The Western Democratic Tradition by LJM Cooray

There is wide difference between living standards and educational and scientific achievements in the established "democratic nations " and other nations with various shades of totalitarianism and authoritarianism

What are the reasons for these differences, given that some of the latter (e.g. China and India) enjoy a history, tradition and culture much richer and far more ancient than those enjoyed by the democratic countries? What are the reasons which are responsible for the political, social, economic and scientific changes leading to a movement in the countries of the "democratic tradition ", from poverty and depressed living standards for 99% of the population of a few centuries ago, to a position of relative affluence for a vast majority of the population? (The degree of affluence is apparent when the standards of living, amenities and facilities available to the so called poor in the democratic nations are directly compared with the living standards of middle class and even upper class inhabitants of the third and communist worlds. This difference is blurred in many ways by the critics of the western tradition, particularly by the relativist definition of poverty adopted, by a focus on problems without focussing on benefits and by failing to compare western democratic societies with other societies criticism rather than evaluation.

The issue which is the subject of investigation in this paper is whether the "democratic tradition " is an essential product of history, culture, development and particular circumstances in the countries in which it originated. If so, is it transplantable in and exportable to a society with a different history, culture and traditions?

The answer to this question requires first and foremost an analysis of the values and institutions which underpin the democratic tradition.

The phrase "western democratic tradition " is used in order to emphasise that the system of democratic elections and civil liberties and private enterprise are by no means the only important facets of the system. The major part of the paper analyses the many values and institutions of the "democratic tradition ", distinguishing between the original values and institutions and 20th century "reform" ideas.

The original values and institutions of the democratic tradition were responsible for the phenomenal achievements and developments of western civilisation. The system also gave rise to the best (in a relative sense) system of government evolved by man which provided a balance between power for rulers and a role for the individual. The system also gave rise to reasonable living standards for a significant majority.

The democratic tradition faces many problems today lawlessness, street crime, drug abuse, rampant dishonesty, homelessness (especially among children), teenage and juvenile delinquency, family breakdowns, increasing poverty, increasing evidence of psychological illnesses, the growing power of government and bureaucracies and a host of economic problems. Does this fore-shadow the decline and fall of western civilisation and the democratic tradition?

The main focus is on the original values and institutions of the democratic tradition, with some analysis of the "reform" ideas which affected the system. The concluding section examines the exportability of the tradition to third world and other countries which are emerging from various forms of authoritarian and dictatorial rule.