With great impatience and with raised finger pointing in the direction of Northern Africa or other young democracies. Disparagingly we dispraise that they don’t instantly become stable democracies in the first year after their revolution.
We also objurgate politics and institutions once democratic consensus takes a little longer and doesn’t bring back our desired results in the first round of negotiations. All that takes place in a state of ignorance over the equality of interests and over the fact that their reconciliation will always take time. Still to date … we choose to be judgmental about the opinions of others too often. So do we righteously judge young democracies?
From today’s view point according to general perception it looks as if France had mutated from monarchy to democracy right after the French Revolution. What had happened instead were Civil Wars, democratic experiments, setbacks, massacres, chaos (cf. Primacy of Politics, S. Berman). Only as late as from the Fifth Republic under de Gaulle (!) after 1959 France may be qualified as a stable democracy. Over 160 years were to pass to arrive at a state of stable democratic institutions. Let’s now have a look at the U.S. that were supposedly founded as a democracy. Let’s page back in history. Who was allowed to vote in the early days of the US? Answer: white land owners. Okay, maybe not yet a democracy. Further down the timeline we see a Civil War, the end of slavery and an amendment to the constitution. Now everyone can vote except the ones who failed the literacy tests. Seeing that these made up a considerable share of the people we conclude that this isn’t exactly a democracy, still. It took eventually more than 190 years to arrive at an equal free right to vote for all citizens in the U.S. 160 respectively 190 years!
How long do countries take with all their citizens to get used to democratic rights, duties and institutions that are necessary for a functioning democracy? The entire population of countries needs to learn what is e.g. corruption or nepotism and one is in acceptable in a democracy. How long do we take to being able to lead a discussion in a civilized manner and to respect the opinion of others as perfectly equal to ours? Even developed democracies still wrestle with this phenomenon – but we have the guts to look down on Egypt saying: “What’s the matter with you guys? That was nothing. You failed.“
Departing from the necessity to further develop institutions and mechanisms of democracy to suit a networked society, then a long way lies before us as western democracies, to respectfully develop this collaboratively. Ideally we choose to travel via the valley of self-reflection and ascend to the heights of mutual respect on this journey that will preferably not be undertaken on a high horse.
Text: Isabella Mader