Why Western Democracy Is Not a Global Notion:
Required a Values Based System of Governance
by Alan Tonkin
The concept of “Western style democracy” is not a globally accepted notion as we see every day on the 24 hour international news channels as well as in the world’s press. This is because different societies with vastly different levels of development and values, view governance from very different values perspectives.
For the purposes of this discussion paper we will consider Western style democracy contrasted against the type of governance systems emerging in the developing nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China as well as in South Africa. All of these countries are part of the new G20 Grouping as well as being influential in many other areas including that of climate change. At the recent Copenhagen Climate Summit they were key players in finalising the final outcome with the US.
TIME Magazine in its edition of 8 March 2010 asked the question on its cover,“Where Did Europe Go?” and in particular how the EU sees itself both in terms of governance and influencing world events. In the article TIME points out that the power structure of the EU does not lend itself to being able to communicate forcefully on the global stage as the individual member states firmly retain this right.
In addition to the above groupings there are the Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s of this world where Western style democracy is being forced on populations who may not be ready for this type of governance system. These are largely tribal societies who have other loyalties rather than to a weak central government. Often these governments have been unable or unwilling to provide services to those directly affected.
In this article we will examine why the different governance systems are currently in transition and why global politics/politicians are often perceived in a poor light.
The Western Democracies
The countries of the Western World made up largely of the US and EU fit into a value system where a large percentage of the population are well educated and are able to access the media through both 24/7 TV channels as well as broadband internet. These are people who blog on a regular basis and are able to access a wide variety of opinions from politics and economics to the arts.
In this world of instant news every aspect of government is explored and dissected by the media. As in the case in the UK of the recent “expenses” scandal in the House of Commons, many politicians are still operating in the old paradigm where their actions are considered by them to be above the law. At the same time the public are demanding more accountability from their public representatives.
Equally, in the US, President Obama came to power based on an idea of more transparency in government. However, political systems that have been built up over decades do not relinquish power easily and the “power brokers” from all sides of the political spectrum retain the resources to stop some of the necessary political reforms required. There is also an inbuilt natural human resistance to change.
Currently, in both the US and EU the key area of contestation is the “middle ground” and the major political parties are increasingly fighting over ever diminishing returns. In this regard Japan is also seen to be moving into this area of governance with the values being expressed by the population being closer to the Western model.
The Emerging Economies of the G20
Countries such as those in the BRIC grouping (Brazil, Russia, India and China) plus South Africa have very different political and governance systems, though their approach to many global issues is similar to the developed economies. They are all focused on economic growth and better living standards for their populations as they are keenly aware that this a key necessity to retain internal stability.
Stability is the key to retaining a climate of “law and order” and in this regard the type of leadership required is very different from that in the developed Western economies. These countries require strong leadership that can deliver to those emerging from tribalism and poverty, along similar lines to the UK during the Industrial Revolution. These are countries that are going through their own “Industrial Revolution” in the 21st Century with all the attendant challenges.
However, the balance of power is changing with around 40% of global population in the BRIC grouping. In addition, China will soon to become the second largest trading nation overtaking Japan. India is also becoming a powerhouse in its own right.
South Africa is the country in this grouping with the most serious challenges in terms of values based democracy. A large percentage of the population is still tribally based and poorly educated with a further significant percentage falling into the “Power Now” Red value. Added to this endemic corruption at all levels of government plus non-delivery of basic services is starting to be felt on the broader economy.
The above, linked to a Constitution based on liberal Western democratic values is causing serious questions to be asked on the on-going sustainability of the ANC and its alliance partners in terms of good governance. Service delivery protests have spread in deprived areas across the country and the government seems to have no idea on how to respond in a practical and meaningful way.
In all these countries there is a wide spread of economic interest and education ranging from the very wealthy to the rural poor. Serious levels of corruption are also experienced in these societies and their governments are concerned in this trend.
Some Other Examples of Key Emerging Countries
Iraq and Afghanistan are continually in the international news media and need to be considered in terms of governance for the future. These are countries that have experienced high levels of intolerance and violence over a long period of time. In both cases there is a strong ethnic and tribal aspect to the make up of the population.
It is considered possible that over time a Western style democratic system could work in both these countries. However, before this can take root it will be necessary to set up a strong and effective administration to run both countries and to provide job opportunities and local services to the broader population.
In order for the Western countries to be successful in this critical area they will need to commit significant resources to both countries for considerable periods of time. This time frame could exceed the time spent by the Allies in Europe after the Second World War and could be 50 years or more. Unless this is the case there will inevitably be a return to the previous value systems prior to Western intervention.
Some Other Values Perspectives
Western politics is based on relatively short to medium time frames with elections taking place on a regular basis, normally every four to five years. This does not always lead to continuity in policy, though as political parties increasingly move to the middle ground this is improving.
In the emerging economies, longer term strategies are required, often extending over decades in order to catch up economically. This is sometimes not fully understood in Western capitals that often look for short term results rather than effective long term strategies. In addition, there is often a lack of understanding of the needs of a developing economy and the required resources to finish the job.
Political expediency has in the past often been placed before real long term strategies, requiring longer time frames and a greater political commitment to positive change. This has often been the weakness of the previous approaches. However, there are signs that this is now more fully understood in some Western capitals.
