John Keane | The Challenge to Democratic Consolidation
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The Challenge to Democratic Consolidation

  |   Democracy in the 21st Century, Topics of Interest   |   No comment

Professor Keane was invited by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy: Taiwan Thinktank to deliver a lecture on “The Challenge to Democratic Consolidation” in May 31, 2005 , and discussed the relevance and future of democracy in Taiwan.

Read below some excerpts from this lecture (edited by Editor Lin Chi-hua, Amy Chen):

John Keane: These are troubled times for democracy everywhere. It is important to help readers understand the history of democracy and the changing language of democracy, along with its institutional innovation s . In the process of trying to cultivate different understanding s of democracy, Keane is presently engaging in projects regarding democracy and its evolutionary process since its inception as a god-given ideal of the Protestant religion .

Transition to Democracy : 10 O bservations

• Methodological Point:

There is no “ Law ” of transition to democracy. A peculiarity of democratic institutions is their ability to heighten the sense of contingen cy of power relations. Democracy is a special form of polity, in which gods do not decide for human beings and where n o god is the standard of democracy. Neither does tradition nor nature decide for human beings what democracy is.

Since a ncient Mesopotamia and Greek city-states, democracy is a way of life and a way of being in life, in which actors invent institutions and ways of living. They are engaged in an all too human project , in which the denaturing of power relationship s tends to give life a sense of contingenc y and in which relationships between people are changeable and can be altered. This spirit of contingen cy is the spirit of democracy . T hings happen without expectation or prediction , serving also as a warning or a reason for being modest i n democratization s everywhere .

• Comparative Reflections:

Some literature in the field of democracy has posited that democracy is not possible in certain societies, such as that of Muslims, who by nature are not capable of democracy. Comparative reflections on democracy developed a study of democracy – transitology – a field that has in the last 25 years created a significant amount of literature.

• Transitions:

Transitions to democracy are a highly fragile, dangerous, and easily reversible process. Most attempt s at transition fail. Very few ha ve become consolidated democracies. In the history of democracy, one finds that in the period from 1918 to 1945, most democracies have collapsed .

• Elections ? Democracy:

In public policies at the geopolitic al level , there is a bad habit of treating democracies as synonymous. This is the view of Washington , D.C . Washington is of the notion that the democra tic breakthrough of Iraq depends on the idea of elections. But this is actually not always true, as exemplified in Iraq, China, and Singapore. There can be elections without a democracy.

• Constitutional Matters:

Looking at the preconditions of democratizations, constitutional matters are crucial. W ith each existing democrac y, we find strong commitments to continue the process of democratization from political elites, but also in the non – government al domain s , which tend to show a tendency to the constitutionalization of governmental power , which is more than the commitment to majority rule.

It is necessary to have a constitutional settlement that is capable of amendment , in other words . A people must have a shared agreement or consensus that the constitution is a viable document or set of procedures that is more or less fair for many actors. This depends on the independence of the judicial system – the r ule of law. There must also be a sense of hierarchy of law, where some laws are more important than other s , allowing people to break certain laws for the sake of other “more important” matters, such as when a party refuses to step down in violation of the constitution. It is also necessary that there be a strong commitment to the view that the law should not be changed unless there is a strong majority.

• Civil Society:

There is abundant literature asserting the importance of civil society in the transition period because the language of civil society serves as a break to despotism and authoritarian rule. The viability of civil society has to do with the failure of “moral” systems of state, such as t otalitarian ism , t hird-world dictatorship s , fascism, Third-Reich, all of which abused political power. The language of civil society speaks to the idea of restraint s of governmental power. C ivil society , however, remains just as important during the period of consolidated democracy.

Civil society keeps as a continuing check of governing power and the constitutionalization of governmental power and serves as the limits of free marketization and a reminder of democracy ‘s complexities in pluralism and its many values of life. It is also the result of a reduction of violence in political affairs. It i s a normative term that problematizes violence , resulting in a democratization of violence where certain types of violence may be removed.

Civil society additionally has created a free and lively form of communication. A new gala x y of communications is settling through the world that is different from the media -saturated and newspaper – print culture that we are aware of. The development of media-saturated societies changes the dynamics of society in ways that we do not yet completely u nderstand. The attempt at the consolidation of democracy requires a plurality of media , in other words.

If we introduce the discussion of civil society into democracy, it can be construed as the great invention of democracy. If we build in civil society, we create a more complex form of democracy. A multi-party system is an absurd form of democracy because parties can never represent a people. However, we do not have to reinvent the wheel here . Politicians can have opposing view s , but it i s the citizens get to decide who wins at the end of the day. T here are actually many institutions that can co-exist in the big political picture. Supplementary representations can be accommodated. Politicians need to be reminded that they are not gods or goddesses.

On the national level, the advantage of the language or politics of the civil society is that it complicates the identity issue. The language should n o t be about one’s basic ethnicity. Civil society would bring about a sense of pluralistic identity. This could cool down the tensions that are currently present in Taiwan , where one only identifies oneself as either Hakka, Taiwanese, or Chinese .

