So why did we give up on Democracy...

So the Romans managed to conquer the Mediterranean and build the one of the most formidable (and influential) empires the world has ever seen, with the help of a Democratic government. OK the Roman republic wouldn’t be seen as awfully free and democratic by today’s standards, but it had the important feature of the leaders being appointed for a fixed term by representatives of the people (at least a decent sized chunk of them that met the prerequistes for the Senate). The empire continued to grow in the Imperial era, but basically it was the product of Republican government.

And then from the rise of Caesar Augustus until, say, the rise of the modern Premiership (the political office, not football league :slight_smile: ) in Britain in the 1700s the Western world gives up on this seemingly great idea. Why is this ? I realize you can choose your own dates as to when we actually abandoned democracy, and when we picked it up again, but its a good millennium whichever way you slice it.

I know we have the fortune to be in an era when Democracy seems ascendant and the “obvious” way of doing it, but surely the benefits are self evident ? How many Calliguas, Charles Is, and Charles the Weaks does it take to realize that being the close relative of a good leader does not automatically make you a great leader ? The post-roman western world was littered with other Greco-Roman institutions, why did no one think to revive this one ?

There’s probably some way to blame Christianity for this, but I’ll let others do the legwork.

The doges of Venice were elected from around 700 AD to 1797. Iceland had a democratic government in that time period. So did Florence for a while.

The Isle of Man also had democracy from very early on.

There’s a theory that a state can only develop as a democracy if it feels secure from outside threats. Britain became democratic because its an island which meant it hasn’t been for a good thousand years. Germany, on the other hand, tried more than once to become a democracy but kept failing because it’s mostly in land with enemies on each side.

But the US wasn’t particularly secure from outside threats when it was founded. Within a generation, we were at war with the British Empire again, and they burned our capital. There were also quite a few early wars with Indians.

And it was the **absence **of serious external threats that lead to the collapse of the Roman republic. It last fine through Gallic invasions and the Punic wars, but once Rome was pretty much unassailable master of the Mediterranean, its days were numbered.

Since no one has really tried to answer the question, I should first ntoe that Democracies rely on several fundamental priniples:

  1. Few people question the authority of the state. It must have a very high rate of buy-in.
  2. The Democracy must have structural protections to prevent anyone from taking too much power.
  3. The Democracy must have sufficient ability to defend itself against aggressive and more centralized authoritarian powers.

None of these are easy. Rome managed it for a while, but as their ambitions grew larger, it was impossible for their governemnt to maintain #2 and #3 at the same time. England developed its democracy VERY slowly - over several centuries - and it came and went in terms of importance. Plus neither started out as anything approaching a Democracy, really. They were both Republics, with some awkward Democractic components built-in. So was Poland before the prussia, Russia, and Austria conquered and divided it.

Honestly, the only true democracy I think of which is historically significant is that of Athens, (that-is, outside of tribal/clan democracies). Athenian democracy was very unstable, giving rise to numerous dictators, mostly temporary, to restore order or take command in time of war.

Simply put, outside of very stable periods of history, where change was not rapid or uncertain, democracies and republics are usually not viable. A lot depends on the local situation, of course. But these governemnts depend on long-term stability to remain intact. Even topday, with our scientific change, we have eased the unpredictable social and cultural conflicts and the viability of altering political power structures.

I have no strong feelings about the theory proposed, but your rsponse does not really refute it. No Indian nation or confederacy ever mounted anything resembling a serious threat to the U.S. by the time the nation was created. Individual Indian groups were threats to small groups of encroaching settlers, but they were routinely dispatched when the might of the entire country was brought to bear upon them and they never threatened any successfully settled portion of the country.

As to Britain: it had no serious intent to reconquer North America and they were sufficiently weary from the Napoleanic Wars that their response to hassles over territory in North America were more intended as “lessons” to the upstart U.S. than an effort to actually reclaim the territory.

According to research by political scientist Adam Przeworski a country needs a per capita income of $3000 or more to successfully make the transition to democracy.

More recently Adam Przeworski of New York University confirmed this truism by studying every attempted transition to democracy around the globe. He and his colleagues found that once a country passes $6,000 in per capita income it is virtually guaranteed to succeed in its transition to democracy. States between $3,000 and $6,000 have less than a 50-50 chance of staying democracies. And countries below $3,000 are almost bound to fail.
I do not know if they know the exact reasons. But issues like a strong middle class that feels entitled and demands it has it’s property rights respected was one possible reason. Another was the concept that in a dirt poor country, the wealthy fear democratic reforms will lead to radical wealth redistribution, whereas that is less of a risk in a wealthier country since the working class already have income and do not seek as much redistribution. So the wealthy do not resist the transition to democracy as hard.

