Implications of Globalization for Developing Democracies

Robert Schadler

A paper delivered to the
Democracy and the Globalization of Politics and the Economy
International Conference
Haus auf der Alb, Bad Urach, Germany
October, 1999

German Federal Agency for Civic Education
in co-operation with the
State Agency for Civic Education, Stuttgart, Germany
and the
Center for Civic Education, Calabasas, CA USA

Why walls, borders, as well as non-walls and non-borders, have two-sides or why globalization is both good and bad

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.

Mending Wall by Robert Frost
Robert Frost's Poems by Louis Untermeyer, 1971


As the Robert Frost poem tells us, "something there is that doesn't love a wall." Walls, borders, barriers are all contrary to liberalism of either the classical, continental,19th century kind, or the American, 20th century variety. I am sure that 21st century liberalism will view borders as problematic as well. Liberalism is, after all, about liberty. Borders, like walls, confine, constrict or even imprison. Modern liberalism is a global ideology that asks the rhetorical question, "Are we not, after all, all humans?" From this perspective, "globalization" as well as "developing democracies" are God words - that is, words so loaded with positive connotations that one ought not do anything other than bow one's head when they are heard.

"Global solutions" are more satisfying than "parochial" ones. Who, other than members of a parish, could possibly care whether a parochial problem was ever solved at all? Better to be cosmic or at least global! Likewise, we feel compelled to applaud anything labeled a "developing democracy." Democracy conjures up legitimacy, peace, prosperity, unparalleled comity, even bliss. Developing means our nearly complete faith in progress is being sustained. While mere mortals may die, at least democracy lives on bigger and better than ever. Everywhere and always people are developing or perfecting their democracy until, through globalization, they achieve a modern version of More's Utopia - heaven on earth. Not bad. Not bad at all for beings that evolved from some primordial slime millions or billions of years ago.

And so, liberalism, classical and contemporary, however radically different in so many wonkish, policy ways are inherently uncomfortable with the idea of national borders. If they must exist, they should be largely irrelevant, like the US-Canada border or those that seem to be emerging in the EU arena. If only the entire world could emulate Europe and North America. Isn't this the key to permanent peace and prosperity? Liberalism, if it means anything, means the kind of freedom that allows the free movement of ideas, goods and people. Cyberspace and the Internet come close to that final frontier. What could be better than virtually free, virtually instantaneous, virtually unlimited access to information, images, ideas, messages for everyone? John Stuart Mill, were he alive today, would burst with joy in anticipation of a new age.

We are, after all, in the process of celebrating the tenth anniversary of a truly joyous occasion, both memorable and historic - the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet, amid the celebration, I fear we have yet to learn the lessons of that Wall - why it was built, what it did, what it meant and why it came down. I fear that our children and grandchildren will have almost no understanding of why the Fall of the Wall was an historic occasion. I can already hear them asking: "Granddad, why was there a wall?" "Nena, why were little children killed when they tried to see their grandmothers on the other side of that wall?"

My effort this afternoon is to sound a cautionary note about this magnificently sounding topic, "implications of globalization for developing democracies." I will try to strike a balance between those who are determined to see the light at the end of the tunnel and, to steal a phrase from a friend of mine who was imprisoned by both the Nazis and the Communists, "those who see the tunnel at the end of the light." Globalization may be inevitable. It may have many wonderful elements. But it seems to me the conclusion must also be reached that the processes of globalization, in may respects, counter the processes necessary for the successful development and maintenance of democratic governance.

In an intriguing way, my thoughts were foreshadowed by the debate over the ratification of the American Constitution. One of the critical issues of that debate was over how large the polity could be and still be democratic. Direct democracy could only be very small. The debate was over how large representative democracy could be before it lost its democratic qualities. But the issue before us today is of such a different scale. It's like comparing, on the one hand, climbing a steep mountain, and, on the other, landing on the moon. Both may, on balance, be good things to do, but the chance for error as well as disaster are dramatically different.

