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Democracy Matters

50 years of democracy and secular education have made India a wonder of positive economic and multicultural social energy. The more time you spend in India the more you realize that this teeming, multiethnic, multireligious, multilingual country is one of the world’s great wonders — a miracle with message. And the message is that democracy matters.

38 thoughts on “Democracy Matters”

  1. Many other great minds have their opinions too about Democracy . . . .

    The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid. Art Spander
    Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve. George Bernard Shaw
    In democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes. Mogens Jallberg
    Democracy is the worst possible system, except for all the others. Winston Churchill

  2. I agree with much of the article below. The right type of Colonialism, not necessarily as an alternative to Democracy, but definitely as a precusor to Democracy.

    Comments?

    Two Cheers for Colonialism
    By DINESH D’SOUZA

    Colonialism has gotten a bad name in recent decades. Anticolonialism was one
    [PARA]ALSO SEE:[NL][NL]Colloquy Live: Read the transcript of a live, online
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    colonialism.[PARA]
    of the dominant political currents of the 20th century, as dozens of
    European colonies in Asia and Africa became free. Today we are still living
    with the aftermath of colonialism. Apologists for terrorism, including Osama
    bin Laden, argue that terrorist acts are an understandable attempt on the
    part of subjugated non-Western peoples to lash out against their longtime
    Western oppressors. Activists at last year’s World Conference on Racism,
    including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have called on the West to pay reparations
    for slavery and colonialism to minorities and natives of the third world.

    These justifications of violence, and calls for monetary compensation, rely
    on a large body of scholarship that has been produced in the Western
    academy. That scholarship, which goes by the name of anticolonial studies,
    postcolonial studies, or subaltern studies, is now an intellectual school in
    itself, and it exercises a powerful influence on the humanities and social
    sciences. Its leading Western scholars include Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak,
    Walter Rodney, and Samir Amin. Their arguments are supported by the ideas of
    third-world intellectuals like Wole Soyinka, Chinweizu, Ashis Nandy, and,
    perhaps most influential of all, Frantz Fanon.

    The assault against colonialism and its legacy has many dimensions, but at
    its core it is a theory of oppression that relies on three premises: First,
    colonialism and imperialism are distinctively Western evils that were
    inflicted on the non-Western world. Second, as a consequence of colonialism,
    the West became rich and the colonies became impoverished; in short, the
    West succeeded at the expense of the colonies. Third, the descendants of
    colonialism are worse off than they would be had colonialism never occurred.

    In a widely used text, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, the Marxist scholar
    Walter Rodney accuses European colonialism of “draining African wealth and
    making it impossible to develop more rapidly the resources of the
    continent.” The African writer Chinweizu strikes a similar note in his
    influential book The West and the Rest of Us. He offers the following
    explanation for African poverty: “White hordes have sallied forth from their
    Western homelands to assault, loot, occupy, rule, and exploit the world.
    Even now the fury of their expansionist assault on the rest of us has not
    abated.” In his classic work The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon writes,
    “European opulence has been founded on slavery. The well-being and progress
    of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes,
    Arabs, Indians, and the yellow races.”

    Those notions are pervasive and emotionally appealing. By suggesting that
    the West became dominant because it is oppressive, they provide an
    explanation for Western global dominance without encouraging white racial
    arrogance. They relieve the third world of blame for its wretchedness.
    Moreover, they imply politically egalitarian policy solutions: The West is
    in possession of the “stolen goods” of other cultures, and it has a moral
    and legal obligation to make some form of repayment. I was raised to believe
    in such things, and among most third-world intellectuals they are articles
    of faith. The only problem is that they are not true.

    There is nothing uniquely Western about colonialism. My native country of
    India, for example, was ruled by the British for more than two centuries,
    and many of my fellow Indians are still smarting about that. What they often
    forget, however, is that before the British came, the Indians had been
    invaded and conquered by the Persians, the Afghans, Alexander the Great, the
    Mongols, the Arabs, and the Turks. Depending on how you count, the British
    were preceded by at least six colonial powers that invaded and occupied
    India since ancient times. Indeed, ancient India was itself settled by the
    Aryan people, who came from the north and subjugated the dark-skinned
    indigenous people.

    Those who identify colonialism and empire only with the West either have no
    sense of history or have forgotten about the Egyptian empire, the Persian
    empire, the Macedonian empire, the Islamic empire, the Mongol empire, the
    Chinese empire, and the Aztec and Inca empires in the Americas. Shouldn’t
    the Arabs be paying reparations for their destruction of the Byzantine and
    Persian empires? Come to think of it, shouldn’t the Byzantine and Persian
    people be paying reparations to the descendants of the people they
    subjugated? And while we’re at it, shouldn’t the Muslims reimburse the
    Spaniards for their 700-year rule?

