Civil Society and Democracy in Japan, Iran, Iraq and Beyond

By Falsafi, Shiva | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Civil Society and Democracy in Japan, Iran, Iraq and Beyond


Falsafi, Shiva, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


ABSTRACT

This Article addresses the mystery of why some countries appear to become democracies seamlessly while others face insurmountable obstacles. While acknowledging the importance of civil society to democratization at the time of transition, this Article argues that broad historical civil society movements, even if devoid of immediate political impact, also facilitate the passage to democracy at a later date.

This Article takes a comparative look at the constitutional, labor, and women's movements in Japan, Iraq, and Iran, from the nineteenth century to the present. It demonstrates that the resilience of Japanese civil society from 1868 onward secured the country's successful transition to democracy after World War II, while Iraq's history of weak civic activism makes it harder for Iraqis today to embrace democratic tenets. The Article also proposes that the potency of past civil society movements in Iran mirrors Japan's experience much more closely than Iraq's, suggesting that, despite weak representative institutions, Iran is ripe for transition to democratic government under the stewardship of domestic civic forces.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  HISTORICAL CIVIL SOCIETY
     A. Constitutionalism
        1. Constitutionalism in Japan
        2. Constitutionalism in Iran
        3. Constitutionalism in Iraq
     B. Labor
        1. Labor in Japan
        2. Labor in Iran
        3. Labor in Iraq
     C. Women's Movements
        1. Women's Movement in Japan
        2. Women's Movement in Iran
        3. Women's Movement: Iraq
III. BACK TO THE FUTURE--HISTORICAL REFLEXES
     RESURRECTED
     A. Post World War H Japan
        1. Labor Movement
        2. Women's Movement
     B. Post-Reza Shah Iran
        1. Labor Movement
        2. Women's Movement
     C. Post Invasion Iraq
        1. Labor Movement
        2. Women's Movement
IV. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

This article addresses the question of why some countries appear to become democracies seamlessly while others face insurmountable obstacles. Many scholars today agree that democratizing requires more than just a pact among a nation's elite and suggest that strong political institutions seem to emerge only on the back of systematic agitation by civil society. (1) While acknowledging the importance of civil society to democratization at the time of transition, this Article argues that broad historical civil society movements, even if devoid of immediate political impact, may facilitate the passage to democracy at a later date. Moreover, the exposure of illiberal societies to sustained civic discourse over a period of time may help later reform movements--whose intellectual tenets at first appear foreign--to be viewed as culturally authentic and the continuation of an indigenous national agenda.

As part of the process of deciphering social movements in a country, this Article will consider what kind of civil society activity may best spark democratization. In particular, it will differentiate between civil movements for democracy, characterized by an inward focus and desire to alter the domestic political landscape, and nationalist waves, distinguished by their outward focus and the aim of expelling any colonial presence, which this Article proposes cannot serve as a precedent for democratic reform.

The Article will illustrate this thesis and offer some concrete applications by comparing the history of civil society in Japan, Iraq, and Iran. Part II will discuss the vibrant Japanese civil society of the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1925) periods; the few, far more anemic, Iraqi civic expressions prior to the 1958 Revolution; and the dynamic civil activism during the popular Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911. Part III will consider the role certain civil society actors played when the opportunity for democratic reform emerged in each of these countries: at the end of World War II in Japan, in 2003 in Iraq, and after the abdication of Reza Shah (the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty) in 1941 in Iran.

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