Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why can't liberal democracies liberate dictatorships?

It's one of the odd Real World philosophy posts, feel free to skip.

It's well known that the attempt of the Western countries to bring democracies to (mostly Middle-Eastern) dictatorships failed miserably. With the recent beheading tour of the Islamic State into Libya, we can tell that each and every liberated country fell into failed state, despite extreme effort. The obvious question rises: why?

While single failures can be explained by mistakes, corruption or bad tactics, multiple failures must have a systemic cause. I believe it's the incompatible conflict-solving methods of dictatorships and liberal democracies. You see, there are conflicts everywhere in our life: companies compete for resources, friends and even spouses turn to haters, religious groups compete for believers and so on. No country is immune to that.

In a dictatorship, the conflicts are solved by the appropriate level guy in the leading group. If two people or groups has an issue, they approach "the man" and ask for his decision. It will be made. It'll likely be arbitrary and even corrupted, but swift and without appeal. From there the conflict is solved and the loser can change his behavior, exile or go to jail.

In a liberal democracy, conflicts are solved by the extremely complicated legal system. Everything has a law or precedent for and after spending enough money and time on lawyers, a fair decision is made or better, a settlement is reached before that.

The problem comes when a liberal democratic country occupies a dictatorship and removes the former dictator and local underlings. The people and groups still have conflicts, but nowhere to go with them. The dictators are gone, the de facto powerful ones (the military leaders of the occupying army) are unwilling to interfere with local issues and there isn't an existing legal system to turn to (even if there was some, it was part of the leading group and was removed with the dictator).

Without decisions, even minor conflicts escalate into full war between clans, sects and oligarchs, turning the country into a mess.

The situation has an even worse effect on the occupying military itself. At home, the police and the politicians are subjects of the same legal system. If a cop beats up a suspect, he can press charges and the court will punish the abusive cop. Same for the corrupted politician. These people don't have to have internal limits as the legal system keeps them in bay. Abroad, they are in the situation where they have the guns and the locals have nowhere to turn. No wonder they start abusing locals.

Neither problem exists when a dictatorship occupies another. The officers of the occupying force are used to handle all kind of disputes from divorces to business arguments, so they'll do the job of "city commander". Their decisions might not be spectacular, but there will be decisions. Also, they learned the limits of their power at home. Those who abused their subject into revolting or killed too much workforce were removed by the dictators for their own interest. Those who kept being promoted are those who can control their subject with reason.

The solution is obvious: democracies shouldn't bother occupying dictatorships, they must ally less bad dictatorships (like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, better oligarchs) and help them into power. Do the bombing and the financing, but let those who have skills in oppressing a country run the show.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Gevlon have you read any Murray Rothbard?

If you are interested in economics and political economy, be sure you've checked him out. He's one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century.

Unknown said...

I mean... it's classic Montesquieu isn't it? Not the separation of powers stuff, but he did a study of various societies and governments back then, and said essentially that radical change of government cannot be imposed so swiftly upon a people. It's a cultural thing.

Many of the cultures in the Middle East are not culturally inclined to be liberal democracies. Their traditions and religions generally lend themselves to some sort of dictatorship or monarchy. Hell, you can look back at European and American history, and it took a great number of cultural changes to even begin the liberal democracies that we know today.

Anyone could have told the United States that concerning Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the time investment would be at least 40 years. But I digress.

Also Gevlon: I don't appreciate you omitting my comments when they contain relevant criticisms of your articles.

Unknown said...

I think there is also a societal perspective on top of it as well. The USA did not become the USA without centuries of history preceding it. The roots our the USA run deep into the history of England. While there are some in many countries that want Democracy, if the mindset as a whole does not exist, it will not work.

It is one thing to liberate a democracy from a dictatorship, it is another to liberate a dictatorship to replace it with democracy.

nightgerbil said...

NO NO NO, the reason libya is screwed is the lack of follow through same as afghanistan after russians withdrew.

The reason the liberal democs keep failing is cos non of our present day politicans have the balls to tell our people that what we need to do is go over there and sit on them for 3 generations. Its easy to throw a few smart bombs then go back to planning how to win the next election, alot harder to write an open ending check.

What to see where it did work out for us though? Look at germany.

Stabs said...

There was a fascinating documentary this week on the BBC. Adam Curtis did a film called Bitter Lake, exploring the history of Anglo-Afghan conflict. He argued that when countries go there to "civilise" the brutal locals they're not prepared for how the experience will reflect back on them. He cited a culture of Russian soldiers becoming brutalised and drug-addicted after tours in Afghan and made some case that it had a significant role in the undermining of the Soviet belief system which eventually led to perestroika.

He went on to argue that the same toxic cultural shift is happening in Britain and America as a result of our engagement in Afghan - we're becoming less civilised, more brutal, more like them.

(Not sure if iplayer will work where you are Gevlon but here's the link in case and for the benefit of your UK readers:

Provi Miner said...

yeah chaos fills a vacuum, we know it. I don't understand why people still think democracy is the best solution for every political issue. I rather enjoyed the article and seems to be in line with my thoughts on the matter.

maxim said...

