The so-called ‘democracy recession’ doesn’t mean that system is dying


For those like me who occasionally despair about the state of democracy, Condoleeza Rice has news.

Democracy is in fine fettle, she says, or words to that effect. Occasional hiccups matter little in the long term. Just look at the American experience and all will be clear. Ms Rice makes these assertions in her new book Democracy: Stories From the Long Road to Freedom.

This is interesting for all sorts of reasons.

First, Ms Rice was President George W. Bush’s secretary of state and before that, his National Security Adviser. She was part of the Bush administration’s regrettable attempt to bring democracy to Iraq – by means of war. Her attempt at Transformational Diplomacy was an important policy platform of the Bush era. And it has had blowback.

Second, Ms Rice recently indicated there was little to regret about the Iraq invasion. She told Susan Glasser of Politico that Iraq was a better place for Iraqis as a result of its several rounds of elections. “I’d rather be an Iraqi today than a Syrian,” Ms Rice said. (I’m quoting from memory but that was the sentiment she expressed.)

Third, Ms Rice is a political science professor at Stanford so she can be assumed to have intellectual heft.

And finally, in her argument, Ms Rice makes a virtue of every time democracy fails or is thwarted. The fact that American women did not get the vote until 1920, and African Americans not fully until the 1960s, is seen as a positive indicator that everything will eventually be alright.

I wish I were so sanguine. Whenever I think of the political state of India, country of my birth, and the political plight of the US and UK, my adopted countries, I wonder about the merits of the so-called democratic dividend. In India and the US, illiberal leaders and ideas are in power, by virtue of their legitimate election. In the UK, a vexatious and self-harming idea is pushing the country forward, all because of a legitimate election result.

And yet, on one score at least, Ms Rice is spot on. Democracy takes a long time to build and progress is not linear. There will be backsliding.