Back to Index

The Future of Democracy

     Believe it or not, democracy is working well in Spain, where the leaders make thoughtful speeches and the crowds listen politely. Perhaps this is because Spaniards realize how fragile their democracy is. The South Carolina Republican primaries, with the customary empty speeches, insults and hollering crowds seemed silly in comparison. Today's headlines read " Bush and McCain slug it out in Michigan!" Both thereby get a black eye, and so does U.S. democracy.
     In general, democracy has problems. I am reminded of the Spain in the 30s, when the Republic proclaimed with euphoria in 1931 had given way to disillusionment and the cry "We have our republic. Now we want our revolution!" Fascism was established in Italy, communism in the USSR, and Nazism was taking power in Gemany.
     Today Germany is the key issue. The alliance with France, which hoped thereby to end the German threat, would be endangered by a resurgence of German nationalism. Hence the almost panicked response of Chirac at the rise of Haider in Austrian politics. Would Germany be next? Despite the pro-democracy demonstrations in Germany and Austria, 51% of Germans were against possible anti-Austrian measures by the E.U., and only 38% approved. Germans were becoming disillusioned with democracy. Only 60% of West Germans were satisfied with it, and 40% of East Germans.
     The elections in Iran are a burst of sunshine. Be it noted that three religions are recognized there: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The last two are practiced freely, even while street posters demand "Death to Israel!" The Jews have seats ib parliament. We must recognize that Iran is a country with a long and glorious history, and handled properly could become a respected member of the world community. The Europeans realize that.
     Democracy's problem is endless talk and corruption. The trouble is that all cures hitherto proposed are worse than the disease. I was talking yesterday with an Ethiopian who lived through the communist period there. He stressed the appeal that communism has for uneducated people. At the same time, the desire for something like equality is natural, and the conviction even in this country is that in our system the rich get richer and the poor stay put. The world demands something better. Hence the appeal of Fidel Castro, which many Americans do not understand.
     The National Endowment for Democracy plays an important role in assessing the progress of democracy around the world. WAIS has a natural affinity with it, and two WAIS Fellows play important roles in it: its chairman John Brademas, who is a member of the WAIS board, and Larry Diamond, who has moved to the top of the Hoover Tower, the better to survey the wide world.

Ronald Hilton - 2/21/00