Necessary Differences in Approach
The graphic below indicates the different type of “democratic” system appropriate to
the various levels of development. This is from a graphic by Dr Don Beck from the Centre for Human Emergence showing differing political and economic systems by each of the predominant values system. It is also important to note that there is a “mix of values” in each predominant system allowing for overlap and transition up or down depending on “life conditions.” This is similar to the gears on a racing car.
The Economic Powerhouses
It is important to note that the Western democracies currently spread across the Blue Order, Orange Enterprise and Green Social Democracy areas with the next major step for these states being to the Integral Yellow. This will however, require new values to emerge as part of this shift and an appreciation of how to integrate all of the above values in a positive way. These countries with the exception of China comprise the major part of the world’s output. In addition, with Orange Enterprise being the centre of gravity for these countries, it means that economics are the driving force with politics being under pressure to ensure that the economy is kept strong.
Emerging Economic Powers
Emerging economies such as the BRIC grouping are mainly focused on developing the Blue Order and Orange Enterprise areas. They also possess large components of both Tribal Purple and Power Red to a greater or lesser extent with a twin profile (see graphic). However, the danger in these countries is that corruption and nepotism can result in those countries slipping back to lower 3rd World values rather than moving forward to more sustainable levels of economic development.
These countries are also strongly focused on economic issues which may however, from time to time be overtaken by political and other issues relating to the “law and order.”
Other Emerging 3rd World Countries
The third group described including Iraq and Afghanistan is still attempting to transition from Tribal Purple and Red Power to Blue Order. Only once this is firmly established can they move forward strongly into Orange Enterprise. In both these cases the road is likely to extend over a lengthy period of time.
Developing economies often place the stability of political leadership above giving their populations too much freedom. This is seen as a longer term goal once the issues of poverty and economic development have been effectively handled. In many ways this is similar to the developed Western countries during a similar stage in their moving from agrarian to industrialised status. The graphic below by Dr Don Beck and the Spiral Dynamics Group illustrates how values evolve over time:
Key to understanding the position from the above examples is that it has taken centuries for the developed Western economies to move to their current position on the values scale. This has been created by their environment which creates the “life conditions” appropriate for that particular phase in their development.
In considering the above it is clear that the term democracy can mean very different things to different people, depending on where they are on the values scale. This is a continuing journey with no end in sight, as it unfolds to new and higher levels for every community and region in our “Global Village.”
The issue of real “sustainable development” globally is only now being fully understood. This means that for real success to be achieved it will be necessary for the developed nations to move to a more integrated, long term approach to nation building on the global level.
Equally, the international financial markets drive global development and all countries are aware of the need to ensure that they retain the support of global investors. Countries that do not support this view have been left behind as in the case of North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe and other states who have tried to swim against the tide.
The issue of sustainable development is of necessity a long process requiring both patience and support to emerging countries at all stages of the journey. It also requires “tough love” from time to time by the developed world where emerging countries are seen to be slipping back into“bad old habits”.
In concluding this discussion paper, it is clear that there is no single global formula that fits every issue in terms of governance. Values and culture as well as local and other related life conditions determine where we as a civilisation currently are at this time on the continuing values journey.
Democracy is not a “one fits all approach” and I quote from Thomas Jefferson:
“Laws and institutions go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat that fitted him as a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
It is important to note that when Jefferson made this statement he was pointing out that as society advances it needs to keep pace with the changing times. This equally applies today where there is often an incorrect perception in the Western democracies that all countries share the same values.
In the UK there has been a massive shift since the signing of the Magna Carta and present day UK political systems. King Charles II he also acted as Prime Minister and at one stage did not call the Parliament for a period of two years. He also used Westminster for his various wars in Europe. If the 17th Century noblemen who sat in Westminster during the reign of Charles II had to govern the modern Britain how well would the country be run? The challenge and priority to the post-modern world is in how to manage and include the many emerging nations with their widely differing values mixes into the new demands of the 21st Century Global Community.
In reinforcing this point I will use Pakistan, another country in transition facing major problems of stability and democracy, by quoting the Pakistan Minister of Justice in 2002 following the elections at that time:
“We are largely an agrarian feudal society where tribal alliances/ agreements often prevail over the positions adopted by political parties. Our system is not Westminster and our political party candidates are required to be well educated, as those with a higher education better understand the more sophisticated requirements of the country as a whole.”
This clearly indicates the value systems in Pakistan at that time covering Tribal Purple, Power Red and Blue Order with very little Orange Enterprise being evident.
In addition I will use a quotation by Hamid Jalaipour from TIME Magazine on the 23 December 2002 following riots in the streets of Iran as a result of the death sentence being imposed on an academic:
“The students and reformists in parliament share the idea that reform should be gradual. The target is usually the collapse of the political system. In this case we are looking for modification. Sudden changes are undesirable. We are looking for human rights in accordance with the nature of our society.”
The above examples clearly indicate that there is not one system of democracy that fits all. Values and history are the key to understanding issues such as democracy. It is therefore, a necessary requirement that the issue of “values” should be fully understood and supported by all concerned leaders if we as a global society are to continue to move forward.
In closing I quote Professor Clare Graves from Union College in New York in 1980 who produced the seminal work on values and it’s influence on our society and world:
“The present moment finds our society attempting to negotiate the most difficult, but at the same time the most exciting, transition the human race has faced to date. It is not merely a transition to a new level of existence but the start of a new “movement” in the symphony of human history.”
Chairman: GVN Consulting Group
St Francis Bay, Eastern Cape. South Africa
10 March 2010