Democracy is a panacea?

This question came up in my poli sci class… and a discussion came about that interested me.

Is democracy a panacea? I took this as meaning that democracy cannot solve everything. Any ideas for a better definition?

With what circumstances and conditions does democracy make interethnic relations worse?

What countries can be related to democracy making interethnic relations worse? The one that sticks out in my mind is the Rwanda conflict. Anyone have better ideas?

I thought it was a good discussion so I’m posting it on here.

“Democracy is the worst possible system of government…except for all the rest of them.”

My opinion is that democracy is the ideal base for government, simply because of the idea that each person knows best how to govern him or herself. The problem comes in when you realize that most people also want (and need) some way of governing other people as well.

A base of democracy with a solid structure of limitations on the government is best, imo. Not coincidentally, even with all of our recent unpleasantness and the near-constant griping of folks on both sides of the aisle, that’s the governmental system of the country I was born in and have lived in all my life.

In other words, yes, a democratic republic with a fixed but amendable Constitution that limits the powers of the government is best.

:smack: Forgot my pertinent point…

But it’s not a panacea. There are always going to be problems that can’t be solved by government, of whatever form, without serious repercussions to the rights of the citizenry. In a democracy, those problems are lived with, because the rights of the citizens are paramount (ideally). In a dictatorship or strong monarchy, those problems will be solved, but at the expense of the rights of citizens. It’s a trade-off.

Oh, and I just had to note that I first read the OP’s title as “Democracy is a Pancreas?” and had a momentary WTF…

Democracy alone is not a panacea. There must be checks to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.” I think this would be particularly so in a country with large, clearly identifiable ethnic or religious groups. Iraq comes to mind. You have a Shiia majority there, so if the country operates as a vanilla democracy (or republic to be mor accurate) you’re going to wind up with Shiias in power and Kurds and Sunnis getting the short end of the stick.

Result, very large and very angry minorities with no real vice in government. The formula for civil war.

Some sort of federalist solution, where each large group is guaranteed some real voice and power, and is guaranteed that it can’t just be ignored and steamrolled, would be better. That was the reason the US adopted a federalist system, so that the smaller states couldn’t just be steamrolled by the larger ones. Each state gets two Senators, regardless of its population.

And, as jayjay suggests, the power of government must also be checked by a core set of individual rights, upon which the government (and the majority behind it) may not encroach.

I accidentally hit “submit” before finishing (and obviously before proofreading) my post.

One thought problem would be Nazi Germany. You can get into an argument about whether or not Hitler was “elected,” but I think one thing is clear. At the peak of Hitler’s power, if you had put it to a vote I would imagine a majority of Germans would have supported a campaign of oppression against the Jews. If you’re designing a democratic system, you have to think about what sort of systemic checks would prevent that sort of persecution of a minority by the majority.

(Not to pick on our German friends, by the way. I could have as easily used the example of elected Southern US politicians systematically oppressing blacks before checks were clearly established to prevent that.)

What exactly is democracy? Plenty of nations have at least the form of elections, legislatures and constitutions, and yet are manifestly undemocratic. There are the one-party nations, not just dictatorships or totalitarian states but countries like Mexico under the PRI. There are the revolving-door junta countries like Pakistan or in Latin America. There are the perpetually rigged/ perpetually contested elections that are simply an extension of guerilla warfare in African nations So what makes the difference, other than some nebulous “culture” of democracy? I say this because looking at Iraq and Afghanistan, I can’t help but be extremely skeptical that the much-touted elections are going to fundamentally change anything. I have come to the conclusion that whatever actually makes democracy, it isn’t elections.

We fool ourselves if we think that democracy can flourish anywhere. Minority groups need to have the expectation that their rights will not be violated, else they will not buy into the system and it will be a simple tyranny of the majority. Nations with large ethnic or religious factions that regard each other with distrust will have a much harder time making the transition to democracy than more homogenous nations. In regard to Iraq, this will be very difficult indeed.

I agree that it is difficult under such circumstances to create a functioning democracy, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.

There are things you can do to protect the minority groups. Gerrymandering electoral districts to ensure representation in the legislative body. Division of the country into federalized states, each with at least some autonomy (on the US model). Making sure the filibuster is an available tool to the minority to prevent them being steamrolled in the legislature, or else requiring more than a simple majority to pass certain types of legislation. I would imagine you could also take some steps to ensure minority representation in the judiciary. The problem might also be resolved if the majority group becomes factionalized, particularly if you have a parliamentary system with multiple parties from which a majority must be cobbled together. Etc., etc.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any indication that any of these steps are being taken in Iraq, and I fear we might see violent strife between the Shiia on the one hand and disenfranchised Kurds and Sunnis on the other.

Democracy can’t really work in states where tribal lines still exist. Ideally, each individual is beholden only to himself and the state and acts within its laws while occasionally voting for the legislators which represent in some way the individual’s interests. Frankly, if you approached someone in a Western democracy and said “I’m your third cousin and we must act to avenge our ancestor’s dishonour at the hands of such-and-such”, they’d rightly look at you like you were insane.