder of 262,000,000 Russians, Chinese, Cambodians, Poles, North Koreans, Cubans, Vietnamese, and others, such that were their souls to comprise a land of the dead it would be among the world’s top three in population

In sharp contrast, there are the arguments for freedom. Not only is a right certified in international law (e.g., the various human rights multinational conventions), but a supreme moral good in itself. The very fact of a people’s freedom creates a better life for all.

Free people create a wealthy and prosperous society

When people are free to go about their own business, they put their ingenuity and creativity in the service of all. They search for ways to satisfy the needs, desires, and wants of others. The true utopia lies not in some state-sponsored tyranny, but the free market in goods, ideas, and services, whose operating principle is that success depends on satisfying others. Moreover, it is not by chance that:

No democratically free people have suffered from mass famine

It is extraordinary, how little known this is. There are plenty of hunger projects and plans to increase food aid for the starving millions, all of which is good enough in the short run. A starving person will die before the people can kick out their rulers or make them reform their policies. Yet simply feeding the starving today is not enough. They also have to be fed tomorrow and every day thereafter. However, free these people from their rulers’ commands over their farming, and soon they will be able to feed themselves and others as well. There is an adage that applies to this: “Give a starving person a fish to eat and you feed him only for one day; teach him how to fish, and he feeds himself forever.” Yet teaching is no good alone, if people are not free to apply their new knowledge—yes, teach them how to fish, but also promote the freedom they need to do so

Surprisingly, the incredible economic productivity and wealth produced by a free people and their freedom from famines are not the only moral goods of freedom, nor, perhaps, even the most important moral goods. When people are free, they comprise a spontaneous society the characteristics of which strongly inhibit society-wide political violence. Freedom greatly reduces the possibility of revolutions, civil war, rebellions, guerrilla warfare, coups, violent riots, and the like. Most of the violence within nations occurs where thugs rule with absolute power. There is a continuum here:

The more power the rulers have, and the less free
their people, the more internal violence these people will suffer

Surely that which protects people against internal violence, that which so saves human lives, is a moral good. And this is freedom

Then there is mass democide, the most destructive means of ending human lives of any form of violence. Except in the case of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, few people know how murderous the dictators of this world have been, and could be. Virtually unknown are the shocking tens of millions murdered by Stalin and Mao, and the other millions wiped out by Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-sung, and their kind. Just omitting foreigners, who are most often murdered during a war, such thugs murdered about 161,000,000 of their own people from 1900 to 1987. Adding foreigners and including the whole twentieth century raises the toll they have killed to nearly the incredible aforementioned 262,000,000.

Even now, in the twenty-first century, these mass murders still go on in Burma, Sudan, North Korea, and the Congo (DR), just to mention the most glaring examples.

What is true about freedom and internal violence is also so for this mass democide:

The more freedom a people have, the less likely
their rulers will murder them. The more power the thugs have,
the more likely they are to murder their people

Could there be a greater moral good than to end or minimize such mass murder? This is what freedom does and for this it is, emphatically, a moral good.

There is still more to say about freedom’s value. While we now know that the world’s ruling thugs generally kill several times more of their subjects than do wars, it is war on which moralists and pacifists generally focus their hatred, and devote their resources to ending or moderating. This singular concentration is understandable, given the horror and human costs, and the vital political significance of war. Yet, it should be clear by now that war is a symptom of freedom’s denial, and that freedom is the cure. First:

Democratically free people do not make war on each other

Why? The diverse groups, cross-national bonds, social links, and shared values of democratic peoples sew them together; and shared liberal values dispose them toward peaceful negotiation and compromise with each other. It is as though the people of democratic nations were one society

This truth that democracies do not make war on each other provides a solution for eliminating war from the world: globalize democratic freedom


The less free the people within any two nations are,
the bloodier and more destructive the wars between them; the
greater their freedom, the less likely such wars become

And third:

The more freedom the people of a nation
have, the less bloody and destructive their wars.

What this means is that we do not have to wait for all, or almost all nations to become liberal democracies to reduce the severity of war. As we promote freedom, as the people of more and more nations gain greater human rights and political liberties, as those people without any freedom become partly free, we will decrease the bloodiness of the world’s wars. In short: Increasing freedom in the world decreases the death toll of its wars. Surely, whatever reduces and then finally ends the scourge of war in our history, without causing a greater evil, must be a moral good. And this is freedom

In conclusion, then, we have wondrous human freedom as a moral force for the good, as President Bush well recognizes. Freedom produces social justice, creates wealth and prosperity, minimizes violence, saves human lives, and is a solution to war. In two words, it creates human security. Moreover, and most important:

People should not be free only because
it is good for them. They should be free because it is
their right as human beings.

In opposition to freedom is power, its antagonist. While freedom is a right, the power to govern is a privilege granted by a people to those they elect and hold responsible for its use. Too often, however, thugs seize control of a people with their guns and use them to make their power total and absolute. Where freedom produces wealth and prosperity, such absolute power causes impoverishment and famine. Where freedom minimizes internal violence, eliminates genocide and mass murder, and solves the problem of war, such absolute power unleashes internal violence, murders millions, and produces the bloodiest wars. In short, power kills; absolute power kills absolutely.

Now, to summarize, why freedom?

Because it is every person’s right. It is a moral good—it promotes wealth and prosperity, social justice, and nonviolence, and preserves human life. And it enables all other moral goods.

Links of Note

The Case for Democracy”> Washington Post Editorial (!):

Those who promote democracy as the best alternative do not imagine that it will succeed quickly, or in all places. It’s important to press autocratic allies such as Mr. Mubarak to create more space for political parties, so that when elections do take place Egyptians can take advantage of them responsibly. Of course elections aren’t enough; of course civil society and prosperity and the emergence of a middle class matter, too; and which comes first, and in what ways, will be different in every country.
But without elections, or the prospect of elections — without some measure of accountability to the people — what will induce a dictator to allow civil society to grow? The “realists” need to answer that question, too.