From what I remember, those are a few reasons why per capita income and democracy are supposedly tied.

And there is a difference between democracy and liberal democracy. According to freedom house there are about 120 democracies, of which 92ish are liberal democracies. Liberal democracies generally follow the universal declaration of human rights, whereas illiberal ones do not. Iraq is an illiberal democracy, whereas Germany is a liberal democracy.

I really don’t know what the connection is, but there does seem to be a connection between civil/human rights, national income and democratic reform because the world became democratic at the same time that it became wealthy (back in the 70s there were only about 40 liberal democracies, now there are over 90. Around 1900 there supposedly were 0). However I do not know what the connection is.

I would guess as a WAG that higher per capita income makes the middle class feel more entitled and individualistic, and as a result they feel their needs and desires should be respected. But I really don’t know.

Also I don’t know if I agree that a democracy in early history had advantages over a non-democracy. Sarah Palin almost became our VP not too long ago, whereas in South Korea under the military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee the nation lifted itself out of poverty.

Another dictator who did a decent job was Deng Xiaoping in China. However that was after the dictator Mao fucked the country to the ground with famine and a cultural revolution.

I really don’t know for sure if democracies automatically offer merit and advantages over non-democracies, especially in ancient history when most voting citizens would have been sick, superstitious, malnourished, poorly educated and illiterate.

W/r/t the original giving up on “Democracy”, (or, more precisely, the change from the Republican Dictatorship of the Empire into Feudalism,) I wonder how much affect military technology had. An armored man on a (armored) horse with stirrups was devastatingly expensive – and devastatingly powerful. In a very real aspect the rulers of the Middle Ages were the warriors. So it may have been easier to vest enough political power in your actual warriors that they could amass enough money – and time – to support you militarily.

There are two facts to support this. One – the Byzantines who nominally kept Republicanism, gradually drifted toward feudalism partly due to the fact that it was so expensive to maintain trained warriors in Medieval military technology.

Two – we started to drift away from Feudalism toward Absolutism when it became possible to field armies without years and years of training (just the expense of muskets, which was large but not compared to a warhorse and plate armour.)

If my memory serves me, after the Roman Empire collapsed, didn’t their empire fragment into hundreds of little feudal kingdoms? Those feudal lords had very little incentive to subject themselves to the will of the people they governed.

In those societies, wealth was largely generated from the lords’ agricultural holdings. The peasents were dependent on the lord (and his highly trained soldiers) for their livlihood and security. So it seems to me that democracy would not be able to develop until you had a significant enough of a middle class who could generate wealth through other means.

Plenty of capable autocrats improved the lot of their countries after seizing power (Julius and Augustus Casear being good examples), but inevitably the system of passing power dynastically ends up with appalling leaders who abuse their power and ruin the country. Democratically appointed leaders, even in corrupt systems, at least require some merit other than being the relative of the last leader.

Yes and no. South Korea’s rise to “wealth” was largely illusory, as while Park’s programs did develop industry, it did not and could not actually give his people, well, anything. It was only after people started rebelling against this. PLus, you have to distinguish between what was likely to happen (in an energetic, democratic South Korea desiring more foreign contact and economic growth) and what did happen (in a mild dictatorship which also wanted those things).

Although this may or may not argue against your principle, which seems to be that, in theory, a benficent dictator can beenfit a country more than a democracy. That might eb correct, and I wont’ argue since th ehistorical data is too mixed.

That is really rather overstating things, since we have that now in all democracies. The advantage of democracy is not that it is correct, but that no one man, or any group of men, can be trusted with power. The arguement for democracy is that anyone selected (self or otherwise) for power is untrustworthy, not that the average man is so wise the nation cannot do without him. PLus, the state itself cannot be trusted even if it has the wisest and the best, and that such men, even if they were ten times as wise and pweorful, would have no right to rule over others who do not consent to it.

Up until the last 300 years or so, anyone looking at the history of democracy would look at a couple of ancient examples that had subsequently failed. The evidence was that democracy was an inherently unstable form of government.

Yeah, and the reason they failed is because they found they could vote themselves money from the public till, right? Right? Is this thing on, I’ll be here all week :smiley:

Democracy isn’t so much a system for picking good leaders as it is a system for getting rid of bad ones.

Oh, the images in my head right now.

Except for the example of the Roman republic and which lasted centuries and was the basis of much of Western Culture.

I can see Athens not being to impressive an example, but Republican Rome was not some flash-in-the-pan unstable city state.