But the Commonwealth is still not prepared to admit
Pakistan back to its fold because it does not consider Pakistan
democratic enough to be its member. Russian leader Boris Yeltsin in
his heyday ruled more by decrees than by democratic consultation,
though his defiance in the face of the battle tanks at Kremlin
symbolised the downfall of Communism.
That raises the
question, are all states ready for democracy? Or, to paraphrase
David Landes, why are some countries democratic and some others not?
It is difficult to give a definitive answer that applies equally to
Chad and China and India and Indonesia. This precisely is the task
that Zakaria takes upon himself in this truly edifying book. He
comes to the conclusion that democracy can flourish only in those
countries where liberty flourished. Liberty is a prerequisite of
democracy. This explains why western Europe is more democratic than
eastern Europe and India is more democratic than Nepal.
Unlike many writers on
the subject, Zakaria credits the rise of the Christian Church as the
most important source of liberty in the West – and hence the
world. He sees the shifting of capital from Rome to Constantinople
by Emperor Constantine in AD 324 as a defining moment in history for
it represented the separation of religion from the state.
Constantine, Zakaria avers, had left behind only one person in Rome
– the Pope. But he overlooks another influence that had a greater
impact on the course of events.
The rule of law, which
is central to liberty, began as a concept with Moses when he put the
stone tablets containing law — the Ten Commandments — in the Ark
of the Covenant. In India, this concept was institutionalised under
T.B. Macaulay’s, now hated leadership, in the 1830s, as Nani
Palkhivala once argued. The eminent jurist even paraphrased John 1:1
to say, "In the beginning was the Constitution, the
Constitution was with God, and the Constitution was God". If
the law is only what the rulers say it is, Mrs Gandhi’s arbitrary,
inhumane decrees would have been the law of the land and we would
have lost the right to protest against them.
humanists have deceived many Indians into believing that the concept
of the Rule of Law originated in the materialistic philosophy of the
Enlightenment. They even attribute the growth of democracy to the
same philosophy. Zakaria, too, falls into the same trap. Democracy
was tried and rejected in pre-Christian Greek city-states. Plato
called it the worst of all political systems.
How then did democracy
resurrect itself in the last millennium? The development of the
ideas of human dignity, of the necessity of the rule of law and
justice, combined with the development of the languages of the
people and mass education, made it possible to develop the
government of the people, by the people, for the people that
operates in the language of the people.
As the languages of
the people become the languages of learning, of the courts, science
and technology, a "market economy" which thrives on
individual initiative becomes possible, thus ushering in the modern
world of unprecedented economic growth in a limited government: one
limited by law, guaranteeing the individual’s property, rights and
The Biblical idea of
the sovereignty of God over the whole of life abolished the idea of
the sovereignty of man in the state, church or society. At the same
time, the idea of the sinfulness of all human beings demolished the
idea of the infallibility of the Pope and the divinity of the
emperors. The doctrine of human sinfulness also necessitated the
institutionalisation of checks and balances. John Calvin, who
founded Geneva as the first modern republic, wrote in his Institutes,
the depravity of every heart makes it imperative that power be
vested in many hands, so that many may check the tendency of the one
to abuse it.
However, this does not
detract from the merit of the book. Zakaria argues powerfully with
telling illustrations that what we need in politics today is not
more democracy but less. More and more democracies, including India
and the US, are becoming more and more illiberal. History bears
proof of democracy becoming a tool in the hands of fascists. The
danger of the phenomenon repeating itself is too real to be scoffed
at. He also points at another danger — western-style democracy in
many Arab countries would result in more illiberal regimes. The Emir
of Kuwait proposed giving women the vote. But the democratically
elected Kuwaiti parliament – filled with Islamists – roundly
rejected the initiative. For all its faults, democracy remains the
only acceptable system. It can be strengthened only by strengthening
the institutions that protect individual liberty. No doubt, Zakaria’s
is a thought-provoking book.