Walls Imprison and Protect

Walls like the Berlin Wall are rightly hated. Walls imprison. But, as hated as the Berlin Wall was, walls also have another side, as the Robert Frost poem also reminds us. "Good fences make good neighbors." Walls can protect. Indeed, the other famous Wall in history, the only human artifact that can be seen from the moon, is the Great Wall of China. It was defensive and protected China from outside aggression. Walls protect us from murders and thieves. Walls protect our privacy. Borders -- a less visible form of a wall -- make possible institutions like private property. Walls around the voting booth guarantee the integrity of the act of voting, arguably the most sacred act of any democracy. But even more central than privacy and property, walls or borders protect the essence of who we are, our very identity. Walls have then the capacity to be truly evil, yet a world without walls will not be a heaven on earth, but hellish.

Globalization vs. Three Problematic Groups

Globalization is in fact at war with what I often label the three "c's" that represent liberalism's vulnerabilities: criminals, crazies and children. Liberalism does not have a well-developed theory to incorporate these members of the human race into its global vision. Lets look at each of these categories in a broad, metaphorical way.

Rational Aggressors, Incompetents, and the Not-Yet Competent Criminals are competent human beings who, for whatever reason, choose to harm innocent people. They pursue what they see as their self-interest, but by doing so they break the rules society has laid down for the greater good and, thereby, damage others. Crazies are people who are not competent to know their own self interest or to participate responsibly in public life or the deliberations necessary to pursue either the public's interest or their own enlightened self-interest. Children are those human beings whom we believe will, given time and education, become capable of becoming full and responsible citizens but have not yet been able to do so.

We need walls to imprison criminals. We need walls to imprison crazies when they seek to harm others; they need walls and they need protection. Children need walls to protect them until they are no longer children. I am using these terms loosely and broadly to make some analogies relevant to globalization and developing democracies. Globalization offers some hope for a solution to aggression and terrorism. It is less likely to solve the problem of a developing democracy.

Globalization, Democracy, Developing

I would like now to examine briefly the three key terms in my topic: globalization, democracy and developing, in that order.


By globalization I think we generally mean the trend to reduce the time, effort and cost to move things from one place on the globe to another. It means, in short, that borders both natural and political are reduced in significance or eliminated altogether. What "things" do we generally move across these eliminated borders? I would classify three types: information (ideas and images as well as information narrowly construed), goods, and people. Things that have no clear material form can move instantaneously via telephone lines, satellites, cyberspace. We can speak to people, see events, find information in ways that dazzle. It is hard to see how these trends will abate, even though efforts are made, most often by governments, to build walls that shield some people from some kinds of information. Pornography from children is one example. How to construct a bomb for another. The very ideas of freedom and democracy from subjugated citizens is yet a third. It is well, however, to remember that nonmaterial things have traveled quickly across the most impressive walls, such as the Berlin Wall, for many centuries.

Ideas need not always be good, true or beautiful. We have, for example, the saying that a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on. The best ideas are not those that travel with the greatest of speed. Nor are they necessarily those ideas that we accept quickly or believe first. We need to be concerned about the relationship of the truth to democratic governance in an age when speed overwhelms our ability to digest, reflect and put into context that information and those ideas that we need for democratic governance. Mistakes, rumors, lies and hate travel as quickly on the Internet as their more respectable relatives. The best democracy is not necessarily the one that makes the fastest decisions or holds the quickest elections. Can a democracy, in fact, develop if its citizens are constantly bombarded by powerful outside forces? If not, who will exercise the control so that only the good ideas penetrate?


It is difficult for Marxist or post-Marxist analysts alike to escape the question about any major process or trend: "Who benefits?" Globalization, in each of its many specific elements, is not intrinsically neutral. It must benefit and harm specific parties.

Rather than try to analyze each particular of the globalization process, let me simply raise a single specter - imperialism. Imperialism fits virtually the same definition of globalization. It is the reduction or elimination of borders. It simply adds the connotation that there is a shift in power or autonomy. Imperialism may be a subset of "globalization". More ominously, it may be simply another less uplifting name for the same phenomenon. The ideology that motivated the Soviet Union wanted to eliminate national borders. A world empire would be one way, probably the quickest way, to achieve "globalization." Borders would, in such a scheme, be truly irrelevant.