On the most fundamental level, you are sorta right. Social formations need to evolve on their own and it is very hard to jump stages. Forget Montesquieu, that's classic Marxism.

However, you are also missing quite a few layers of abstraction in your explanation. Most important of them is - whose hands actually enact the liberation.

Another reason why liberal democracies have been unable to liberate dictatorships have everything to do with the fact that in most cases the people who do the actual liberation on behalf of liberal democracies are never liberal or democratic. Rather, they are radical extremists.

The most egregious example of the nature of these people has been the execution of Gaddafi. Any lingering hopes that anyone had that maybe events in Lybia will make the country better evaporated the instant the video of Gaddafi being brutally executed in public started making rounds.

So, while i grant you that jumping from dictatorship to democracy is a hard transition and that not everybody is necessarily ready, i submit to you that - at least when it comes to Arab Spring - the failure to establish true liberal democracy lies entirely with liberal democracies choosing its revolutionary partners extremely poorly.

So poorly, in fact, that one might even wonder if such poor choice can be explained by simple incompetence of people exporting liberal democracy, or that there is something different going on (hint Bzhezinsky controlled chaos)

Anonymous said...

The really sad thing is to see how fast it can go the other direction (see afganistan before soviets ...).

now what is the difference with germany?
after world war 1, there wasn't that big a change in the leading class.
after world war two (especially in eastern part), it was a military dictatorship at first that was then transformed into a semi-democratic one.
as gevlon said, the problem arises when you try to skip the occupation + transformation phases and immediately jump into a process of 'replace the leading class + now it's your turn, untrained civilian with power ambitions'.

what was different in japan after ww2? they sorta left the powers in place (problems with the war memorials ...) but japan didn't have any of these internal conflicts of other dictatorships. if lybia was a homogenous country, the outcome might have been different.

also gevlon, didn't you once post about the problem with dictatorships in the sense of 'dictator = part of minority -> problems'?

Anonymous said...

Your observation suffers from being proved wrong in the past. Germany, Italy, their minions and even Vichy France were liberated by democracies and developed quite well afterwards. One might argue that these countries were civilised before and afterwards fell into brutality, which makes it easier to re-emerge.

To take a different angle: Could it be that the US is well on its way to becoming a capitalist evangelical intelligence dictatorship and therefore lost its credibilty with the natives and the ability to actually liberate another country?

Gevlon said...

Germany, Italy and France wasn't only "civilized", they were democracies until Hitler and Mussolini.

Kaeda Maxwell said...

Japan comes to mind.

The difference being ofc the USA stuck around for a quarter of century afterwards and made no attempts to pretend they were there for any other reason then they were.

The problem isn't it can't be done, it's that it can't be done in few years. Democracy needs a bit of time for people to learn to trust it systems and get accustomed to how it operates. Else it gets killed in its cradle a lot of the time.

You see the same again in former Eastern Europe I remember the wall coming down in '86 and many of those counties weren't exactly democracies before they became soviet satellite states either, they are now however democracies many of them quite wealthy ones too. And while the cold war was just that, I'd argue it's still military and economic pressure that made that happen.

Also Africa has a reasonable number of examples of countries that successfully transformed themselves from dictatorships into democracies without outside intervention (Ghana and Benin come to mind).

Anonymous said...

well Jordan or Saudi Arabia are fine with how it was and is. If anything bothered them they would have changed it.

History is always written in the present. Meaning the facts and goals of the past are blured. And even in the present I can't be sure. The evidence to support the assumption that "democracy" is being exported into those regions isn't really there at all. they say they do but nothing backs their word.

Mentioning Adam Curtis he made a piece for screen wipe
The state of disinformation and constant flux of positions so no disposition can be formed encloses my "I don't know" perfectly.

Anonymous said...

"Germany, Italy and France wasn't only "civilized", they were democracies until Hitler and Mussolini."

Then you should take a look at how Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan were pre 1970 or so.

We cannot liberate dictatorships for 2 reasons: the first is political (we helped set up and enable them, and we do not stop those enabling them today - Like Saudi Arabia for example), and the second is that people tend to dislike being told what to do by another country, this tends to entrench views, and feeds into the dictators hands.

Where genuine change (to any degree) has happened, it has happened without overt outside influence (See eastern europe)

Anonymous said...

To answer your question, just look at Romans 13:1-2: "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." Perhaps the democracies should stop trying to liberate dictatorships.

Anonymous said...

That's a splendid idea. Maybe we should all abstain from voting as well. God will take care to establish proper authorities.

Xmas said...

All forms of government require trust in the Government. If you look at any government, you'll see that it has the trust of the "right" people. Democracies hold the trust of both the rich and the voters. Military dictatorships, the army. Muslim dictatorships, the imams. Sub-Saharan African dictatorships, the tribal leaders.

Over time, governments can lose trust, or the "right" people lose their own power. Chaos ensues and a new order rises. The how and why this happens depend very much on the history and culture of the people.

