The Exportability Of The Democratic Tradition
From The Western Democratic Tradition by LJM Cooray

The democratic tradition when exported to European and non-European settled societies failed to take root in most instances. What are the reasons for the failure? Space does not permit an answer to that question.

The tradition has enjoyed a relative degree of success in a few countries like Japan, India and Sri Lanka (up to 1971). Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong are countries where there has been substantial economic development but traditional, political and civil liberties are restricted.

Many qualifications and doubts are entered on the subject of the exportability of the democratic tradition to the third world countries at the point of independence. If not a disastrous mistake, it was embarked upon with considerable degree of arrogance on the part of the exporters and naivete and false optimism on the side of both the exporters and minority westernised elites in the receiving countries.

In comparison the countries rejecting communism are seeking the values and institutions of the western tradition, unlike the third world countries which had the system imposed upon them at independence. Does this make a difference? The answer is probably yes, but there are still many problems of transplantation of the import.

The above analysis demonstrates that the values and institutions of the democratic tradition are multi faceted reflecting a long history and development rooted in the culture and soils of particular countries. Britain and the United States, drawing from European history and philosophy going back to early Greek and Roman civilisation, are the foremost illustrations. It is essentially of British, US and western European origin (including transplanting in settled colonies - US, Canada, NZ and Australia) and is the result of slow and painful evolution. The system is not easily exportable.

Some of the emerging communist countries are turning to the values and institutions of the democratic tradition as a panacea. Will they be disillusioned? A question for countries attempting to move from various shades of totalitarianism and authoritarianism towards the democratic tradition is: is it possible, and if so, how speedily can morally and economically decadent and virtually bankrupt regimes be changed or reformed by the introduction of democratic freedoms and a market economy? There is an obvious and glaring absence of experience of democratic institutions, parliamentary opposition and the operation of a market economy, quite apart from the other facets. Western countries which enjoy these institutions have established them slowly over a long period. There are no short cuts. These are painful realities which require reason, common sense and realism to comprehend.

The basic features of the western democratic system in its total perspective and context as outlined above are the consequence of a long period of evolution. If the leaders of the new democratic regimes do not have the wit and wisdom to warn their people of the realities, and that results cannot be expected quickly, the people will be rapidly disillusioned. There is a further dimension that people in the fledgling democracies (perhaps no less than those in the West today unlike in the days of the old order) demand instant answers to complex questions and problems and expect standards of living and material prosperity to improve quickly - and many of them are not willing to work.

If leaders are not willing to communicate the reality (no quick solutions) and the people are unwilling to accept the reality, disillusionment with democracy and the market economy is inevitable. This could lead to riots and escalating violence which provides an excuse for the establishment of strong military leadership. Hard line political and military leaders may be inciting and waiting in the wings for such developments.

Does this analysis lead to the conclusion that it is necessary to consider alternatives to the values and institutions of the "democratic tradition" for the third world and the communist world? What are the alternatives? Perhaps there is no alternative. If this is so, the wise course of action is to attempt a transplant, aware of the multi-faceted aspects of the democratic tradition and with a recognition that evolution of values and institutions are essential.