If globalization were only a sugar-coated term for imperialism, we would not like it. We like democracy because if provides for self governance; we dislike imperialism precisely because it eliminates that very same self-governance. Under what circumstances does the process of globalization eliminate the possibility that democracies will be able to develop where they are not already solidly established? In short, we all want good globalization, not the ugly, evil globalization. Unfortunately, wolves are not shy about traveling in woolly clothing. Let us look briefly at the circumstances necessary for democratic governance so that we might avoid the bad kind of globalization.

Democracy or Democratic Governance

One hesitates to be entirely frank before so many who have spent their lives in behalf of civic education, but there is something about democracy that is similar to pornography, or at least how one Supreme Court justice defined it when he said he knew it when he saw it. Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, the American Founders, and Tocqueville to contemporary scholars like Giovanni Sartori, Joseph Schumpeter and Robert Dahl have all offered definitions while recognizing there are problems in any such arid formulation. It may, at bottom, be one of life's mysteries.

Even more controversial and complex is how to develop a polity into a democracy when it is not one already. Modernity favors the historicist or those that see the present in terms of socio-economic or other historical forces. The present then appears to have been an accident of history. But if we are to master our fate, we must understand and shape these forces that provide the foundation of democracy. Whether we know the recipe that transforms the non-democratic into the democratic is very much an open question. The particular question here is, "Can globalization processes be shaped so that they favor democratic development?"

Developing the Building Blocks of Democracy

Let's look at some of the essentials of democratic governance. Democracy involves, but is more than, majority rule. Even this terribly simplistic definition, raises several complex questions. Let mention just a few. Enfranchisement. Who is allowed to vote? Criteria (and who defines and enforces them) - such as citizenship, residency, age, competence (whether intellectual, literacy, linguistic, financial, etc). Scope. Are elections held rarely or frequently? Can they address substantive issues or only competing candidates? Legitimacy. How much fraud is unacceptable? How much dissembling or lying by candidates erodes the mandate? How can governance occur when there are only pluralities or even when majorities vote for the defeated candidate but quirks in the system give the less popular candidate the reins of government? What meaning do we give when more eligible voters chose not to vote than do vote for candidates? Some experiments now even allow voters to choose in a "positive" way "None of the above". What do we do, say, when 60% of the electorate stays home; 25% of those voting choose "none of the above" and candidate A gets 8% and candidate B gets 7%? Turnover of power. If one group always wins, how democratic can it be? If a minority, ethnic, economic or cultural group can never hope to rule, what does it mean to allow them to vote?

At bottom, a majority is a technique to reach a decision about something. Which decisions can something other than a majority decide? Pluralities and supermajorities are often used for some kinds of decisions.

In the United States, we accept a 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court on some of the most important issues while we insist that a jury vote unanimously about lesser matters. In my lifetime, the Democratic presidents, except for Lyndon Johnson, have never received an absolute majority of those voting in their elections, due to minor candidates now long forgotten. One of our most revered presidents, John F. Kennedy, was elected in an exceptionally close election, where, in due course, people were jailed for election fraud. At the time, the "losing" candidate, later to become one of our most maligned presidents, arguably had his finest hour. Despite considerable pressure to contest the election results, he chose not to do so, believing any such contest would take too long and be too rancorous at a time when world affairs required an unambiguous result. In short, the standards for unanimity, supermajority, majority, plurality and sometimes even less than a plurality can be made to work without destroying a recognizable democracy.

But about what things should the majority vote? Not surely, the most important things about our lives! Who and how we worship, our core beliefs, who we marry, what work we choose to do, where we live, how many children we have, how we raise them, whether we spend or save our earnings are all relatively off limits. And off limits by broad consensus not a slim plurality.

