Democracy In The New Nations

Democracy In The New Nations

In the new states [in Asia, Africa and the Middle East]. one after another, the very groundwork we are discussing [representative government and public liberties] is in danger of being destroyed. There is another difficulty. Though all of us seem to be using the same words, behind these words there are different meanings and connotations which we put on them because of the different experiences that we of the underdeveloped countries have.

Many of us find that we have to fall back on our own national experiences, to present case histories of our countries, because without them it would be difficult for others to comprehend the meaning we give to certain words which we so freely use here. The “government of the people” in Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy is not something we can take for granted. The existence of government, “government of the people” becomes the central fact of all our consideration, and only then can we turn to government by the people and for the people.

I view the new States as set in some kind of spectrum, where different countries may be in different color bands. It is impossible for us to say which particular color band is the ideal, nor is it possible to say that a particular country will find itself in a particular color band in all matters. For instance, take the concept of “participation.” We are all agreed that participation is the very essence of democracy, but to make participation meaningful it is necessary to build up an “infrastructure,” that is, the web of associative life, little cooperatives, trade unions, etc. Now, the infrastructure cannot be built up in a new State unless the State itself takes the initiative. We therefore find ourselves moving back and forth on the spectrum.

We talk often and a lot about “democracy.” And often in different senses. For an Indian, if the military forces were to take over the Government of his country, that would automatically mean the end of democracy. But Mr. Maung-Maung of Burma, whom I respect and whose intelligence and integrity I admire, says the people of Burma are “happy” that the army has taken over; that this is part of the process of democracy; that this is not the end of democracy but rather a manifestation of it. If the army had not stepped in, democracy would have died. Because the army has taken over, democracy has a chance of surviving, growing, and flourishing in Burma.

It may be that in the new states, it may be best to have “a democracy without the possibility of an alternative government.” It would be best for opposition parties to operate as pressure groups. But, while this may be an ideal solution, our friend from Burma warns us that the one big lesson to be drawn from the Burmese experience is that this immediate post-independence unity will not survive very long; it is bound to break up. And Moshe Sharett tells us t...