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December 06, 2011



The exception of the U.S. is interesting - the party in the 19th century that did the most to extend the franchise to all white men (the Jacksonian Democrats) was also the more pro-slavery and pro-ethnic cleansing. Perhaps the early extension of the franchise in the U.S. was a reflection not of universal democratic principles but of white ethnocentric chauvinism. (Even a tenant farmer can feel a king compared to a slave, etc.)


You have a good point there: it's interesting how 19th century conservatives often saw the expansion of the franchise as a means of mobilizing the anti-liberal sentiments of the new voters. I suspect that the turn of the 19th century rise of jingoism in Britain, and the push towards protectionism under Joseph Chamberlain, were actually facilitated by Disraeli's extension of the franchise in 1867.


Does Asia - South and Far East provide an exception to your thesis?


East Asia clearly does - Japan began introducing parliamentary politics soon after the Meiji restoration, so there was something to build on after the war; remember "Taisho Democracy". As part of the Japanese empire, South Korea and Taiwan were exposed to the same political streams of thought that prevailed in Japan, and after the war, the need to keep in America's good graces provided the necessary encouragement to build on these foundations. Finally, in neither South Korea nor Taiwan did full-fledged democracy precede industrialization and near-universal literacy, so it wasn't as if the vote was suddenly given to superstitious and easily-bought peasants.

South Asia is another question altogether. On the one hand, the British did introduce electoral politics to India in the late 19th century, while educating an Anglicized native elite which bought into the ideals of liberal representative government, and which would serve as the ruling class after the British left: if anything, it was because this native elite bought into said ideals that it grew so frustrated by being shut out of the higher reaches of government by the British, leading to the agitation for self-rule. The uneducated masses would never have cared otherwise.

On the other hand, looking at how South Asian politics has worked in practice since independence, it's obvious that this legacy of British rule didn't permeate beyond a thin upper layer of South Asian societies. Only India has really held on to the forms of democratic rule uninterruptedly, and even then it's been marred by the despotism of Ghandi, the fanaticism of the BJP, and the rampant corruption of the entire political class. As for Pakistan, I see no constituency for rule of law and liberty amongst the masses who mourned the killing of Bin Laden ...


"far more tyrannical"

Well, we have yet to see whether the Muslim Brotherhood is more tyranical than Mubarak's military regime. The latter's sordid achievements would be hard to surpass. Moreover, the military junta is still the ruler of Egypt.

And in Tunisia, the new government does NOT look worse than Bin Ali's regime. Far from it!

There is also something to said against the liberal middle class who spearheaded the revolution: Not enough emphasis was put (by them) on changing the neo-liberal economic order which is, to a great extent, the cause of rising poverty in Egypt. The right to earn more than $2 a day is no less important than the right to free speech.

The Muslim Brotherhood seems to have addressed welfare issues, even if it has never challenged the neo-liberal order.

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