“When people look back at what happened in [the 20th] century, they will find it hard not to [give] primacy to the emergence of democracy as the preeminently acceptable form of government.”
Democracy has had a long history from Ancient Greece through Magna Carta to French and American revolutions, but “it was in the twentieth century...that the idea of democracy became established as the ‘normal’ form of government to which any nation is entitled – whether in Europe, America, Asia, or Africa.” For Sen, "democratic governance has now achieved the status of being taken to be generally right."
“The idea of democracy as a universal commitment is quite new," Sen writes, "and it is quintessentially a product of the twentieth century. ”Other moments of democratization were local or focused on local affairs. Previously, the question was whether a country is 'fit for democracy,' but in the 20th century the question changed, because: 'A country does not have to be deemed fit for democracy; rather, it has to become fit through democracy.'"
Do you see the difference with Kaplan?
What about the argument that non-democracies produce better economic results, like in Singapore?
Sen argues that this hypothesis “is based on sporadic empiricism, drawing on very selective and limited information, rather than on any general statistical testing over the wide-ranging data that are available.” I.e. it is political junk science.
Sen says that, “there is, in fact, no convincing general evidence that authoritarian governance and the suppression of political and civil rights are really beneficial to economic development.”There is no preponderance of evidence that democracy is either more or less beneficial economically. “Since democracy and political liberty have importance in themselves, the case for them therefore remains untarnished.” In other words, even if they don’t help the economy, they don’t hurt it, and it’s better to have them than not.
Sen also says that beyond statistical correlation, we should look at causal processes in economic growth: basically, openness and other helpful policies are not incompatible with increased democratization: “There is by now broad consensus on a list of 'helpful policies' that includes openness to competition, the use of international markets, public provision of incentives for investment and export, a high level of literacy and schooling, successful land reforms, and other social opportunities that widen participation in the process of economic expansion.”
Democracy, in short, is good for the economy.
Another argument is that “political and civil rights give people the opportunity to draw attention forcefully to general needs and to demand appropriate public action,” i.e. democratic governance keeps the government honest, so to speak, with positive net economic benefit. Sen gives as an example the fact that no widespread deadly famine has ever occurred in a democratic country with a free press. In a democracy, governments have to win the people’ s trust, etc., which they do by solving to an extent solvable problems, like famines: “Famines are easy to prevent if there is a serious effort to do so, and a democratic government, facing elections and criticisms from opposition parties and independent newspapers, can not help but make such an effort.”
“What exactly is democracy?
We must not identify democracy with majority rule," Sen argues,. "Democracy has complex demands, which certainly include voting and respect for election results, but it also requires the protection of liberties and freedoms, respect for legal entitlements, and the guaranteeing of free discussion and uncensored distribution of news and fair comment. Even elections can be deeply defective if they occur without the different sides getting an adequate opportunity to present their respective cases, or without the electorate enjoying the freedom to obtain news and to consider the views of the competing protagonists. Democracy is a demanding system, and not just a mechanical condition (like majority rule) taken in isolation.”
How does democracy enrich human life?
“We can distinguish three different ways in which democracy enriches the lives of the citizens”:(Sen calls them intrinsic, instrumental, and constructive):
“First, political freedom is a part of human freedom in general, and exercising civil and political rights is a crucial part of good lives of individuals as social beings. Political and social participation has intrinsic value for human life and well-being. To be prevented from participation in the political life of the community is a major deprivation.”
“Second, as I have just discussed (in disputing the claim that democracy is in tension with economic development), democracy has an important instrumental value in enhancing the hearing that people get in expressing and supporting their claims to political attention (including claims of economic needs).”
“Third ... the practice of democracy gives citizens an opportunity to learn from one another, and helps society to form its values and priorities. Even the idea of 'needs,' including the understanding of 'economic needs,' requires public discussion and exchange of information, views, and analyses. In this sense, democracy has constructive importance, in addition to its intrinsic value for the lives of the citizens and its instrumental importance in political decisions.”
What is a universal value?
"For a value to be considered universal, must it have theconsent of everyone? If that were indeed necessary, then the category of universal values might well be empty. I know of no value--not even motherhood (I think of Mommie Dearest)--to which no one has ever objected. I would argue that universal consent is not required for something to be a universal value. Rather, the claim of a universal value is that people anywhere may have reason to see it as valuable.”
The argument here is that in the 20th century like never before, most people would approve of democratic changes if they were to occur: “In considering democracy for a country that does not have it and where many people may not yet have had the opportunity to consider it for actual practice, it is now presumed that the people involved would approve of it once it becomes a reality in their lives.”
The “Poor People Don’t Want Democracy” Argument
Against the argument that some sections of the population don’t care much about democracy and would rather just have “bread,” Sen has two responses:
(1) as in the famine scenario, it may be the poor who have the most to gain from the kind of security that comes with democratization: “the protective role of democracy may be particularly important for the poor. This obviously applies to potential famine victims who face starvation. It also applies to the destitute thrown off the economic ladder in a financial crisis. People in economic need also need a political voice. Democracy is not a luxury that can await the arrival of general prosperity.”
(2) “there is very little evidence that poor people, given the choice, prefer to reject democracy... To the extent that there has been any testing of the proposition that the poor do not care about civil and political rights, the evidence is entirely against that claim.”
The Cultural Argument is that there are non-democratic cultures with their own values. Example, “Asian Values”: “It has been claimed that Asians traditionally value discipline, not political freedom, and thus the attitude to democracy must inevitably be much more skeptical in these countries.”
Sen objects that (1)“It is very hard to find any real basis for this intellectual claim in the history of Asian cultures.” One problem is that “Asia” is very diverse (east asia, southeast asia, etc.), and every subgroup i.e. Japanese is also very diverse internally. (2)“There is no homogeneous worship of order over freedom in any of these cultures.”“The monolithic interpretation of Asian values as hostile to democracy and political rights does not bear critical scrutiny.” (3)“It is not hard, of course, to find authoritarian writings within the Asian traditions. But neither is it hard to find them in Western classics: One has only to reflect on the writings of Plato or Aquinas to see that devotion to discipline is not a special Asian taste. To dismiss the plausibility of democracy as a universal value because of the presence of some Asian writings on discipline and order would be similar to rejecting the plausibility of democracy as a natural form of government in Europe or America today on the basis of the writings of Plato or Aquinas (not to mention the substantial medieval literature in support of the Inquisitions).”
The bottom line is that democracy is a universal value in the three ways mentioned before, which were not nullified by the economic or the cultural arguments. “The value of democracy includes its intrinsic importance in human life, its instrumental role in generating political incentives, and its constructive function in the formation of values (and in understanding the force and feasibility of claims of needs, rights, and duties). These merits are not regional in character. Nor is the advocacy of discipline or order.”