“Western Democracy” means Constitutional Liberalism. All the various European systems you’ve mentioned are examples of different forms of constitutional liberalism.

So we’re on the same page that what’s being discussed is that what NATO will bring to Libya is a system of liberal democracy, with a founding basis of constitutionalised first generation rights and continue the neo-liberal exportation of capitalism and private property?  Calling it a “western democracy”

a) has no specific meaning,

b) is offensive to any nation that isn’t “western” that has a liberal democracy or extols the virtues of liberalism, and

c) is fairly problematic in the sense that lexically speaking, being people from the west, we’re socialised into perceiving west=good without really questioning it.

The discrepancy you’ve identified is something called “illiberal democracy”. That’s what you have in countries like Morocco (a debatable example, but for the sake of argument…), where as you point out, the system resembles the British system, yet the outcomes are radically different. This is because merely having a “democratic” system does not insure civil liberalism.

What a very silly word illiberal democracy is.  Why would you possibly use it unless you’re buying into bourgeois political analysis wholesale?  Why would you describe a state in terms of how well it complies to capitalist notions of advancement, rather than using the terms that realistically describe what it is?  There is already a term already for states that claim to be democracies but fail to realise that, which is to say they have a democratic deficit.  We have a plethora of words (autocracy, dictatorship, junta for the extreme opposite end of the spectrum) for describing how a state organises without thinking the best way to describe it is saying “not like us!”

FYI: constitutionally speaking, the 1996 Moroccan constitution is probably more accurate to liberal values than the uncodified UK constitution.  If they have a problem, it’s because there exists corruption, a democratic deficit, liberal values are just a bit shit, or many other reasons but not because they’re an “illiberalism”.

The reason that there’s skepticism as to whether the Arab countries can support “western democracy” i.e. liberal constitutionalism is that they do not have a long history of civil liberalism and in many cases lack the social and political institutions needed to sustain it. Constitutional liberalism is not something you can build overnight. It took about two centuries to get it up and running in Europe, and wasn’t broadly embraced until after World War II. While things tend to go faster the second time around, it’s not unrealistic to be pessimistic about the chances for “western democracy” to take hold in the Arab world. Just look at the experiences of some of the former Soviet republics with trying to institute constitutional liberalism; after two decades, they range from partial successes to abyssal failures.

Again a really bourgeois portrayal of how politics progressed.  Why did  democracy spread and what held it back in Western countries?  In the UK in the 1800s the workers were calling for far more radical changes, through movements such as the chartists, than many people even call for today.  The ruling classes had the attitude that things would devolve into a mob rule, fearing their own loss of power they delayed progress.  Social institutions don’t appear out of nowhere to facilitate something, they’re created because they’re needed.  Technology, access to resources, access to education makes it very much possible to institute the necessary changes to bring about substantive democratic reforms.

The problem in the eastern bloc states when it came to the transitional process comes down to the question of who organises the change, how and to what end.  It wasn’t an issue that there was a mass zeitgeist completely incapable of comprehending democracy, that western-centric, bourgeois attitude is repugnantly offensive.  Why else did organisations such as Solidarnosc call to keep socialism but broaden democratic participation?  Why do comrades in Egypt continue fighting through unions against the power of the military junta for a real democratic state with workers control?  Not because they’re incapable of understanding democracy but because they have to fight against the ruling classes preventing a substantial change in power.

You’re right, calling it “western democracy” is the kind of western centric bullocks the media loves. But your discussion of how the various western democracies are different from one another ignores completely the very important ways they are similar. And while their certainly is something smug and self-satisfied about Europe holding itself up as a beacon of constitutional liberalism when that’s only been the norm there for half a century, or the United States doing so when it’s worked tirelessly to repress the development of constitutional liberalism in Latin America (which is, fyi, why Latin America can be counted in with the “western democracies”, thanks largely to US influence, constitutional liberalism there is stunted from what it should be), pointing out that hypocrisy does not change the political reality that centuries of colonialism followed by a half century of autocratic dictatorship is not a strong foundation for constitutional liberalism to flourish.

So the natural progression of all government systems must be an acceptance of liberalism and no different formats can be imagined?


No doubt it is too soon to tell, I just wrote this saying that a likely outcome is not as bad as many leftists perceive it to be and it can still be qualified as a victory and a step in the right direction.

And I use the term Western Democracy to imply that they will model their government after either a constitutional monarchy or a constitutional republic, the two types of government prevalent in the western world. It is simply a device to make my standpoint easy to read into for a regular audience who is not well versed in international politics. I take liberties with language to make my writings feel more like a news report or an editorial than an academic paper. I write for primarily Americans and westerners so in the context of my blog, I do not mind being a bit eurocentric in my language.

The problem is that language dictates understanding.  You don’t have to constantly throw around big words to illustrate an idea, but you do need to recognise the effect and meanings of words, the connotations that they have and the power relations that they reflect.  To not do so recreates the broken understanding that those words reflect.  When we’re discussing capitalism and neo-liberalism, especially in the context of economic neo-imperialism and Libya, we aren’t just talking about things that effect the US and western states.  We have to use language that does not reinforce the very ideals and actions that we’re criticising.

I am no champion of the 3rd world. I do not know enough of the 3rd world

This is not the cold war.  Stop calling it the third world.  Not only because it’s carries the repugnant connotation of “third world” countries being third rate or backwards, but because it specifically refers to neutral states during the cold war.  If we’re being so broad I tend towards using the terms global north and south, however the implied homogenisation that carries is problematic to say the least.

and it is not in my current interest to fight for socialism in the developing world. My ideas and politics are euro centric simply because that is what I know, post industrial representative democracys are what I know and I think abiding by the traditional orthodox Marxist tradition of internationalism spreads our knowledge and focus too thin.

Capitalism is a global problem.  Where were the bananas grown that you eat, who grew them, who set the prices?  You can’t fight capitalism without recognising the necessity of internationalism.  Not least because it smacks of champagne socialism.

I view it as a plausible direction that needs justification more than any other. I don’t need to justify a socialist Libyan state to the left, they want that as much as I do. However I feel the need to justify a capitalist western style state more than any because I oppose it here in this country but it is an improvement overall for those in Libya.

Is it?  There’s a good Zizek quote about Afghanistan that occasionally floats around on here, about how Afghanistan was a progressive, secular state before it became a battleground for the cold war.  Neo-liberalism organised a coup of the democratically elected, socialist government in Chile, attempted to do the same to take out Chavez.  There’s huge issues with democratic legitimacy today surrounding Afghanistan and Iraq.  On the claim that what Libya has achieved will be and improvement (because nothing is set in stone yet) very much remains to be seen.

You write in a completely different manner than me. You are eloquent but in an academic, more orthodox marxist way. Either way I do appreciate the commentary however when I write, it is not catering to the Marxist crowd, they have already been won. I write catering to those unsure of their political affiliation or those who identify with the left but maybe do not understand it as well as they could. So if I write like a eurocentric person, that is probably because my audience is and the core of my message is more important than the linguistic details of the language I use.

Better Red than Dead: Libya: The Advantage of Western Democracy

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