At the time of our founding, it was widely believed that the electorate needed to be informed for a democracy to work – we’ve seemingly disproved that since the extenstion of universal suffrage.
Do you really think we’ve disproved that assertion? I do sometimes wonder if we’ve been too quick to grant people the right to vote who have no business doing so. But that’s a different issue.[/quote]
Well, I see you caught me hedging myself there with “seemingly disproved.” Studies about voter ignorance leave me highly disturbed (see: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=2372 ), but I suppose if we choose a loose-enough defintion of “functioning” w/r/t “functioning democratic government” then we’ve disproved it. See, we just have to have low standards… =-)
This is why I would not be averse to having some basic standards of intelligence and/or knowledge as prerequisites for voter registration – it really is too bad such tests were so abused and misused by Jim Crow officials in the South to disenfranchise black voters, because conceptually such tests are a good idea. I am pretty sure any attempt to institute a test now would be instantly demagogued.
There are also those who think the Reformation was directly related to the movement toward democracy
If you mean that the Reformation was a precursor to the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on secular origins for power, then yes, I agree with you. Machiavelli, for example, can be read as a Protestant Reformationist (and a republican).
I also agree that the Reformation forced a fundamental religious tolerance of limited scope: tolerance was extended to other Christians with differing interpretations of the scriptures. This is crucial, I think, as it is only after being able to accept people of only limited religious difference from yourself that you can accept people with vastly different beliefs.[/quote]
That is essentially what I meant. However, thinking about it, Islam is already somewhere between Catholicism and Protestantism in that there isn’t really a central authority to whom Muslims turn for their scriptural interpretation the way Catholics turn to the Pope, but generally I don’t believe the Muslims have the focus on individual interpretation of the Koran either – they just get it from less centralized religious leaders. I think that the focus on thinking and interpreting individually laid the groundwork for a lot of the democratic reforms, which were so dependent on the idea of individuals being able to think and determine things for themselves.
I don’t know any more than you do, obviously. I’d like to think that there’s a possibility of a stable, democratic Iraq; but without a built in respect for at least some diversity of opinion, we’re looking at an ochlocracy, at best.
Part of the problem, I think, is that the world has become too small. Cultures can no longer evolve on their own, or simply isolate themselves, at least not easily. But the Middle East has been a mess for centuries, with few signs of improvement. Perhaps this is our best bet. [/quote]
Iraq’s other problem is that it’s not really a traditional country, but a relic of the British colonial system – they just drew up the borders and put together 3 groups that don’t much care for each other. This is why I think a federal system – maybe along the lines of what the Swiss have – would be an ideal option.
And I think you’re right about diversity of opinion – perhaps we could enshrine some of our Bill of Rights in their constitution, but they would need to have the will and dedication to enforce them, especially in the face of religious-based pressure.
As for the world being too small, I think there’s a lot to that – but hopefully we can utilize part of that to accelerate the learning curve. Maybe a lot of exposure to Western culture and mores via TV, internet and other media can at least help them gravitate toward the our mean in terms of the values and principles necessary to sustain a democratic government.