Democratization, Culture and Underdeveloped Nations
This paper looks at the issue of culture and democratization in underdeveloped countries. The paper is based on research conducted through a systematic review of the current literature on the subject, from policy documents published by bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank, to academic papers written by workers in this field, to online discussion forums (which can be an extremely valuable source for assessing 'grass roots' opinions regarding issues such as this).
The paper begins with a basic introduction to some key topics, through a discussion of questions such as 'What is democracy?', 'What is culture?', 'What is an underdeveloped country', and 'What does democracy mean at the present time for people in the United States, and the rest of the developed world, and for people in underdeveloped countries'?
What do we mean, as a citizen of the United States, when we talk about 'democracy'? Democracy is a form of government, a way of life, a goal or ideal, and a political philosophy; the term also refers to a country that has a democratic form of government (Swank, 2003). The word 'democracy' means 'rule by the people', and the United States President Abraham Lincoln described such self-government as "government of the people, by the people, for the people" (Swank, 2003). Most modern democracy is representative democracy: in large communities (cities, states, provinces, or countries), it is impossible for all the people to meet as a group; instead, they elect a certain number of their fellow citizens to represent them in making decisions about laws and other matters (Swank, 2003). An assembly of representatives may be called a council, a legislature, a parliament, or a congress, and government by the people through their freely elected representatives is sometimes called a republican government or a democratic republic (Swank, 2003).
Many voting decisions in democracies are based on majority rule (that is, more than half the votes cast), a decision by plurality may, however, be used when three or more candidates stand for election (Swank, 2003). A candidate with a plurality receives more votes than any other candidate, but does not necessarily have a majority of the votes (Swank, 2003). In several democracies, elections to legislative bodies are conducted according to proportional representation: such representation awards a political party a percentage of seats in the legislature in proportion to its share of the total vote cast (Swank, 2003).
Throughout history, the most important aspects of the democratic way of life have been the principles of individual equality and freedom (Swank, 2003). Accordingly, citizens in a democracy should be entitled to equal protection of their persons, possessions, and rights; have equal opportunity to pursue their lives and careers; and have equal rights of political participation (Swank, 2003). In addition, the people should enjoy freedom from undue interference and domination by government: they should be free, within the framework of the law, to believe, behave, and express themselves as they wish (Swank, 2003). Democratic societies seek to guarantee their citizens certain freedoms, including freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech, and ideally, citizens should also be guaranteed freedom of association and of assembly, freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and freedom to work and live where and how they choose (Swank, 2003).
The characteristics of democracy vary from one country to another, but certain basic features are more or less the same in all democratic nations (Swank, 2003). Free elections give the people a chance to choose their leaders and express their opinions on issues, and elections are held periodically to ensure that elected officials truly represent the people (Swank, 2003). The possibility of being voted out of office helps assure that these officials pay attention to public opinion (Swank, 2003).
In most democracies, the only legal requirements for voting or for holding public office are concerned with age, residence, and citizenship (Swank, 2003). The democratic process permits citizens to vote by secret ballot, free from force or bribes, and also requires that election results be protected against dishonesty (Swank, 2003).
In a democracy, also, a decision often must be approved by a majority of voters before it may take effect (Swank, 2003). This principle, which is called majority rule, may be used to elect officials or decide a policy, however, as we have seen. democracies sometimes decide votes by plurality (Swank, 2003). Most democracies require more than a simple majority to make fundamental or constitutional changes: in the United States, for example, constitutional amendments must be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states or by special conventions called in three-fourths of the states (Swank, 2003).
Majority rule is based on the idea that if all citizens are equal, the judgment of the many will be better than the judgment of the few: democracy therefore values freely given consent as the basis of legitimate and effective political power, but democracies are also concerned with protecting individual liberty and preventing government from infringing on the freedoms of individuals (Swank, 2003). Democratic countries guarantee that certain rights can never be taken from the people, even by extremely large majorities: these rights include the basic freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and religious worship (Swank, 2003). The majority also must recognize the right of the minority to try to become the majority by legal means (Swank, 2003).
Political parties are also a necessary part of democratic government; rival parties make elections meaningful by giving voters a choice among candidates who represent different interests and points-of-view (Swank, 2003). The United States (and many other countries, such as the United Kingdom) have chiefly two-party systems, but many other democratic countries have multiparty systems (Swank, 2003). Often in these countries, no single party gains a majority in the legislature; as a result, two or more parties must join to make up such a majority, by forming a coalition government (Swank, 2003). In democratic countries, the party or parties that are out of power serve as the "loyal opposition," that is, they criticize the policies and actions of the party in power (Swank, 2003). In dictatorships, the people have no real choice among candidates, and no opportunity to express dissatisfaction with the government (Swank, 2003).
Controls on power are also important in democratic societies, as democracies have various arrangements to prevent any person or branch of government from becoming too powerful (Swank, 2003). For example, the U.S. Constitution divides political power between the states and the federal government, with some powers belonging only to the states, some only to the federal government, and some being shared by both (Swank, 2003). This arrangement, known as federalism, is also used in such democracies as Canada, Germany, and Switzerland (Swank, 2003).
In all democratic countries, government officials are subject to the law and are accountable to the people (Swank, 2003). Officials may be removed from office for lawless conduct or for other serious reasons, and the media help keep elected officials sensitive to public opinion (Swank, 2003).
Democratic government is also based on law and, in most cases, a written constitution (although the UK does not have a written constitution) (Swank, 2003). Constitutions state the powers and duties of government and limit what the government may do (Swank, 2003). Constitutions also say how laws shall be made and enforced (Swank, 2003). Most constitutions have a detailed bill of rights that describes the basic liberties of the people and forbids the government to violate those rights (Swank, 2003).
Constitutions that have been in effect for a long time may include certain unwritten procedures that have become important parts of the operation of government: such procedures are a matter of custom rather than written law (Swank, 2003).
Another essential characteristic of democratic government is an independent judiciary (Swank, 2003). It is the duty of the justice system to protect the integrity of the rules and the rights of individuals under these rules, especially against the government itself (Swank, 2003). Occasionally, dictatorships establish extremely elaborate constitutions and extensive lists of basic rights of citizens: for example, the 1977 constitution of the Soviet Union contained more detailed rights supposedly guaranteed to citizens than does the U.S. Bill of Rights (Swank, 2003). In practice, however, Soviet courts were not known to defend individuals' rights against the government (Swank, 2003).
Further, in a democracy, individuals and private organizations carry on many social and economic activities that are, for the most part, free of government control (Swank, 2003). For example, newspapers and magazines are privately owned and managed (Swank, 2003). Labor unions are run by and for the benefit of workers, not the state, and democratic governments generally do not interfere with religious worship (Swank, 2003). The people may form groups to influence opinion on public issues and policies (Swank, 2003). Most businesses in democratic societies are privately owned and managed (Swank, 2003).
How is democracy made to work? In most democracies, there are extensive programs to provide economic security, to improve education, to ease suffering, and to develop…
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