Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World

The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World

by Larry Diamond

See All Formats & Editions

One of America's preeminent experts on democracy charts the future prospects for freedom around the world in the aftermath of Iraq and deepening authoritarianism

Over three decades, the world was transformed. In 1974, nearly three-quarters of all countries were dictatorships; today, more than half are democracies. Yet recent efforts to promote


One of America's preeminent experts on democracy charts the future prospects for freedom around the world in the aftermath of Iraq and deepening authoritarianism

Over three decades, the world was transformed. In 1974, nearly three-quarters of all countries were dictatorships; today, more than half are democracies. Yet recent efforts to promote democracy have stumbled, and many democratic governments are faltering.

In this bold and sweeping vision for advancing freedom around the world, social scientist Larry Diamond examines how and why democracy progresses. He demonstrates that the desire for democracy runs deep, even in very poor countries, and that seemingly entrenched regimes like Iran and China could become democracies within a generation. He also dissects the causes of the "democratic recession" in critical states, including the crime-infested oligarchy in Russia and the strong-armed populism of Venezuela.

Diamond cautions that arrogance and inconsistency have undermined America's aspirations to promote democracy. To spur a renewed democratic boom, he urges vigorous support of good governance—the rule of law, security, protection of individual rights, and shared economic prosperity—and free civic organizations. Only then will the spirit of democracy be secured.

Editorial Reviews

Janine Di Giovanni
Diamond is a meticulous social scientist who, in Squandered Victory, took on the task of studying America's bungled effort to bring democracy to Iraq. The Spirit of Democracy takes on the world, with Diamond leaping from Malawi to Singapore to Venezuela. He looks at countries that broke down after the post-1974 "third wave" of democracy and have yet to recover, not only obvious examples like corruption-ridden Nigeria, but also Nepal, Thailand and the Solomon Islands. He studies what he calls "the pathology of personal rule" in Africa, along with the role of monarchy, populism and Islam in the Middle East. One might easily assume from such a discouraging survey that The Spirit of Democracy is a gigantic downer. In fact, Diamond is anything but pessimistic: he believes that most of the world, one way or another, can move toward democracy.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A neatly structured survey examines the prospects for universal democracy. Hoover Institution fellow Diamond (Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq, 2005, etc.) has been passionately engaged in the global quest for freedom since his student days in the mid-1970s, when he traveled through despotic hotspots like Portugal, Thailand and Nigeria. He begins by establishing the "universal value" of democracy-not just as a Western concept (though Asians and Muslims do have a stronger adherence to authority) or a luxury for a wealthy nation, but a state to which all aspire. Access to an electoral process, checks on authority, civil liberties and an independent judiciary are rights that everyone desires, Diamond avers. He tracks the "democratic boom" since the mid-'70s from Portugal, Spain and the Philippines to East Asia, South Africa and the Soviet Union. He also follows the recent "democratic recession" in Pakistan and under Vladimir Putin in the Soviet Union. He examines the internal and external factors that drive and sustain a democracy, among them legitimacy, economic development, regional influence (e.g., the desire to join the European Union) and outside sanctions. The author isolates each problem area of the world and considers its uneasy progress toward democracy. Latin America, he says, is vexed by poverty, unemployment, inequality and the weakness and corruption of state social services and criminal-justice systems. Africa is struggling to overcome the "dictators for life" syndrome. The Middle East is unlikely to truly democratize "until there is a transformation in the regional security context." Finally, Diamond sets out hischecklist for making democracy work, by establishing integrity and transparency in government. He doesn't flinch from criticizing the U.S. government's role in world affairs, and his view from a think-tank perch is wide-ranging and carefully considered, making this an especially effective work. A refreshingly evenhanded overview of democracy's global prospects.
From the Publisher

“Meticulous… hopeful… The Spirit of Democracy takes on the world [and] offers well-grounded support to anyone who has questioned the long-held theory… that the richer the country, the greater the chances of sustaining democracy.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Diamond is… eloquent in arguing that despite the recent blunders of American democracy promoters, there is still a role for the international community in helping societies that are struggling to be free.” —Foreign Affairs

“Diamond … strenuously argues against the cynical idea that certain religions, cultures, or societies are incompatible with democracy, pointing to the progress of the past three decades as evidence that democracy is indeed a universal aspiration.” —The Chronicle Review

The Spirit of Democracy is a worthwhile corrective to America's post-Iraq pessimism about the future of democratic ideals throughout the world.” —Francis Fukuyama, author of America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy

