Peasants and the Process of Building Democratic Polities: Lessons from San Marino *

By Sundhaussen, Ulf | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Peasants and the Process of Building Democratic Polities: Lessons from San Marino *


Sundhaussen, Ulf, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


This essay challenges the conventional wisdom that democracy must be built upon the foundation of an established middle class, a belief forthrightly asserted in Barrington Moore's resolute dictum of "no bourgeois, no democracy". Taking a lead from Aristotle who thought peasants to be the best social group on which to build a political order that would preserve liberty, l consider the hypothesis that peasants can construct democratic systems of government. The little-known little country of San Marino provides a case study. Its long history serves to demonstrate that the driving force behind the establishment of democracy need not be an educated and wealthy middle class but that a poor and uneducated peasantry can provide this impetus. This is a finding that calls into question the very formula that Western governments, scholars and institutions such as the IMF and World Bank routinely prescribe for Third World countries.

The Framework of this Inquiry

The late twentieth century was--and the early twenty-first century is likely to continue to be--characterized by efforts to spread "liberal" democracy to all corners of the globe. And yet, while the spreading of democracy (1) is the official and well-funded policy of Anglo-Saxon polities and, to a lesser extent, of Western Europe, the actual advances of democracy are modest. There are no easy answers to the question of why the world-wide growth of democracy is rather sluggish. (2) This essay explores two issues that have significant ramifications for the efforts of establishing democracy in developing countries, namely the role of peasants in the process of building democratic polities, and the nature of the democratic order sought by Western planners for developing countries.

Part One of this essay challenges a commonly-held view that only urban, educated and wealthy middle classes can build democratic polities. It proposes that poor and illiterate peasants also can construct democratic systems of government, and deals with some of the theoretical issues that may be raised by this proposition. Part Two provides a concise history of the peasant republic of San Marino and thus empirical evidence that peasants can, indeed, build democratic polities. The history of a tiny country may easily be dismissed as having little, if any, relevance given present-day global political trends. However in the Conclusion I argue that, in countries in which the peasantry comprises the majority of the population, trying to build democracy without at least their passive tolerance is likely to produce poor results.

Part One. The Hypothesis: Peasants Can Build Democratic Systems of Government

Much of the literature on the evolution of democracy postulates, rather categorically, that it is exclusively a wealthy and educated middle class which can bring about a democratic order, a view most firmly expressed in Barrington Moore's resolute, but a- historical dictum of "no bourgeois, no democracy". (3) Remarkably, the apostles of capitalism and communism alike agreed that it is the middle class that performs the pioneering task of building democratic polities. To quell any lingering doubt in the virtue of the middle class, pro-democracy propagandists turn to Aristotle as the ultimate character witness. He is often, wrongly said to have ascertained that only the middle class could establish "democracy".

This essay does not question the fact that the middle classes have brought about democracy in many Western countries. What it does question, however, is the implied universality of the "no bourgeois, no democracy" dictum. Such a claim is unscientific since a variety of European countries have seen democracy established by peasants. (4) Interestingly, Dankwart Rustow asserts, that in "the typical Western country it was the growing strength of the lower classes in the wake of the Industrial Revolution that forced the ultimate transfer of power from oligarchic to democratic regimes". …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Peasants and the Process of Building Democratic Polities: Lessons from San Marino *
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.