    As the example of Islamic Spain suggests, the people of the West have
    participated in the game of conquest not only as the perpetrators, but also
    as the victims. Ancient Greece, for example, was conquered by Rome, and the
    Roman Empire itself was destroyed by invasions of Huns, Vandals, Lombards,
    and Visigoths from northern Europe. America, as we all know, was itself a
    colony of England before its war of independence; England, before that, had
    been subdued and ruled by Normans from France. Those of us living today are
    taking on a large project if we are going to settle on a rule of social
    justice based on figuring out whose ancestors did what to whom.

    The West did not become rich and powerful through colonial oppression. It
    makes no sense to claim that the West grew rich and strong by conquering
    other countries and taking their stuff. How did the West manage to do that?
    In the late Middle Ages, say 1500, the West was by no means the world’s most
    affluent or most powerful civilization. Indeed, those of China and of the
    Arab-Islamic world exceeded the West in wealth, in knowledge, in
    exploration, in learning, and in military power. So how did the West gain so
    rapidly in economic, political, and military power that, by the 19th
    century, it was able to conquer virtually all of the other civilizations?
    That question demands to be answered, and the oppression theorists have
    never provided an adequate explanation.

    Moreover, the West could not have reached its current stage of wealth and
    influence by stealing from other cultures, for the simple reason that there
    wasn’t very much to take. “Oh yes there was,” the retort often comes. “The
    Europeans stole the raw material to build their civilization. They took
    rubber from Malaya, cocoa from West Africa, and tea from India.” But as the
    economic historian P.T. Bauer points out, before British rule, there were no
    rubber trees in Malaya, no cocoa trees in West Africa, no tea in India. The
    British brought the rubber tree to Malaya from South America. They brought
    tea to India from China. And they taught the Africans to grow cocoa, a crop
    the native people had never heard of. None of this is to deny that when the
    colonialists could exploit native resources, they did. But that larceny
    cannot possibly account for the enormous gap in economic, political, and
    military power that opened up between the West and the rest of the world.

    What, then, is the source of that power? The reason the West became so
    affluent and dominant in the modern era is that it invented three
    institutions: science, democracy, and capitalism. All those institutions are
    based on universal impulses and aspirations, but those aspirations were
    given a unique expression in Western civilization.

    Consider science. It is based on a shared human trait: the desire to know.
    People in every culture have tried to learn about the world. Thus the
    Chinese recorded the eclipses, the Mayans developed a calendar, the Hindus
    discovered the number zero, and so on. But science — which requires
    experiments, laboratories, induction, verification, and what one scholar has
    called “the invention of invention,” the scientific method — that is a
    Western institution. Similarly, tribal participation is universal, but
    democracy — which involves free elections, peaceful transitions of power,
    and separation of powers — is a Western idea. Finally, the impulse to trade
    is universal, and there is nothing Western about the use of money, but
    capitalism — which requires property rights, contracts, courts to enforce
    them, limited-liability corporations, stock exchanges, patents, insurance,
    double-entry bookkeeping — this ensemble of practices was developed in the
    West.

    It is the dynamic interaction among these three Western institutions —
    science, democracy, and capitalism — that has produced the great wealth,
    strength, and success of Western civilization. An example of this
    interaction is technology, which arises out of the marriage between science
    and capitalism. Science provides the knowledge that leads to invention, and
    capitalism supplies the mechanism by which the invention is transmitted to
    the larger society, as well as the economic incentive for inventors to
    continue to make new things.

    Now we can understand better why the West was able, between the 16th and
    19th centuries, to subdue the rest of the world and bend it to its will.
    Indian elephants and Zulu spears were no match for British rifles and
    cannonballs. Colonialism and imperialism are not the cause of the West’s
    success; they are the result of that success. The wealth and power of
    European nations made them arrogant and stimulated their appetite for global
    conquest. Colonial possessions added to the prestige, and to a much lesser
    degree the wealth, of Europe. But the primary cause of Western affluence and
    power is internal — the institutions of science, democracy, and capitalism
    acting together. Consequently, it is simply wrong to maintain that the rest
    of the world is poor because the West is rich, or that the West grew rich
    off stolen goods from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The West created its
    own wealth, and still does.

    The descendants of colonialism are better off than they would be if
    colonialism had never happened. I would like to illustrate this point
    through a personal example. While I was a young boy, growing up in India, I
    noticed that my grandfather, who had lived under British colonialism, was
    instinctively and habitually antiwhite. He wasn’t just against the English;
    he was generally against white people. I realized that I did not share his
    antiwhite animus. That puzzled me: Why did he and I feel so differently?

    Only years later, after a great deal of reflection and a fair amount of
    study, did the answer finally hit me. The reason for our difference of
    perception was that colonialism had been pretty bad for him, but pretty good
    for me. Another way to put it was that colonialism had injured those who
    lived under it, but paradoxically it proved beneficial to their descendants.
    Much as it chagrins me to admit it — and much as it will outrage many
    third-world intellectuals for me to say it — my life would have been much
    worse had the British never ruled India.