“Diamond offers a path forward, full of his customary wisdom, tough-mindedness, and passion. With friends like him, the spirit of democracy will rise again.” —Peter Beinart, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Good Fight

“No one has thought harder or more broadly about the past and future of democracy than Larry Diamond. A passionate treatment, infused with optimism and eminently readable, The Spirit of Democracy is a must for anyone who cares about the toughest challenge of balancing national values and national interests.” —Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“Ambitious [and] authoritative… Truly interesting.” —McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

“A thoroughly researched and informative account… intelligently composed [and] sure to provoke discussion… Highly recommended.” —The Midwest Book Review

“Passionate… a refreshingly evenhanded overview of democracy's global prospects… [Diamond's] view… is wide-ranging and carefully considered, making this an especially effective work.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Sold by:
File size:
847 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Spirit of Democracy

The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World

By Larry Diamond

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2008 Larry Diamond
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2439-9



Since the American and French revolutions, two views of liberty have contested. One is that these revolutions expressed universal rights and values. The American Declaration of Independence did not assert a peculiarly American right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It declared that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." It asserted, as a general rule under "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Although many of the founding fathers of American democracy doubted how far freedom could really travel, implicit in their language, and in much of America's engagement with the world since then, has been a belief in the universal promise and possibility of democracy.

The second view of liberty has been that if people are in some sense created equal, they are nevertheless not imbued with the same values and expectations of government. Freedom and democracy are not universal values but rather Western concepts. Culture limits how far they can travel. One of the most famous advocates of this position has been the longtime prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who, in trumpeting the Asian values of order, family, and community, has made it his "business to tell people not to foist their system indiscriminately on societies in which it will not work." In a 2001 interview on the PBS show Commanding Heights, he observed:

I do not believe you can impose on other countries standards which are alien and totally disconnected with their past. So to ask China to become a democracy, when in its 5,000 years of recorded history it never counted heads; all rulers ruled by right of being the emperor, and if you disagree, you chop off heads, not count heads....

The agenda must include human rights. But I don't think you can impose on them how they should govern themselves, whether they should have one man, one vote to elect a president, or whether they should be governed in some other way. I don't think ... it's wise or practical to ask other societies to follow your system of government. They may not be ready for it.

Lee's skepticism has been matched by a significant body of academic analysis arguing that there are distinct Asian values, and that they do not fit well with Western liberal notions of democracy. In an influential 1985 book, one of America's most distinguished scholars of Asia, the MIT political scientist Lucian Pye, argued that Asian societies generally lack the individualism and suspicion of authority that have made for successful democracy in the West. Asian societies, he argued, stress loyalty to the family and group over individual freedom and needs, defer to authority in order to "answer deep psychological cravings for the security of dependency," and value order over conflict. To the extent that democracy exists at all, he explained, it is the kind of shallow or illiberal democracy that mutes criticism of authority, scraps checks and balances, and concentrates political power in individual leaders.

In a variety of ways, this cultural skepticism has also been applied to Latin America as well as the Middle East. Particularly prior to the late 1970s, prominent scholars of Latin America saw the region as steeped in "absolutist, elitist, hierarchical, corporatist, and authoritarian" cultural traditions, "inherited from Spain," that were "not conducive to democratic rule." Jeanne Kirkpatrick, President Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations, once said, "The Arab world is the only part of the world where I've been shaken in my conviction that if you let the people decide, they will make fundamentally rational decisions. But there, they don't make rational decisions, they make fundamentalist ones."

This view continues to shape the way the West thinks about the possibilities for Arab democracy. In 1992, the late conservative British historian Elie Kedourie penned this sweeping dismissal.

There is nothing in the political traditions of the Arab world — which are the political traditions of Islam — which might make familiar, or indeed intelligible, the organizing ideas of constitutional and representative government. The notion ... of a popular sovereignty as the foundation of governmental legitimacy, the idea of representation, of elections, of popular suffrage, of political institutions being regulated by laws laid down by a parliamentary assembly, of these laws being guarded and upheld by an independent judiciary, the ideas of the secularity of the state, of society being composed of a multitude of self-activating autonomous groups and associations — all these are profoundly alien to the Muslim political tradition.

Instead, Kedourie argued, that tradition was one of highly centralized, absolute rule by a religious caliph over a community "not defined by any permanent territorial frontiers" and thus inclined to war to expand those frontiers. Attempts at democracy in the Arab world had "uniformly failed," first and foremost because these countries "had been accustomed to ... autocracy and passive obedience."