• Civil Institutions:

In an ideal democracy, the question of representation is permanently problematic. It is ho w ever not the weakness of democracy, but rather a strength. The problem is w ho represents who, given that we cannot truly represent each other?

Every process of democratization requires the cultivation of an ensemble of institutions that represents the people and can mediate civil society with the government. This is crucial in a multi-party system with its ability to create multi-party alliance .

The re must be an attempt to theorize and to build new types of representative mechanisms not created by parties or electoral institutions and that is beyond the ballot, such as the citizens ‘ jury, citizens ‘ café, e-democracies ( e.g. Minn e sota Democracy Experience), and participatory communities outside the party system that make the governmental power more accountable.

• Embedded Market E conomy:

A significant portion of exchange and production should take place independently of governments. If we have a concentration of the economy in the state, we can create deeply problematic societies, such as that in the Chinese state which had created mass starvation s during the Great Cultural Revolution. We presently live in an era where markets have made a huge comeback. The questions that we now ask are: What is the relationship between civil society institutions and the market, given they are both non-governmental? How c an we work towards a democracy, if we do not have a consensus of what an embedded market economy is?

• Public E mbrace of D emocracy :

Unless the public feel s in a visceral way that democracy is a good system , there is little chance that democracy can survive through time . The idea of democracy therefore remains elusive. In 19 th -century America , for example, democracy has a tendency to moan and complain about itself. If this happens in Taiwan, this is not the beginning of the end of democracy. This happens in all democracies. This is what is expected of the procedures of democracy . We are always chasing after democracy. There is never a pure democracy, until everybody intends to consolidate it.

This raises the question of why democracy is so “good”? To put it generally, a democracy is a type of polity and way of being in which power relationships are understood by actors as contingent and where the denaturing of power-relationships suggests that there will always be open–contestation through a multiplicity of institution al procedures. Democracy is so “good” because it is a set of monitoring institutions where they are all relatively equal, which is why we do not have the idea of a divine god. We pertain all mechanisms for the circulation of power to the contestation of non-violent powers.

• What kind of governmental form in time and space is required for a democracy?

In transitology literature, there is a strong commitment to the view that democracy requires the building of a sover eign territorial state. “Stateness” is a people who settles the question of who we are by stating that this territory belongs to that people.

In the history of the invention of democracy, before the Greek city-states, its survival in the Islamic world and the revival of institutions of constitutional conventions in 1 7 th -century Presbyterian Scotland took place in imperial system s . This is greatly ironic. Key institutions of democracy were derived from the womb of empires.

Important innovations in the history of democracy are the creation of institutions that do not operate at the center, but rather at the fringes. Examples of such fringes of responsible government are Canada ‘s auditor-general which exist s for the scrutiny of governmental powers and Australia’ s s ecret ballot and women’s right to vote.

It has been said that it is not the territorial sovereign state that maintains democracies. Rather, where states are protected by a wider geopolitical security in which military conquest and the outbreak of violence are prevented, democratization is permitted to unfold.

On Taiwan: What is remarkable and original to Taiwan’s own democratization and how it contributes to the history of democracy?

In the case of Taiwan, this then raises the question that i f U.S. satisfies the conditions of being called a dominant power, is it a force for the consolidation of democracies around the world? Only under the assurance of a security committee, is democracy in Taiwan allowed to thrive?

Political actors and the public do not feel a permanent fear in Taiwan. For some reason, the security issue is satisfied, despite military threat s from China . However, it is still a fundamental issue whether Taiwan is actually secure because there is a lack of consensus about Taiwan’s future. Taiwan should not feel so narcissistic of their sense of security. U.S. itself is under attack from terrorism. All democracies are currently feeling the strain of threats from terrorism.

One of the original things of this current experiment is that Taiwan is trying to find democratically a new way to create something like a security community in which its institutions and way of life would be secure. It is not trying to struggle for sovereign independence, although this qualification is important.

There are four ways to create a secured democracy. One way of creating security is the building of a sovereign state, as exemplified by U.S. Another way is under the condition of a dominant power or empire, such as Japan during the McArthur Regime, in the conditions of extraordinary imperial issues, such as starvation. Thirdly, security can be obtained through the regionalization of power, such as the breakthrough of European integration. Even the democratization of Turkey is brought together by the regional integration of Europe. Fourthly, security can be obtained through cosmogracy , which is a secured system of an ensemble of democratic institutions, protected by institutions such as the UN.

From the perspective of Taiwanese politicians, what they really want is to embed the governmental structure into the greater international community, which is not the idea of sovereign independence of the 17 th – and 18 th -centuries . Taiwan wants to rescue itself by creating a security committee, which is based on America ‘s fleet , the Southeast Asian community , or some global governing institutions.

The notion that Taiwan can stand up like the American revolutionaries is improbable, almost impossible. The American Revolution was the break from the British E mpire under very different circumstances, such as the separation by two oceans during an era of shipping empires.

Please click on one of the links below (right click and “save target as”) to download the Chinese translation of this Lecture.

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