HomeAbout Think TankAbout Ben WattenbergPrevious ShowsWhere to WatchSpecials


Watch Videos and Listen to Podcasts at ThinkTankTV.com

  « Back to Too Much Democracy? Part I main page
TranscriptsGuestsRelated ProgramsFeedback

Transcript for:

Too Much Democracy? Part I

Show #1113 'Too Much Democracy?'
Guest: Fareed Zakaria

Funding for Think Tank is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending nearly five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

(opening animation)

BEN WATTENBERG: Hello Iím Ben Wattenberg. In the rhetoric of diplomacy, the words Democracy and Freedom are often used interchangeably, but do elections and democracy insure liberty? In fact, is there such a thing as too much democracy? Does Democratization these days mean Americanization? Those questions have never been more timely. To explore them, Think Tank is joined by Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, and author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

The Topic before the House: Too much Democracy? Part 1. This week on Think Tank.


BEN WATTENBERG: Okay. Fareed Zakaria, thank you very much for joining us on Think Tank and congratulations on your new book The Future of Freedom. Let me begin with a short biography. You were born where? When were you born?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I was born in Bombay, India. I should say Mumbai, India, because of that horrible renaming of the city, but in 1964 I went to school in Bombay and got a scholarship to Yale when I was eighteen years old. Came here, fell in love with America and have stayed.

BEN WATTENBERG: And in America you went to?

FAREER ZAKARIA: I went to Yale college and got a bachelorís in history. Harvard for my Ph.D. in international relations and spent a fair amount of time working in journalism along the way. I worked at the New Republic, I worked at Harperís and then worked at Foreign Affairs magazine and Iím now at Newsweek.

BEN WATTENBERG: Publication of the Council on Foreign Relations.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Foreign Affairs is probably the premiere journal dealing with international politics and economics, and I was the managing editor for eight years. Itís put out by the Council on Foreign Relations.

BEN WATTENBERG: And your parents as I understand it were extremely influential people in Bombay and India.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, I would say that they were. My father was a politician and my mother was a journalist, so we got ex...

BEN WATTENBERG: Wasnít she editor of the Times of India?

FAREED ZAKARIA: She was editor of the Sunday Times, the Sunday paper, and so we got an exposure to all kinds of different people. As you know, one of the great things about journalism is that you get to meet all kinds of different people. So I, through osmosis, got a window into many worlds.

BEN WATTENBERG: Great. After 9/11, the situation in the Arab world, in the Muslim world, in the less developed world, suddenly went from the B section to the A section above the fold. So I thought we might begin first with your views as you espouse and the future of freedom. On that topic and then, shift over to how this same source of views about democracy apply to the modern world and most particularly to America. So, why donít you give me, in a short bite first, whatís the thesis of the book?

FAREED ZAKARIA: The thesis of the book is that when we think about democracy, we should really think about not simply the electoral process but the inner stuffing of democracy, which is the institutions that produce liberty, separation of powers, the rule of law, courts and constitutions and that that inner stuffing is in many ways more important than elections. Anyone can hold an election. Itís very difficult to produce institutions that preserve liberty.

BEN WATTENBERG: Okay. And are we making a mistake, particularly now, post-Iraq by stressing elections rather than the stuff of freedom, that you call it?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I donít know what our policy is, because it seems to vary a little bit from day to day, but if indeed we think that the key here is handing over power to the Iraqis, that is a phrase often used, which presumably means holding elections quickly and leaving, we would be making a terrible mistake, because the pattern of democratization over the last twenty years has been that when you hold elections early you put in place thugs, ethnic nationalists, religious leaders who have no interest in building the rule of law, in dividing power, in separating the branches of government that you far from democratizing the country in a genuine sense, you end up with something that isnít that much better than than beforehand.

BEN WATTENBERG: What would an example be of a country that installed - had elections, installed quote 'democratic rule,' but didnít give its people anymore freedom or in fact may have gone in reverse?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Well if we look at Russia after the fall of communism, itís a very interesting and somewhat tragic tale. There was an enormous emphasis put on elections, on political freedom, and what happens is Boris Yeltsin, and Putin after him, winning free and fair elections, begin to severely undermine the independence of the courts, severely undermine the local autonomy of government, they fire regional governors they donít like, appoint super-governors, sacked people of the upper house of Parliament, of the Duma, and intimidate a once free Russian media into being entirely coward and almost totally silent and subservient to the state. So what youíve seen in Russia is the flourishing of democracy, but the withering of liberty. And that process, that dynamic, is true in Venezuela, itís true in Iran, itís true in Russia, itís true in most of central Asia. Forty-two of forty-eight African countries have held elections, but I donít think any of us would really call what has happened there democracy.