In the midst of the staggering failure of the George W. Bush administration's project to bring democracy to Iraq, many foreign policy thinkers and commentators once again trumpet a general pointlessness or danger in trying to promote democracy in the Arab world. It is not difficult to see in the Iraq calamity striking confirmation of Samuel P. Huntington's thesis of a "clash of civilizations" and of his warning that "those who do not recognize fundamental [civilizational] divides are doomed to be frustrated by them." In 1996, Huntington wrote with pessimism about the global prospects for liberal democracy.

The West differs from other civilizations ... in the distinctive character of its values and institutions. These include most notably its Christianity, pluralism, individualism, and rule of law. ... In their ensemble these characteristics are peculiar to the West.

He agreed with Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. that Europe was "the source — the unique source" of the "ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, rule of law, human rights, and cultural freedom." In Huntington's words, "They make Western civilization unique, and Western civilization is valuable not because it is universal but because it is unique."

Not only are the liberal democratic values of the West not universal, but in addition, Huntington warned — in what some skeptics might now view as a prophetic insight — the effort to diffuse them across cultural divides would require force. "Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism." Therefore, the United States and Europe should "recognize that Western intervention in the affairs of other civilizations is probably the single most dangerous source of instability and potential global conflict in a multicivilizational world." In the wake of the Iraq debacle, Huntington's cynicism is seductive. Cultural arguments about the limits to democracy are fashionable again. But are they right?

My purpose in writing this book is to answer this audacious question: can the whole world become democratic? Is it really possible to build free and democratic societies throughout the world? Doing so must involve more than the creation of new political structures; it requires the generation of new norms, as Gandhi put it, "change of the heart." Democratic structures will be mere facades unless people come to value the essential principles of democracy: popular sovereignty, accountability of rulers, freedom, and the rule of law. And without those essential principles in place, those seeming democracies will eventually give way to tyranny, whether in civilian or military guise. But is the spirit of democracy largely confined to Western culture, or is it a universal norm and aspiration?

Quite apart from whether one finds them offensive or alluring, notions of the inherent cultural limits to freedom do not stand up to logic or evidence. Not only is there a powerful range of philosophical and religious argument against them, much of it from non-Western thinkers and leaders, but the view of democracy as particular to Western culture does not square with the growing body of public opinion survey data, which shows considerable support for democracy around the world. Neither does it fit with the trends in international law and treaties. All of these suggest that some universal values are beginning to emerge in the world, and two of them are liberty and democracy.


It is useful at this point to pause and consider a bit more closely what is necessary for a country to be termed a democracy. To many Americans, and to many others who live or believe they live in a democracy, the term is so intuitive it seems straightforward. In a democracy, people have the right to choose their leaders in regular, free, and fair elections. But how many "people" are we talking about? Is a political system democratic if some of its citizens are denied the right to vote and run for office? What if a lot of people just don't care and drop out? Elections must be openly competitive to be free. That means allowing multiple parties to compete. But must the electoral arena be open to any party, no matter its creed or values? What about personal freedom? Isn't democracy also about the individual freedoms embedded in the American Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and so many national and international charters and covenants dating back decades and in fact centuries? Can a country be a democracy if it does not grant its people the basic civil freedoms of speech, press, association, and assembly? Don't citizens have the right to "redress their grievances" in between elections, through petition and protest? And what about other personal freedoms: the right to practice one's religion, to live where one wants, to travel freely, to own and dispose of private property, and to conduct commerce? How can a system be called a democracy if it abuses and disenfranchises ethnic, racial, or religious minorities? Can a political system really be called a democracy if it does not ensure a rule of law, in which all citizens are equal before the law, no one is above the law, and the laws themselves are known in advance and administered by an impartial judiciary?

A country cannot be a democracy if there is no freedom of speech and association and no rule of law. But is this because elections themselves cannot be free and fair under such circumstances, or because free and fair elections are not enough for a country to be a democracy?

Among political scientists, there is no consensus answer to these questions. Neither does one exist among democratic policy makers, or think tank analysts, or human rights activists, or even ordinary citizens. Defining democracy is a bit like interpreting the Talmud (or any religious text): ask a room of ten rabbis (or political scientists) for the meaning, and you are likely to get at least eleven different answers. In the case of democracy, however, these answers tend to group into "thin" and "thick" conceptions. On the thin side, in a minimal sense, democracy is defined as the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter outlined it in the 1940s: a system "for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote." Or to put it in modern terms, by means of regular, "free and fair" elections. On the thick side, a system is not a democracy unless it also ensures the following attributes:

• Substantial individual freedom of belief, opinion, discussion, speech, publication, broadcast, assembly, demonstration, petition, and (why not) the Internet.