    How is that possible? Virtually everything that I am, what I do, and my
    deepest beliefs, all are the product of a worldview that was brought to
    India by colonialism. I am a writer, and I write in English. My ability to
    do this, and to reach a broad market, is entirely thanks to the British. My
    understanding of technology, which allows me, like so many Indians, to
    function successfully in the modern world, was largely the product of a
    Western education that came to India as a result of the British. So also my
    beliefs in freedom of expression, in self-government, in equality of rights
    under the law, and in the universal principle of human dignity — they are
    all the products of Western civilization.

    I am not suggesting that it was the intention of the colonialists to give
    all those wonderful gifts to the Indians. Colonialism was not based on
    philanthropy; it was a form of conquest and rule. The British came to India
    to govern, and they were not primarily interested in the development of the
    natives, whom they viewed as picturesque savages. It is impossible to
    measure, or overlook, the pain and humiliation that the British inflicted
    during their long period of occupation. Understandably, the Indians chafed
    under that yoke. Toward the end of the British reign in India, Mahatma
    Gandhi was asked, “What do you think of Western civilization?” He replied,
    “I think it would be a good idea.”

    Despite their suspect motives and bad behavior, however, the British needed
    a certain amount of infrastructure to effectively govern India. So they
    built roads, shipping docks, railway tracks, irrigation systems, and
    government buildings. Then they realized that they needed courts of law to
    adjudicate disputes that went beyond local systems of dispensing justice.
    And so the British legal system was introduced, with all its procedural
    novelties, like “innocent until proven guilty.” The British also had to
    educate the Indians, in order to communicate with them and to train them to
    be civil servants in the empire. Thus Indian children were exposed to
    Shakespeare, Dickens, Hobbes, and Locke. In that way the Indians began to
    encounter words and ideas that were unmentioned in their ancestral culture:
    “liberty,” “sovereignty,” “rights,” and so on.

    That brings me to the greatest benefit that the British provided to the
    Indians: They taught them the language of freedom. Once again, it was not
    the objective of the colonial rulers to encourage rebellion. But by exposing
    Indians to the ideas of the West, they did. The Indian leaders were the
    product of Western civilization. Gandhi studied in England and South Africa;
    Nehru was a product of Harrow and Cambridge. That exposure was not entirely
    to the good; Nehru, for example, who became India’s first prime minister
    after independence, was highly influenced by Fabian socialism through the
    teachings of Harold Laski. The result was that India had a mismanaged
    socialist economy for a generation. But my broader point is that the
    champions of Indian independence acquired the principles, the language, and
    even the strategies of liberation from the civilization of their oppressors.
    This was true not just of India but also of other Asian and African
    countries that broke free of the European yoke.

    My conclusion is that against their intentions, the colonialists brought
    things to India that have immeasurably enriched the lives of the descendants
    of colonialism. It is doubtful that non-Western countries would have
    acquired those good things by themselves. It was the British who, applying a
    universal notion of human rights, in the early 19th century abolished the
    ancient Indian institution of suttee — the custom of tossing widows on
    their husbands’ funeral pyres. There is no reason to believe that the
    Indians, who had practiced suttee for centuries, would have reached such a
    conclusion on their own. Imagine an African or Indian king encountering the
    works of Locke or Madison and saying, “You know, I think those fellows have
    a good point. I should relinquish my power and let my people decide whether
    they want me or someone else to rule.” Somehow, I don’t see that as likely.

    Colonialism was the transmission belt that brought to Asia, Africa, and
    South America the blessings of Western civilization. Many of those cultures
    continue to have serious problems of tyranny, tribal and religious conflict,
    poverty, and underdevelopment, but that is not due to an excess of Western
    influence; rather, it is due to the fact that those countries are
    insufficiently Westernized. Sub-Saharan Africa, which is probably in the
    worst position, has been described by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as
    “a cocktail of disasters.” That is not because colonialism in Africa lasted
    so long, but because it lasted a mere half-century. It was too short a time
    to permit Western institutions to take firm root. Consequently, after their
    independence, most African nations have retreated into a kind of tribal
    barbarism that can be remedied only with more Western influence, not less.
    Africa needs more Western capital, more technology, more rule of law, and
    more individual freedom.

    The academy needs to shed its irrational prejudice against colonialism. By
    providing a more balanced perspective, scholars can help to show the
    foolishness of policies like reparations as well as justifications of
    terrorism that are based on anticolonial myths. None of this is to say that
    colonialism by itself was a good thing, only that bad institutions sometimes
    produce good results. Colonialism, I freely acknowledge, was a harsh regime
    for those who lived under it. My grandfather would have a hard time giving
    even one cheer for colonialism. As for me, I cannot manage three, but I am
    quite willing to grant two. So here they are: two cheers for colonialism!
    Maybe you will now see why I am not going to be sending an invoice for
    reparations to Tony Blair.

    Dinesh D’Souza is a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University
    and the author, most recently, of What’s So Great About America, to be
    published this month by Regnery.

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