BEN WATTENBERG: You place a great deal of weight on wealth as a harbinger and a precursor of democracy - or freedom. What are the reasons why a lower middle-class country or developing country canít be just as free as a developed country? I mean it doesnít seem to be a logical connection.

FAREED ZAKARIA: What I found looking at it historically was that in order to get genuine liberal democracy, you needed to have created this background of constitutionalism, separation of powers and such, and that the surest path to it was the introduction of capitalism. Because capitalism requires the rule of law. It requires contracts in commercial law. Capitalism is also the surest path to economic growth, so it produces a middle-class. Now, historically it is the middle-class that has always been at the forefront of the demand for democracy. Karl Marx understood this. Marx always argued that democracy was the product of the bourgeoisie, it was something that the bourgeoisie wanted. And he was right. I mean, he didnít like that much, but in fact in most societies where youíve had lasting genuine democracy you have needed as a kind of bulwark and base, a middle class that demands the rule of law, that demands a political voice. When you donít have that, democracy can flourish-- of course there are exceptions--but by and large it will be weak.

BEN WATTENBERG: So you have a specific cutoff line. What is it, five thousand dollars?

FAREED ZAKARIA: What I say is that thereís a range of about three thousand to six thousand dollars per capita GDP, at which point, which is the zone of transition in which democracies make it. That is to say if youíre below that line, if your per capita GDP is under three thousand dollars per capita GDP, historically countries that have gone democratic have failed and when you get to the higher range of that, if youíre over six thousand dollars per capita GDP there is not a single example of a failed transition to democracy. And I use these numbers simply as a simple rule of thumb. What the numbers tell you is that the society has been able to modernize itself. You see, itís easy to go from being a very, very poor country to you know, I donít know, a thousand dollars per capita GDP. The government just has to stop doing stupid things. But to really get to that middle income level, five, six thousand dollars per capita GDP, the whole society has to modernize. You have to develop a sense of the rule of law. You have to develop other institutions. You have to develop a modern, civic culture and so the numbers, four or five thousand dollars per capita GDP, are a proxy for that process of modernization. And my fundamental point I suppose is that you canít get democracy, you canít get a modern democratic form of government if you donít have a modern democratic society. The two are in an organic relationship with one another.

BEN WATTENBERG: So, you feel, I mean thereís been this argument since the end of the Cold War, the China versus Russia model. You brought up the Russian model. The China model goes economic growth first and then we hope, we donít know, democratic reform. So my old boss, Senator Henry 'Scoop' Jackson had been accused of being soft on China, partly because he had such a problem with the Soviet Union and it was the triangulation. But are you in that sense regarded, or do you feel yourself, soft on China?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Yes, I think that the Chinese regime...

BEN WATTENBERG: (laughs) Hah! Gotcha. Weíre playing 'gotcha journalism.'

FAREED ZAKARIA: No, Iíll admit to it. I mean, look, theyíve done some terrible things particularly in Tienanmen. But for the most part this has been a regime that is trying to modernize its country and is succeeding for the most part. The average Chinese today has more economic freedom, more freedom of travel, more freedom of religion than theyíve ever had. And this is something itís important to understand. These are not trivial freedoms. John Locke, when thinking about freedom, the definition of freedom, put economic liberty at the heart of liberty in general. James Madison, Adam Smith, all these people understood that the right of private property, the right of ownership, the rights that we today call capitalism are a very significant part of what liberty means. So the Chinese government has been moving on that dimension. They have not been moving on the political dimension and I regret that. I think they should be doing more on that front. But eventually they will face a dilemma. Ten, fifteen years down the road, I believe, the Chinese government will find they have had forty years of economic growth, they have produced a middle-class and that that middle-class wants a greater say in the management of its government and they will have produced a rule of law which requires that kind of thing. Now they may not choose to do that, but then China will face a real crisis.

BEN WATTENBERG: Letís move on now to the other part of the less developed world thatís really in the news, which is the Muslim world, and particularly the Arab world. What do you make of whatís going on there particularly following the victory, liberation I would say, others would say invasion, but of Iraq?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I think the liberation of Iraq provides an extraordinary opportunity to shake the political culture of the Middle East...to change it around. Iím not one of these who believes that thereís anything inherent in Islam or Arab culture that makes them prey to these kinds of regimes or unable to be democracies or anything like that. But I...

BEN WATTENBERG: Paul Johnson has written that there is something inherently violent within Islam and that this is not something that you can just say, 'Well, weíll get rid of one percent or put tabs on one percent...'

FAREED ZAKARIA: You know, all I would say is if you look at the history of Christianity and the bloodiness of the religious wars in the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth centuries, thereís nothing in Islam that comes even close to that. If you look at the Popes wielding of religious and political and military power thereís nothing like that in Islam. There are certainly some obstacles...