• Freedom of ethnic, religious, racial, and other minority groups (as well as historically excluded majorities) to practice their religion and culture and to participate equally in political and social life.

• The right of all adult citizens to vote and to run for office (if they meet certain minimum age and competency requirements).

• Genuine openness and competition in the electoral arena, enabling any group that adheres to constitutional principles to form a party and contest for office.

• Legal equality of all citizens under a rule of law, in which the laws are "clear, publicly known, universal, stable, and nonretroactive."

• An independent judiciary to neutrally and consistently apply the law and protect individual and group rights.

• Thus, due process of law and freedom of individuals from torture, terror, and unjustified detention, exile, or interference in their personal lives — by the state or nonstate actors.

• Institutional checks on the power of elected officials, by an independent legislature, court system, and other autonomous agencies.

• Real pluralism in sources of information and forms of organization independent of the state; and thus, a vibrant "civil society."

• Control over the military and state security apparatus by civilians who are ultimately accountable to the people through elections.

How do we sort through these many reasonable expectations of democracy? There cannot be any one "right" answer to the question of what democracy is; we can only be transparent, and logical and consistent, in whatever standard we adopt. My own decision — in this book and in a long career as a political scientist and activist struggling over this conceptual terrain — has been to view democracy as a political system that varies in depth and may exist above two distinct thresholds.

At the minimal level, if a people can choose and replace their leaders in regular, free, and fair elections, there is an electoral democracy. Calling a political system a democracy doesn't mean it is a good or admirable system, or that we needn't worry much about improving it further. It simply means that if a majority of the people want a change in leaders and policies and are able to organize effectively within the rules, they can get change.

But electoral democracies vary enormously in their quality. Competitive and uncertain elections, even frequent alternation of parties in power, can coexist with serious abuses of human rights, significant constraints on freedom in many areas of life, discrimination against minorities, a weak rule of law, a compromised or ineffectual judiciary, rampant corruption, gerrymandered electoral districts, unresponsive government, state domination of the mass media, and widespread crime and violence. Genuine competition to determine who rules does not ensure high levels of freedom, equality, transparency, social justice, or other liberal values. Electoral democracy helps to make these other values more achievable, but it does not by any means ensure them.

When we speak of democracy, then, we should aspire to its realization at a higher plane, to the achievement of the ten "thick" dimensions. When these exist in substantial measure, we can call a system a liberal democracy. To the extent that these are greatly diminished, democracy — if it exists at all — is illiberal. If there are regular, multiparty elections and other formal institutions of democracy like a national assembly, court system, constitution, and so on, but the people are not able to vote their leaders out of power because the system is, in effect, rigged, then the country has what I call pseudodemocracy.

If this distinction seems neat and manageable, it is not. First, if elections are to be considered democratic, they must be meaningful in the sense of bestowing real power to govern on those who are elected. Even if elections were free and fair today in Iran (which they are not), the country could hardly be considered a democracy when the ultimate power to decide rests with a religious "supreme leader" who is not accountable to the people. The same could be said for Morocco or Jordan, where the ultimate power remains with the monarchy, or for some Central American countries in the 1970s and '80s, when the ultimate power rested with the military, despite elections. All these systems are or were pseudodemocracies, or what is sometimes called electoral authoritarian regimes.

A similar problem applies when the state is so thinly present, or so dominated by foreign powers, that the elected government is a hollow shell, with little effective authority. When civil war rages with little or very limited effective authority for elected government officials, as in Sierra Leone recently and Afghanistan today, the mere fact of competitive, reasonably fair elections does not create a democracy.

Many other regimes in the world are only pseudodemocracies because the realities and rules of the political game really do not make it possible, except through extraordinary means, to evict the ruling party, coalition, or cabal from power. The standard of "free and fair" is in fact a fairly demanding one. Elections are "free" when the legal barriers to entry into the political arena are low, when competing candidates, parties, and their supporters are free to campaign, and when people can vote for whom they want without fear and intimidation.


Excerpted from The Spirit of Democracy by Larry Diamond. Copyright © 2008 Larry Diamond. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Larry Diamond is the author of Squandered Victory (0-8050-8008-2) and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has served as the co-editor of the widely respected Journal of Democracy since its founding in 1990. From January to April 2004, he served as a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. He lives in Stanford, California.

Larry Diamond is the author of Squandered Victory and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has served as the co-editor of the widely respected Journal of Democracy since its founding in 1990. He lives in Stanford, California.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews