“Non-western democracy” in the west

Adam Przeworski

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    INTRODUCTION A central claim of various projects of “non-Western Democracy” is that democracy need not embody the institutional features that characterize it in contemporary “Western” democratic systems, specifically, opposition organized in political parties and contestation of control over government in the form of electoral competition. This stance is epitomized by Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, who thought that parliamentary democracy was a foreign import that “incorporates the concept of an active opposition, and it is precisely the addition of this concept that has given rise to the difficulties we have experiences in the last eleven years” (quoted in Goh Cheng Teik 1972, 231). The Indonesian political tradition, Sukarno maintained, was to reach collective decisions by consensus. Democracy had to be “guided,” based on mutual cooperation rather than on partisan conflicts. This claim, and the argument behind it, is canonical, even if it comes in variants. The point of departure is either that the society is naturally harmonious – the people is united as one body – or at least that the goal of politics should be to maintain harmony and cooperation. Political divisions are artificial, spuriously generated by selfish and quarrelsome politicians. If they were allowed to be organized, most importantly through political parties, they would become dangerous: once conflicts are permitted to see the political light, they are unstoppable and lead to a breakdown of order, even to civil wars. Moreover – here we get invocations of what Schmitter and Karl (1991) dubbed “the bias of electoralism” – purely procedural rules need not generate wise or virtuous outcomes. As Lagerspetz (2010, 30) observed, “there is something deeply disturbing in the idea that a purely mechanical, content-free procedure could determine what we should do.” Finally, nationalistic appeals never hurt, consensual decision making is deeply rooted in the national tradition, while “formal democracy” is a foreign, Western import.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationDemocracy in a Russian Mirror
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages15
    ISBN (Electronic)9781107282070
    ISBN (Print)9781107053397
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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