How to Grow a Democracy

Given what we know or think we know about how democracies work do we know enough to know when one is developing? It is striking to review current literature on how long the most prestigious scholars can take to answer with an "I don't know." Are the factors largely internal to the country or can they be external? Are they social and economic or also political and intellectual? Does topography, such as high mountains or oceans, play a key role? Can we consciously and deliberately build the foundation stones? Robert Dahl, Samuel Huntington, Seymour Martin Lipset, Philippe Schmitter and many less well known authorities seem widely scattered across almost every conceivable spectrum. Some even suggest that democracy may well have reached its high point already while another is open to the idea that democracy may even perish from the face of the earth.

Take three keys: rule of law, the right to property, and the family. Many, probably most, analysts feel democracy cannot possibly survive without them. If that is too tame a list, add religion, common language and a market economy. If democracy lacks the ability to create the necessary foundation upon which democracy must rest, it cannot save itself. It depends, upon its creation and sustenance, on forces social scientists often call exogenous. Independent variables. Factors beyond human control. If democracy can't control these elements or create them, how can democracies or individuals wanting to develop democracies go about their stated task? It is not clear they can.

It is unsatisfying, particularly to aggressive, post-Enlightenment Westerners who assume that nature and the natural world are to be dominated and re-shaped, to suggest that the best hope for the spread of democratic governance is to sit around and wait. With luck, and given a few good circumstances, a new democracy might flourish in a couple of centuries. And that will be an advance, if, of course, the democracies that now exist are able to continue to exist as democracies.

Democracy is, almost always, a geographic concept. That is, citizens are those people who live within a certain area clearly marked by a political border. Thus, while there is something that doesn't love a wall, most people insist on walls for the houses they live in and political leaders insist on borders for the country they lead. How else can you determine who is the electorate? Who will be allowed to vote? Globalization, by its very nature, works to undermine this basic concept. It provides information, ideas, pictures, impressions from far away that are deemed by someone far away to be important and relevant. Globalization tends to deny that borders are important. A developing democracy has to move toward the very opposite idea - it is a privilege to vote and voting is important because it will decide how we are to be ruled and how we are to live.

An additional point concerns representation. Direct, participatory democracy seems clearly possible only in small communities. The American Founders, among many others, knew that an extended republic, based on representation for its democratic element, would be a difficult task even in favorable circumstances. One might devise a scheme, such as the United Nations General Assembly, were some kind of democratic procedures apply. Any process or decision largely under the influence of globalization would be directly contrary to something under the provenance of a developing democracy's ability to govern itself, whether by popular consent or otherwise. It would seem totally beyond anyone's imagination to argue that it was.

Let me conclude by making a few suggestive comments about a few countries and a few issues that make concrete some of the points I've tried to make.


I recently had the opportunity to head an address by the President of Latvia. She outlined her goals wonderfully, including Latvia's efforts to make the non-Latvian half of her population more fully integrated into Latvia's developing democracy. The first question posed to her asked about non-legal efforts to help make the primarily Russian population more fully part of Latvia's future. The President responded entirely by outlining the ways in which they are requiring Russian speakers to learn Latvian. How else can they participate in a Latvia independent of the Soviet Union? She saw this as entirely positive and obvious. But it stands in stark contrast to the observations by Stefan Possony and Kurt Glaser in Victims of Politics:

The most effective way to suppress or destroy the cultural identity of a nation, nationality or ethnic group is to discriminate against its language. Any such group must struggle to maintain its culture if its language is ignored by the mass media and shunned in the financial, commercial, legal and administrative professions. (Columbia University, 1979; p. 294)
How very true. Why is this relevant to our topic? Globalization imposes a uniformity from beyond the political borders of a country. Linguistically, globalization, does not speak 180 languages and 450 dialects. Look at the Internet, as an example. There are almost as many languages on the Internet as we can document ever existed. Yet English is the norm. There may still be room enough for a few other languages. But is any language with other than the Roman alphabet anything other than a curiosity?


One can comfortably argue that globalization ended a brutal oppression that killed many thousands and temporarily made homeless tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands. Yet global forces are at a crossroads and appear to be trying to take all three roads out of Kosovo: 1) Kosovo has autonomy within Serbia; 2) Kosovo is independent; 3) Kosovo becomes part of Albania. This outside intervention is committed to maintaining democratic freedoms for the Serbian minority, which seems totally beyond anyone's ability to make effective. And is there, anywhere, any expert on Serbia that suggests, long after Milosevich is gone, that any democratic process will bring to the fore a leader, any time in the 21st century, who accepts any of the above alternatives?