BEN WATTENBERG: Or in the twentieth century the Holocaust and things like that. I mean violence is, alas, a human trait.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Exactly. Exactly. The problem has been in the Muslim world, particularly in the Arab world, that you have largely imported European ideas of fascism, of strong states, of totalitarianism, that they have wedded themselves with the local culture and produced these horrible regimes, these complete despotisms, and the repression has then over time bred an extreme opposition, which has morphed into terrorism. So repression breeds terrorism, the terrorism breeds more repression, because the state feels it needs to get stronger and stronger, and you are now in that horrible, vicious cycle. Iraq provides an opportunity to try to break from that cycle, but because Iraq comes from a part of the world that does not share in western history, it does not have the ideal circumstances for democracy, itís gonna be very tough, and itís going to be a long term project; itís one that I hope we are committed to, not just in the United States but the western world. But if done right, just as Japan was able to break the cycle in East Asia...

BEN WATTENBERG: And serve as an exemplar state.

FAREED ZAKARIA: And serve as an exemplar, thatís possible. Itís very important to have an example, because non-western countries donít like the idea of having to borrow from the West. Thereís something humiliating about it, thereís something culturally denuding about it. But what East Asians were able to say was, 'Look at Japan. Japan is a non-Western country and it was able to get rich. Weíre just going to copy Japan.' They donít have to say, 'Weíre copying America, or weíre copying Europe.' And similarly in the Arab world you need them to be able to say, 'Why donít we organize our economy the way Iraq is? You know. Why donít we follow this practice?' Because it seems to be working. Everybody wants success, so if Iraq succeeds in embracing modernity and embracing a modern form of government, I do believe it will have an important demonstration effect. But it is going to be hard.

BEN WATTENBERG: Do you think itís going to happen?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I think if the United States stays the course and doesnít worry about charges of imperialism and colonialism, and tries to involve the international community so that it is not an exclusively American affair, I think thereís a good chance. I think if, in a year from now, the United States is essentially disengaged from Iraq, thereís virtually no chance. Iraq has two great strikes against it in the building of democracy. It has oil and it has ethnic and religious diversity.

BEN WATTENBERG: Now I was going to ask that question. You regard it in some ways, as Iíve been reading through your book, oil as a curse.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Oil is a curse. Oil is a curse ironically for wealth or liberty. For wealth itís a curse because it means you donít have to modernize your economy. You donít have to create the framework of laws that actually encourage economic growth.

BEN WATTENBERG: You just call in Exxon/Mobil and give íem a contract and take the royalty.

FAREED ZAKARIA: I call them, in the book, trust fund states, because itís unearned income. And you look around the world--thereís a Harvard study on this--every oil-rich country has among the lowest growth rates in the world, because they donít produce anything. They donít need to. They have it too easy. The odd thing however is that itís also bad for democracy, for liberty, because when a government needs taxation as its form of revenue, when it doesnít have oil in the ground which it can sell it needs to give back something to the citizen. So, I tax you but I have to give something back to you. The bargain between taxation and representation is at the heart of Western liberty. If you think about it, thatís why the United States breaks away from the British Empire. We were being taxed but not represented in the British Parliament.

BEN WATTENBERG: That was, was it John Adams? - Taxation without representation is tyranny?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Exactly. Now, the slogan that the Saudis offer their people is very different. The bargain they offer is they say, 'Were not gonna tax you, were not gonna take anything from you, but were not gonna give anything to you.' So in a sense itís a perversion of that same slogan. No taxation, no representation. And that is at the heart of the political dysfunction of oil states. And so Iraq is going to have to work hard to overcome that.

BEN WATTENBERG: And you say in your book though, that the key state is not Iraq but Egypt.

FAREED ZAKARIA: To truly change the Arab world, you need Egypt to change, because Egypt is the heart and soul of the Arab world. It is the largest Arab country. It is the heartland of Arab culture. So many of the fantasies and delusions about Pan-Arabism, about this desire to reject the West, come out of Cairo. That you need to break its back there. One of the great obstacles to development in the Arab world has been the sense of pride and fall. The sense that they were once this great civilization and at the gates of Vienna and now theyíre not going copy the West and copy its ideas...

BEN WATTENBERG: Wait, wait, refresh my memory now. The gates of Vienna is 1640s?

