The Construction of Democracy: Lessons from Practice and Research

  • Published

The Construction of Democracy: Lessons from Practice and Research edited by Jorge I. Dominguez and Anthony Jones. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007, 272 pp.

Around the world, fledgling democracies view the United States as a benchmark for building and sustaining democracy. Unfortunately, practitioners often neglect or ignore tacit cultural values and contextual subtleties. Consider the difficulty of building consensus with a group as small as five people. An experienced leader will quickly recognize the inherent challenge of simultaneously aligning the hopes, dreams, and desires of disparate people on a national scale. At the heart of democracy is the goal of maintaining the fragile balance of individual hopes and desires within the constraints of a constitution and government institutions while securing freedom, promoting citizenship, and ensuring prosperity. This policy challenge is daunting by any measure but further complicated by unique contexts and cultures.

Jorge Dominguez and Anthony Jones edited The Construction of Democracy: Lessons from Practice & Research for The Club of Madrid as part of its efforts to fortify democracy around the world. The content is derived from 12 presentations at the Conference of Democratic Transition and Consolidation held in Madrid just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Dominguez is the Antonio Madero Professor of Mexican and Latin American Politics and Economics at Harvard University. Jones is executive director of the Gorbachev Foundation of North America and associate professor of sociology at Northeastern University. The Construction of Democracy integrates thought leaders from academians to foreign politicians who collectively proffer a qualitative assessment of democratic construction in emerging democracies. The editors divided the chiefly academic manuscript into four sections: the macro view, micro view, implementation matters, and the practitioner’s perspective.

Dominguez and Jones begin the macro view by suggesting a democratic state must be proficient in assisting its citizens to develop their collective potential while containing the threat of corruption and military dictatorship. Next Grezegorz Ekiert, professor of government at Harvard, and Anna Grzymala-Busse, associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan, contend that promoting maximal citizen participation within the rule of law, ensuring that no groups are stifled or excluded, and maintaining government institutions responsive to the political process are fundamental. Concluding the macro view, professor of politics at Instituto Juan March in Madrid, Andrew Richards, cogently urges economic development and growth to ensure successful democratic development. Richards believes democracies should afford all societal members education and public health but offers scant counsel on how to support such proposals. In total, the macro perspective takes a broad theoretical view which by definition neglects micro aspects of democratic construction addressed in section two.

Professor of political science Richard Simeon and PhD candidate Luc Turgeon at the University of Toronto lead the micro view with several key themes, including the prerequisite for complete removal of the previous authoritarian regime and a democratic constitution supplying a framework of rights, political access, citizen participation, and dialogue leading to a peaceful resolution over disagreements. Next Antonio Octavio Cintra, a senior policy analyst at the Research Service of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, and Marcelo Lacombe, politics PhD candidate at New York University, advocate a parliamentary democratic system with unified control of the legislative and executive branches and a hierarchical cabinet directly accountable to the party majority. Their logic is that a parliamentarian approach is superior to a presidential approach where multiple parties, mid-term elections, and proportional representation risk the rifts often found between the executive and legislative branches. Even a casual American political observer will recognize these conflicts and corresponding frustrations found in implementation that are explored in section three.

Jose Luiz Mendez, research professor at El Colegio de Mexico, contends that attaining democratic goals hinges upon managing abuse and authoritarian power and coordinating government and nongovernmental efforts. Rut Diamint, professor at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, specifically addresses some of the socio-cultural values identified by Hofstede in Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work Related Values (Sage, 1980) as critical to understanding human behavior. He focuses on the challenges encountered by military and police officers in a democratic state. Susan Rose-Ackerman, Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale University, argues for the early development of measures to manage and prevent the illegal use of public power and assets for personal or political gain. Among the means she proposes are transparency, accountability, and freedom of speech to both criticize and inform constituents. Clearly integrating the macro and micro views and the means available for implementation represents a complex challenge.

The practitioner’s perspective is presented by former senior politicians from young democratic states. Their perspective is compelling because they scrutinize the ideas and logic of the first three sections. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, president of Brazil from 1995 to 2003, highlights the responsibility of executing leadership and action toward national interests. He reasons that instead of analyzing quantitative data, synthesizing qualitative data in light of the situation’s contextual landscape or moment in history is paramount. Cesar Gaviria, former president of Columbia (1990–94) and secretary general of the Organization of American States (1994–2004), discusses specific instruments adopted in Latin America and the importance of improving the quality of participation. Further, Gaviria explores globalization risks and rewards for young democratic states. Inder Kumar Gujral, former Indian prime minister (1997–98), minister of external affairs (1989–90, 1996–97), and participant in India’s struggle for independence from Britain, emphasizes the legal-constitutional perspectives of democratic transformation. Anibal Cavaco Silva, president of Portugal and prime minister from 1985 to 1995, addresses the executive and legislative relations challenges in the context of macroeconomic stabilization, structural reform, and the provision of goods and services. He examines the differences between parliamentarian and presidential democracies by contrasting the Portuguese and French systems. Finally, Boston University professor and Venezuelan scholar Carlos Blanco explores the challenges of maintaining the limitations of civilian-controlled police and military institutions.

Not surprising is the conclusion that the macro and micro issues manifested in implementation represent complex issues for practitioners to understand, integrate, and communicate. The editors loosely organize the individual presentations around the four sections. While some authors explore the cultural and contextual challenges confronted in developing democracies, most lack the breadth and depth of more seminal texts like Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Military professionals will find the text valuable because cultural values and political dynamics represent major components of nation building operations.

Lt Col Robert W. Erickson, USAF

Commander, Space-Based Space Surveillance Squadron

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."