Documenting the hypocrisies of the Bush administrations claims about “spreading democracy” in the Middle East can be a thankless task, and to do so on an ongoing basis would quickly become repetitive and dull. Every now and again, however, it’s time for an article covering that ground and providing a sense of what democracy might actually mean on the ground in the Middle East. Ken Silverstein’s “Parties of God” in Harpers’ March 2007 issue is just such a survey and well worth reading for a more nuanced understanding than is otherwise readily available. Hopefully it’ll be online soon.
The piece touches on similar themes to those which keep occurring to me as I work my way through Will Hutton‘s “The Writing On The Wall,” which is an analysis of the state of the Chinese economy and western relations with it. Hutton’s argument is that for China’s economy to evolve it will need more of the civil society structures that the West attained through the Enlightenment, and it is a compelling one (it’s also worth skipping his introductory chapter, which gives a skewed sense of what he’s about to cover).
But Hutton’s analysis seems to presume that civil society can only take the form it has in the West. Certainly to date many innovations dubbed “Chinese-style” have simply been fronts for the same old authoritarianism, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some future approach which offers a comparable set of checks and balances in a very different context.