For example, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Poland all suffered under the thumb of Soviet control after World War II. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the "right" people, dictators and the apparatchiks, lost their power. Each of these countries reacted differently to the change, based on their own histories and cultures. The East Germans re-united with the West Germans, Poland road their Solidarity movement into a functional Democracy. The Czechs and Slovaks did something similar with a peaceful breakup along ethnic and religious lines, and Yugoslavia fell into a brutal civil war based on the ethnic and religious tribalism based on grudges that went back 1000 years.

Camo said...

Provi Miner: "I don't understand why people still think democracy is the best solution for every political issue."
Because it follows set rules and not arbitrary whim.
Because you are able to voice your dissatisfaction without fear of reprisal and you can even work to change the situation.

I think the main problem in the middle east is the lack of a renaissance. They don't have the concept of secularisation, they believe in religion and think their religion is the only true one.
This makes them the savage tribes the have been since the beginning, just looking at the past of any multi-tribe middle easter country or Africa is proof enough.
Dictatorship and oppression is the only solution when you think of controlling anyone in a defined country of this nature.
The problem of the west is that we want their oil, so we can't just leave them alone while they kill themselves.

Anon(): "To answer your question, just look at Romans 13:1-2 [...]"
I don't even... Rebelling againt the authorities certainly helped Jesus.

Esteban said...

Oh, please. The 'city commander' role is exactly the one Paul Bremer played in Iraq. His attempt to ram through a pro-American constitution and install cronies like Ahmad Chalabi and others in key posts were straight out of the tinpot strongman playbook. Ironically, it was certain local authorities (Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr among others) who protested this as being basically undemocratic.

Westerners are quite happy and able to play dictator.

I don't think any culture or religion is incompatible with democracy (or with dictatorship, for that matter) but there has been too much bad blood between western democracies and the people of the Middle East for anything imposed by the former to be trusted by the latter. We simply do not respect democratic outcomes (Morsi in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza) that aren't to our liking and the occupied people, with some justification, see democracy itself as cover for pro-oil, pro-Israel policies.

Anonymous said...

Your write up is both too complicated and too simplistic. You're thinking about issues that relate to legitimacy with regard to governance. One sort of legitimacy is institutional, that of a constitution for example. While the other sort of legitimacy is a sort of fist bandied about by a junta.

The inability of the west to construct a stable democracy in the Mideast has more to do with our inability to select and support the correct existing institutions to fill the void in power left after a dictator is deposed. Frankly the only seat of legitimacy in the Mideast, that isn't overtly violent, is Islam, and the west, the US in particular, will not support that sort of state. Not only would such a construction seem to violate our definition of democracy, but it would look pretty much identical to modern Iran... a construction which is hardly palatable politically here in the States.

maxim said...

I thought religion was what made savages into civilized people. At least, Huntington - the author of "Clash of Civilizations" concept - thinks so.

Your claim to the fact that being secularized made you even more civilized is well supported by how you are perfectly okay with just having other human beings kill each other and the only reason you are interfering is oil. So very Renaissance of you :D

And yes, the whole point of Jesus was rebelling against unjust authorities, even to the point of dying. Though i can see how a secularized person driven only by self-interest would be confused by the notion of there being things more important than one's own life.

Anonymous said...

I thought religion was what made savages into civilized people
you need more to form a Civilization. Yes, sure, various believe systems need to be in place. But it isn't religion. it's more symbolism like the words I type right now.

Not sure if trolling so I leave it at that.

maxim said...

Does it matter if i'm trolling or not if i'm right?

I am not sure what definition of "civilization" you are working with here.
Care to clarify?
Also please cite your source for that definition.

After that, give an example of a civilization that evolved without having some sort of religion at its core.

Anonymous said...

definition: An advanced state of intellectual, cultural, and material development in human society, marked by progress in the arts and sciences, the extensive use of record-keeping, including writing, and the appearance of complex political and social institutions.

I argue that it is the only thing needed, like the definition evolved to that list that describes Civilization today.
Religion is part of us since the first time we made fire (technology). As far as western civilization goes religion is part of it. Sure. For our present peak of Civilization it hardly prevents savagery despite religion at it's core or other core values for that matter.

Sobaila said...

Democracy means the tyranny of the majority. That is what it has always meant and is completely different from the systems that were established in most western cultures. What they established were republics which have a constitution that limits the power of government. What the US has been doing is establishing a system where you can vote for your favorite tyrant, not a republic.

When a culture is barbaric it has two types of men, the men of force and the men who justify it intellectually. Both types have to be dealt with to change a culture. In the middle east the intellectual justification comes from Islam.

This is why the West has never succeeded in the middle east. They will not declare Islam to be the enemy and proceed to remove its influence on the culture.

This tactic has historical precedent in Japan and Germany where they imposed a constitution to stop the men of force but also remove Nazism and Shintoism as motivating ideology. It is only recently that Mein Kempt has been allowed to be published in Germany. When that happens to the Quran down there victory will be result.