Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Oxblog's David Adesnik--yes, democracy's evangelist extraordinaire, of all people--has declined to echo my searing condemnation of Amy Chua's "market-dominant minorities" thesis. He takes his cue from a recent Michelle Goldberg book review in Salon, which characterizes Chua's position as more democracy-skeptical than capitalist-minority-bashing--a sort of academicized Robert Kaplan-style appreciation of a good strongman capable of restraining the racist rabble. (How odd, then, that Adesnik would spare it his usual righteous pro-democracy fury....)

Now, I myself have been known to express a version of the Kaplan/Chua position, conceding that it's pointless to try to foist democracy on societies whose enthusiasm for it is weak. (The same could be said of free markets, for that matter.) But Chua's claim is that free-market democracy itself creates dangerous opportunities for racist violence. In fact, as her own examples (Zimbabwe and Indonesia--the ones I cited previously) amply demonstrate, corrupt kleptocracies are more likely to foment ethnic conflict, as a means to bolster their own political power, than to suppress it. Democracy, then, is no more the source of these troubles than it is of, say, the horrors of Islamic fundamentalist violence--which happened to gain strength from democratic elections in, say, Algeria, but certainly depended on ruthless dictatorships in plenty of other countries. The lesson of cases like Algeria is not that democracy is dangerous, but rather that the failure of democracy is dangerous, and that it should therefore not be tried in places where it's obviously doomed to fail.

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