Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Quo Vadis Democracy?

It took over two weeks, but my book on Democratisation has finally arrived! Bless you Booktopia for importing this all the way from the US with no extra charge to me. I first encountered Jean Grugel's seminal work while doing a grad class on Democracy a few years back. The core ideas I took away from reading one chapter was that political plurality can be reached through compromises between competing power groups. The "compromise" may not necessarily be reached through non-violent means however, as history will attest to (think French Revolution).

What most people neglect to remember is that political plurality means nothing without economic plurality, as our own experience has shown us. What do you do with political independence when you cannot even guarantee a minimum of socio-economic independence. The classic critique against our so-called democracy is, "Can you eat your right to vote?" We all agree that our public institutions have not been in the service of the public good (however we choose to define the term). Our public institutions are corrupt - corruption being a symptom of an unfinished democracy.

Last I checked this book could not be found in UP, ADMU or DLSU's library collection, which is a real pity. In any case, I'll see if I can come up with a book review once I finish reading the whole thing. In the mean time, here is an excellent overview of what this book is about. The items underlined and in bold are my own emphasis. From the Introductory chapter of Democratisation: A Critical Introduction, Jean Grugel writes:

This book analyses one of the most exciting developments in contemporary politics: the sustained attempts, which have gradually gathered pace since the 1970s, to subject government to popular control and to make states work in ways that favour the broad mass of the people. Struggles to establish democracy have their roots in the belief that everyone deserves to live in conditions of dignity, tolerance and respect. This book explains how a range of global pressures and events combined to open a political opportunity for democratisation at the end of the twentieth century. It also analyses the fate of some experiments in democratisation.

In brief, it presents the view that, despite the range of global pressures for democratisation, the consolidation of democratisation is nationally determined. Where democratisation is successful, it is due to two factors, namely the emergence of a strong, dense and vibrant civil societies that work consistently to democratise politics and to hold the state accountable, and the existence of a capable and flexible state....

....democratisation is a slow and painful business. Elite commitment to democracy can weaken and is often contingent; structural factors frequently impede the deepening of democratisation; and globalisation can be as much an obstacle as an assistance....the creation of democracy is a radical and challenging business, during which groups with interests embedded in the maintenance of the non-democratic status quo have to be either defeated or reformed.

The question we can now all ask ourselves is this - where is our democracy going? And how will we get there?

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