Islam Democracy, and Authoritarianism and Paper Assignment

The topic for the next paper assignment in PLSC240  is “Democracy and Culture”.  You will be required to assess the democratic potential of various cultural orientations for democracy, using the Diamond and Morlino volume as a guide.  In Assessing the Quality of Democracy, various essential components of democracy are analyzed, including responsiveness, equality, freedom and accountability.  Your task will be to comparatively assess the quality of democracy in two countries, one of which is “Western” in its cultural orientation, the other of which is “non-Western.”  I’ll have more information for you on the specifics of the assignment when you get back from break on the 18th.

For now, I’ll remind you that on Thursday, those of you who did not leave early for spring break watched a Frontline documentary on Muslims and the democratic potential of Islam. You were shown the diversity in the manner in which Islam is practiced across five different countries–Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, and Turkey, and Nigeria. You were also able to begin to understand the varied roles and treatment of women across all of these predominantly Muslim countries.  This tied in well with the Steven Fish article [you have to be on campus to access the article] that you were assigned to read in advance of viewing the video.  What is Fish’s argument about the link between women in Islamic societies and democracy?  I’ve attached a preview of the documentary below. You can watch the whole documentary online, by clicking here.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

All of us immediately recognize these powerful sentences as being part of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Happiness is an important concept and has been the object of increased study in political science and comparative politics. Ronald Inglehart (he of World Values Survey fame) argues that there is a strong relationship between happiness and democracy across countries. Inglehart writes:

Correlation is not causation, and this linkage could reflect any of the following things: (1) living under democratic institutions makes people much happier than living under authoritarian institutions; or (2) high levels of subjective well-being are conducive to democratic institutions; or (3) the correlation could be spurious, due to the fact that both subjective well-being and democracy are strongly correlated with some other variable such as high levels of economic development.

Solving this puzzle has far-reaching implications. If the linkage is not spurious and democracy makes people happy, this provides a strong additional argument on behalf of democracy; while if high levels of happiness are conducive to democracy, this can lead to a better understanding of how democracy emerges and flourishes. Using World Values Survey data on happiness levels from 1981 to 2006, and the Freedom House measures of democracy levels from 1972 to 2005, this paper analyzes the relationships between happiness and democracy in order to determine what is causing what.

How happy are Americans? How happy are Germans, Chinese, or Brazilians, for that matter? Who are the happiest people on earth? According to the new World Database of Happiness, it’s the Danes, Swiss and Maltese. Is this a political cultural trait, as Inglehart assumes, or are there structural and institutional factors at work? All three countries are rather small, and European. (Malta and Denmark are, additionally, amongst the most homogeneous states in the world, and this could be having an effect, given new research by Robert Putnam on the potential socially, politically, and economically detrimental effects of ethnic diversity.) Americans, by the way, are ranked #25 in level of happiness.

Democracy in Russia

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, we learn that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has shut down a university that offers “politically sensitive” courses.

A Russian court has ordered a university that receives support from Western organizations and had offered courses in election monitoring to shut down immediately, in what professors said was the first time an entire university had been closed for political reasons under President Vladimir V. Putin.

The ruling, issued by a court in St. Petersburg on Friday, shut down the European University of St. Petersburg just as a new semester was about to start and after many of the 170 students who were scheduled to attend had arrived in the city.

Mr. Putin had criticized the university last fall, accusing it of meddling in Russian politics, according to news reports, and a highly placed government official raised similar concerns in late December, a professor told The Chronicle.

What a terrible offense!  Meddling in Russian politics!  The nerve! We in the West take for granted far too often the nature of the liberties we enjoy.  We in the academic world, in particular, are often unaware of the great dangers that academics in many parts of the world face in trying to perform tasks and research that to us in the West seem mundane.  To increase awareness about the lack of academic freedom in many parts of the world, a group of like-minded individuals has created the Scholars at Risk Network.

Islam, Religious Attitudes, and Democracy

There is a lot of ink being spilled on the question of the compatibility of Islam with democracy. Here is a link to a paper by Mark Tessler, published in the journal, Comparative Politics, in 2002.

“Islam and Democracy in the Middle East: The Impact of Religious Orientations on Attitudes Toward Democracy in Four Arab Countries,” Comparative Politics, Vol. 34 (April 2002): 337-354.

If you are on campus, here is a direct link to a pdf version of the article.

From the Abstract:

Continue reading “Islam, Religious Attitudes, and Democracy”

Informal Institutions and Democracy in Africa

Using results from the Afrobarometer surveys, Michael Bratton has written an article in a recent issue of Journal of Democracy (you must have access to JoD articles to read this) on the relationship between formal and informal institutions and democracy in a sample of African countries.

This is a blurb from the article about Afrobarometer: “[Bratton] is also founder and director of the Afrobarometer, a collaborative international survey-research project that measures public opinion regarding democracy, markets, and civil society in eighteen African countries.”