FAREED ZAKARIA: 1683. The Arab Empire was the most dynamic militarily, politically, culturally for centuries and it was so before the West. So to watch the Western world rise and to be puzzled by their own decline, the Arabs have ended up becoming a kind of closed and defeatist culture where they cannot accept that the world they live in is one where the West is dominant. You see, a powerful culture is willing to absorb ideas from anywhere. Think of the United States. Weíre so open to ideas from everywhere. The Japanese do management better, we say, 'Letís copy the Japanese.' If somebody makes food that we like, we say, 'Letís import them all in here.' Arab culture is right now in an entirely different mode. It is protective, it is insular and you need to break that. You need to break the delusions about Pan-Arab greatness. Weíve seen it even in the war in Iraq, where they would not accept the plain reality that was obvious, that the United States was winning the war, that the United States was occupying Baghdad. So for that to change, I argue that you have to go to Egypt at some point. What I donít mean by that is, by the way, that we should in any way go to war with Egypt...


FAREED ZAKARIA:... but we need to pressure Egypt. We need to try and fund liberals to open up. We need Egypt to open up and become a modern society.

BEN WATTENBERG: You now have in the Arab world the nascent beginnings of modern media, and while we in the United States are obviously very critical of the way Al-Jazeera covers things, it does cover things. Your theory of illiberal democracy is that countries can be democratic without being free because they donít have these forums of freedom, one of which is the freedom of the press. Is Al-Jazeera and its competitors, is that a good development?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Absolutely. Al-Jazeera is a pioneer. They are charting a course of freedom of the press in a world that has known none. Look, one of the things I talk a lot about in the book is that when you have had no democracy and no liberty the opening stages are going to be rough. And in the absence of any real political culture what you will see initially will be quite ugly and extreme. Thatís a reason not to go precipitously to elections, but when you open up the press you are going to see some ugly stuff. But Al-Jazeera is in many ways a pioneer. It does not censor stuff, it shows and reports on stories that state media does not report on. It has women anchors. It shows women as modern, secular, working people. So in many ways Al-Jazeera is doing all that, look. But it reflects the biases of Arab society, which are in some way anti-Zionist, perhaps even anti-Semitic...sometimes anti-American. And that I think is a reality weíre going to have to live with. But I would argue that as you get more Al-Jazeeras, and as Al-Jazeera itself matures, there will be a maturation of political culture. And that you will begin to see more moderate, more liberal, more mainstream voices coming in as well. Right now all you had was the monotony of the state media and the preaching of the mullahs. Each in its own way fanatical. Al-Jazeera has...

BEN WATTENBERG: And very little of the Samizdat kind of thing that you saw in the Soviet Union, the underground press. Not much.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, unfortunately, what happened in the Arab world was that the state was so repressive, silencing all opposition, that the only place you could speak your mind was the mosque. The only thing they couldnít ban was the mosque. And so all the extremism and opposition against these regimes channeled itself into the mosque, channeled itself into religion. The political language of opposition became religion. Itís a little like what happened with liberation theology in Latin America.


FAREED ZAKARIA: And so, unfortunately, political opposition these days has morphed into the kind of religious fundamentalism. What you donít have yet is secular liberal opposition to these regimes. I believe that will develop, but itís going to take time.

BEN WATTENBERG: These ideas that you have espoused in the future of freedom, how do they apply to what we ought to be doing in Iraq?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I start the book in 324 A.D. because I try to point out that liberty in the West came after a long process of the separation of church and state, the rise of capitalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment. Most non-Western countries donít have this, so when we look at Iraq we have to recognize that we donít have the background of constitutionalism and liberty that would be ideal. And so we have to work very hard to try to put in place the institutions that will guarantee liberty. In the Iraqi case I think itís very important to think hard about how to create power-sharing, how to create the rule of law so that you donít have the Shiíia voting for the Shiíia; the Kurds voting for the Kurds; the Sunni voting for the Sunni and producing a kind of orgy of score-settling or ethnic cleansing. Itís also very important that you find ways to limit the power of the state. This has been one of the most difficult things in the Third World. James Madison said, when writing about the American Constitution, that in creating a government you have to do two things: First the government has to control the governed and then it has to control itself. So you have to produce order and then you have to produce liberty, or limited government. And getting that right in Iraq is going to be difficult. Itís worth trying, but itís far more important than holding the elections. The elections can come as the final step in that process, not the first step.

BEN WATTENBERG: Okay, Fareed, thank you for joining us on Think Tank. Thank you for contributing to this great American dialogue. And thank you. Donít forget to send us your comments via e-mail. And be sure to join us for part two of our conversation with Fareed Zakaria. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.

We at Think Tank depend on your views to make our show better. Please send your questions and comments to New River Media, 1219 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Or e-mail us at thinktank@pbs.org.

To learn more about Think Tank, visit PBS on line at www.pbs.org, and please, let us know where you watch Think Tank.

Funding for this program is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending nearly five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

This is PBS.

Back to top

Think Tank is made possible by generous support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Dodge Jones Foundation, and Pfizer, Inc.

©Copyright Think Tank. All rights reserved.
BJW, Inc.  New River Media 

Web development by Bean Creative.