Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Classical and Liberal Democracy: Singapore and Jamaica

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Classical and Liberal Democracy: Singapore and Jamaica

Article excerpt

Most writers on democracy (particularly, scholars and journalists) have only a liberal conception of democrac , emphasizing elections, multiparty systems, and majority rule. Classical democracy, on the other hand, refers to consensus-building (or statesmanship), which is essential for the development of the institutions required for effective liberal democracy. Political Elasticity (PE) theory is here introduced, enabling us to distinguish liberal and classical democracy and to explain why, while classical democracy is essential for socioeconomic development, liberal democracy may, not only be nonessential, but also counterproductive. A comparison of Singapore and Jamaica is put forward to illustrate this point. In so doing, I will also attempt to show that Lord Acton's assertion, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," is not necessarily true inasmuch as Singapore (with a single-party system) is far less corrupt than Jamaica (with its two-party system). The implications of emphasizing classical, rather than liberal, democracy for improving foreign aid are presented at the conclusion.

Keywords: Jamaica, Singapore, democracy, corruption, economic development, political elasticity theory, foreign aid, debt reduction.

Introduction: Obstacles to Democracy

Americans promoting democracy have encountered some general problems that are well presented in a book by Carothers (1999). First of all, their efforts were often seen as "American interventionism" and "interference from abroad" (p. 62). Second, those in power were willing to pay "deference to the forms of democracy" but not to allow their power to be "seriously threatened" (p. 109). Third, democracy was frequently viewed by, not only Less Developed Country (LDC) leaders, but also those giving foreign aid, as undermining the unity and political power essential for socioeconomic development. Fourth, the funds available for promoting democracy in any particular country were always limited in amount and of uncertain duration. Fifth, the approaches used tended to be technical in nature, lacking in sophistication, misguided (based upon an American model), confusing (placing excessive emphasis on quantifiable results), and irrelevant. Sixth, those hired to promote democracy were often inexperienced, ignorant of the local languages and culture, without an adequate understanding of requirements and possibilities, and subject to an inconsistent and/or rigid foreign aid bureaucracy.

These impediments are greatest in an environment in which political power has an "all or nothing" connotation. For example, Kwame Nkrumah led Ghana to independence in 1957 under the slogan: "Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all else will be added unto ye." Consequently, few Ghanaians were initially upset at Nkrumah's politicizing of all the institutions of government and the establishment of an elaborate patronage system, under which there was no room for independent sources of wealth, legal protection, or administrative discretion (LeVine, 1975). Under these circumstances, those advocating democracy (including their extended families, friends, and ethnic groups) were inevitably seen as subversive, disloyal, untrustworthy, or, at least, disrespectful (if not, tainted with neocolonialism). Within such a political environment, two fundamental obstacles to democracy (as it is generally understood) emerge:

(1) The meaninglessness and counterproductive nature of elections. "In some countries," as the saying goes, "elections determine governments; in most, governments determine elections." In countries, where much of the population is illiterate, in remote rural areas, far from communication media, and inexperienced in voting, the mechanics of handling elections can be overwhelming. (For Americans to tell other countries how to conduct elections when they did so badly in their own November, 2000 elections seems rather amusing.)

In countries with strong social divisions, political parties (if allowed) tend to generate violence rather than compromise. …

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