Last Saturday, both de Volkskrant and NRC Handelsblad carried interviews with the Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker. He is professor at Harvard and the author of The Better Angels of our Nature, a book about the incredible decrease of violence over the centuries. Murder, torture, victims of war and human trade are worldwide all on a remarkably lower level than ever. Who says that newspapers don’t bring good news?
In one of the interviews, Pinker is asked if he feels that exporting democracy – as ‘we’, Western countries – do makes sense, and he does. I find the question intriguing since it suggests that in let’s say Africa there is nobody to be found promoting democracy. It needs to be ‘imported’. To me that sounds like a huge misunderstanding of reality. Remember Tunisia, Egypt, Libya? Remember South Africa, Senegal (a impressive movement has stopped the president of this country to go for a third term), Swaziland, and so many other countries.
But the question also raises another issue: what is democracy? In many Western countries a strong civil society, social protest, good education, basic health care are all seen as components of a functioning democracy. The percentage spent on education or health care of Western national budgets is quite higher than the budgets of most African countries. But in the eighties these countries were told by the West to safe dramatically on these expenses and minimize the number of civil servants. There is a debate in Western countries on the problematic rise of these expenses but in comparison the cuts proposed for their own national budgets are marginal.
The kind of democracy Western countries promote seems less more than elections while the social fabric needed to built strong democracy lacks. It seems to me that ‘we’, the West, export a strange sort of democracy that we don’t practice ourselves, and is as useless for the targeted countries as it is for ‘us’.