Friday, July 5, 2013

Some Quick and Dirty Democratic Rules

I have seen more strange stuff about Egypt, so let's go through the basic rules of democracy:
  1. People you don't like get elected.  Democracy requires a willingness to accept losing.
  2. Folks who do get elected have to accept losing power via subsequent elections or term limits.
  3. Outsiders will often dislike those who get elected.  US didn't like Morsi.... Well, lots of folks didn't like Bush.
  4. If elections really matter, then outsiders have very little impact.  Indeed, trying to shape outcomes usually backfires, tainting those that you support.  Having great power does not mean that one can actually deploy it successfully when wanting to influence the domestic politics of other countries.  No magic wands or wish machines.
  5. If such efforts don't backfire, the winner is still tainted by your support and is seen as your agent (Karzai?). 
  6. Militaries do not change who governs.  If the military does change who governs, it is not a democracy anymore.  Might become one again but that would require widely accepted/legitimate rules and elections, not just appointments by the military. 
  7. A key ingredient of advanced democracies is that the military is not even relevant during political crises.  The classic case is, of course, Bush v. Gore in 2000.  Nobody sought to ask the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff what to do.  More recently, where was Brazil's military during the big protests?  Um, not on the front page and not anywhere else that mattered.  The military stayed out of it.  Sure, Brazil has been a democracy since the mid-1980s, so we don't notice the absence of the military.  But we should as silent dogs can tell us as much or more than the barking ones.  
Ok, and while I am doing something that I hate--talking about defintions--as I am not that precise of a person, let's talk about revolutions for a second.  A revolution involves significant, lasting change of the political system.  It ain't a revolution if it is just for a year or two.  The American Revolution was not 1776 but a political process from before that through until at least victory over the British, if not the ratification of the Constitution.  The French Revolution, well, that went on for awhile, didn't it?  The Russian Revolution did not end with the overthrow of the Czar but went on through the Civil War.  The outcome and the effects were in doubt for quite a while. 

Once does not have to buy into Skocpol's definition of a Revolution, which I tend to, where it involves bigtime social change, but a Revolution is not just the replacement of the current leader with another.  It involves a dramatic change in who governs, how they govern, and so on.  Right now, Egypt looks a lot like it did three years ago, with a military regime repressing the Muslim Brotherhood.  Coups, regime change, and civil wars do not equate to or necessarily lead to revolutions.  It is too damned soon to tell if this is Revolutionary, but there has been plenty of time to be able to call this a coup. 


Philip said...

All true. But democracy also requires not arresting people for saying mean things about you and occasionally unilaterally declaring yourself to be above the law. Doesn't change the fact it's a coup but does add some context.

Steve Saideman said...

Indeed. That goes to accepting the rules.

Anonymous said...

A key ingredient of advanced democracies is that the military is not even relevant during political crises.

At the risk of sounding snarky, does this mean that France was not an advanced democracy in 1961?

MSS said...

France in 1958 (and perhaps earlier) to the early 1960s was pretty dodgy as a democracy. Things improved thereafter.

It's Juan Linz's classic example of "breakdown and reequilibration", that is, where one democratic regime broke down extra-constitutionally, but democracy survived in a new (and more stable) form.

Steve Saideman said...

Indeed, France is only a stable democracy sometime later in the 1960s. Too much coup-ness and military in politics before that. So, no snark.