Russia and the United States

Russia is reeling under economic disaster, weak, incompetent leadership, an unpaid military fighting a war of secession that has no solution. Russia's nuclear weapons, prized because they alone gives it special international status, are poorly maintained and guarded. There is widespread fear that these weapons are already being sold to rogue nations and terrorists. I have argued that we make a mistake in defining Russia so clearly as a country. It often has the characteristics of a very large region partially ruled by overlapping authorities. But let's assume it is a conventional nation-state. Billions of dollars, perhaps tens of billions, appears to have been laundered out of the country through crime syndicates and perhaps with the knowing involvement of the key political leaders. Can this level of corruption, made possible by the globalization of banking, overturn any hope of developing a democracy in Russia?

Lest we be too smug about others, let me raise just a quick question about the United States. A far more comprehensive and very impressive analysis is available recently from Harvard University by a federal judge, Ronald Coase, called An Affair of State (Harvard University, 1999). He reviews, very judiciously, from a legal, historical perspective many and various issues raised by the Clinton administration. Let me bring up a very small issue, perhaps already made moot, but which is interesting with regard to democracy and globalization. A friend of the Clinton's guaranteed about $1 million dollars of a mortgage so the Clinton's could buy a home in Westchester County, a wealthy suburb of New York City. They argued it was entirely legal and well it might be. If it is, it would seem it would be legal for this person to make the same offer to all aspirants to Congress. He would have to put up about $450 million (435 challengers in the House; 33-34 in the Senate). He would still own this money and get interest on it, but it would be less fluid and the interest might be lower than could otherwise be obtained. Perhaps the United States could still be a democracy under such circumstances. At some point, it would probably be politically counterproductive even if legal. Would the legalities change if the person provided the money were a foreigner, or a foreign government. What if these transactions were secret, or provided discreetly by a bank controlled but not fully owned by foreign interests?

Globalized money seeks political influence as well as economic profit. How could a small, developing country protect itself from such an eventuality? Would a country like Russia even try?

Time prevents me from mentioning other countries that we hope might develop into democracies, including one in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Nor can I touch on other dimensions of globalization that merit concern, such as drug trafficking and terrorism. Nor do I want to suggest pessimism and despair. The glass may very well be half full. I do want to highlight the fundamental concern that globalization means, by definition, significant forces beyond the control of an individual or even a broad consensus within a country are shaping that country's destiny. People of often want to see the positive in the new. And it is easier to do so when we come from well-established democratic cultures.


Let me end by turning to a scholar of ancient political philosophy, who studied tyranny, ancient and modern, Leo Strauss. As Strauss reminds us in On Tyranny, "Tyranny is a danger coeval with political life....The analysis of tyranny that was made by the first political scientists was so clear, so comprehensive, and so unforgettably expressed that it was remembered and understood by generations which did not have any direct experience of actual tyranny. On the other hand, when we were brought face to face with tyranny - with a kind of tyranny that surpassed the boldest imagination of the most powerful thinkers of the past - our political science failed to recognize it..." and later: "We are now brought face to face with a tyranny which holds out the threat of becoming, thanks to 'the conquest of nature' and in particular of human nature, what no earlier tyranny ever became: perpetual and universal. Confronted by the appalling alternative that man, or human thought, must be collectivized either by one stroke and without mercy or else by slow and gentle processes, we are forced to wonder how we could escape from this dilemma."

Leo Strauss escaped Nazi Germany and was writing about the Soviet Union. He is now deceased and the Soviet Union is no more. Yet globalization, with its many promises of speed, efficiency, economy and universality, has within it many elements of that lend themselves more easily to tyranny than freedom. I am fortunate to be a citizen of a country that, when it was a developing into a democratic republic, had Founders who blended hard-headed realism with a commitment to liberty for which they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. My wish is only that those, here assembled, who are so committed and so expert in civic education, can help those now working in the same vineyard to do as well.

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