Why democracies fail — and why that’s okay | Sheri Berman | TEDxNewYork

Translator: Maricene Crus
Reviewer: David Brayman As you heard, I’m going
to talk about democracies and there’s lots of new democracies
in the world today, but a lot of them
are not looking very good. And so what I’d like to talk
to you about today is how to think about those democracies
and more generally about how democracies actually develop. Now, again this is
particularly relevant, I think, because a lot of people are trying to understand
what happened to the Arab Spring, and how it turned into what we are now calling the Arab Winter. It was only a few years ago that we had uprisings
all across the Middle East in places like Egypt,
and Tunisia and Libya and very soon after, a lot of these transitions seemed
to flounder; many of them, in fact, collapsed
very quickly back into dictatorships as in Egypt, under General Sisi. But it’s not just
in the Middle East, of course, that we’ve seen a lot of problems with
democracy in the last couple of years. There’s in fact been a significant amount of democratic
backsliding in Europe as well. So, in Hungary, for example, which was one of the early
success stories of the Third Wave, we’ve seen the erosion of civil liberties, the collapse of political freedoms and the rise of a neo-Nazi party
called the Jobbik Party. In Russia, of course, despite elections, we now know
that what we really have is a semi-authoritarian regime; and, of course, in Ukraine
we have widespread political turmoil. Now, the reaction of many people
to events like these is to think: “Well, maybe these countries
are not suited for democracy, maybe there’s something wrong
with their history, or their culture or their religion.” And I’m going to try to convince you in the ten minutes that I have that this pessimism is unfounded, that, in fact, the troubles new
democracies face have less to do with their specific histories,
or cultures or religion and have a lot more to do
with their inherent difficulties of actually building stable
democratic regimes. And I think the best way
to kind of illustrate this is by looking at the history of how stable
democracies actually came into being. So, when we look back in history,
what do we see? The first modern democracy in history came about in France,
during the French Revolution as I’m sure most of you know from your
high school or college History classes, and, in fact, the French Revolution
was greeted across the globe at the time as the kind of dawn of the new era. It toppled the world’s most powerful
dictatorship, and it was seen by many as a sign
that a new era of political freedom was about
to take hold in Europe. But, in fact, this is not what happened, again despite the expectations of many. What happens, of course, in Europe
is that very quickly people in France — and in the rest
of the continent realized — that it is a lot more difficult
to build new democratic regimes than it is to overthrow old ones. Almost as soon as the old regime
collapses in France, the country is engulfed by
chaos and violence, and, in fact, within a year of the
transition to democracy in France, what you see is the transition
to yet another regime, which comes to be known
as the Reign of Terror, which you might imagine
was a pretty terrible regime, so terrible, in fact, that its
major symbol became the one that you see here,
which is the guillotine, which is probably not the way you want
your political regime to be known. Within a space of less than a year about 20 to 40,000 Frenchmen
had lost their lives at this guillotine. And this is actually only a very small
fraction of the number of people who lost their lives during
the revolutionary era, more generally, which ranged
up to the hundreds of thousands. Now, this was not, in fact,
what most people in France had hoped for when the Ancien Régime collapsed, and so within a space of ten years you had a reaction
that led back to dictatorship, although this time of a very new type, under Napoleon Bonaparte,
who’s come down to us, of course, as the original man on horseback,
as the famous picture paints him. Napoleon, despite his great expertise
and his wonderful qualities, was not able to stabilize France, political instability continues in France
throughout the 19th century. There’s another transition in 1830 — by the way, if you notice the pictures, you can see that very few of these
transitions were peaceful; most of them were accompanied
by a lot of bloodshed as the great pictures of the era reveal. The next transition comes in 1848, and this transition is particularly
important historically because the transition in France then sets off a wave of
transitions throughout Europe. In fact, within about a year, – and this is again in an era
without Twitter or social media – within a year you have transitions
all across Europe, dictatorships fall all over the place. But, what’s interesting about
this set of transitions is that they also soon collapse
very, very quickly. In fact, so broad was the reach
of these political transitions that the year, 1848, comes to be known
as Springtime of the Peoples — an echo, of course, we can see
in the way many people refer to the Arab Spring today — and it was called Springtime
of the Peoples because again it was a time when so many peoples rose up
to demand self-determination. But again,
within literally months almost all of these transitions had been reversed and dictatorships were back
in power all over Europe. This still doesn’t stop
the French pattern, we have another transition in 1870. This one also chaotic and violent,
in fact, accompanied by civil war, tens of thousands of French people
again lose their lives, in fact, by this time, there had been
so many political transitions in France, that a current joke had that
the French National Library kept its copies of the constitution
in the periodical section. Now, this third republic, this third transition to democracy
actually lasts for quite a while. Now, part of the reason for this
is that the previous transitions, — even though they
had not been successful — had left some very important legacies: French society had changed dramatically, France’s economy
had changed dramatically, many of the institutions necessary
to make democracy work — political parties, civil society — had grown up over the years, even if they hadn’t, again,
been able to fully stick. But, of course,
it’s only with the Fifth Republic, under de Gaulle, that you actually get stable,
consolidated democracy in France. So, for those of you who are not counting or maybe don’t remember
your history very well, that’s about 165 years between
France’s first transition to democracy, to the time when it actually gets
stable, consolidated democracy. So, that’s quite a long time. And France is not the exception,
in fact, France is the norm, if we look at other European countries. So take Italy, for example. Italy’s first try with democracy
was a total mess, right? The country during its short democratic
experiment was plagued by extremism, localized violence,
all kinds of other problems including corruption
and political instability and very quickly, of course, we know
this democratic experiment collapses and gives us Mussolini and his Fascists. The German lessons are,
of course, even more tragic. Germany becomes
a unified country in 1871, and its first democratic experiment,
which comes into being after 1918, is a total mess. Also, almost from
the day of its inception, it’s played by violent uprisings, extremism, political instability, and political assassinations,
actually, across the political spectrum. If we look at the support in Germany for
democratic and anti-democratic parties, we can see that even before
the Weimar Republic comes for an end, the vast majority of German citizens
have already abandoned democracy. That is to say they are
no longer supporting parties that favor a continuation
of the democratic experiment. And if we broaden our reach again, and we look at the inter-war
period more generally, we can see, again, many, many democratic
collapses during these years. If you look at the category of casualties,
almost all of the countries that fell — almost all of the democratic experiments
that fell during the anti-war years — were those that had made transitions
for the first time, that is to say, first attempts at democracy
tended to fail disproportionally during the anti-war years. And so, of course, it’s only after 1945
— we must remember — that you actually get
stable, consolidated democracy in Europe, and a whole lot of things had to change
after 1945 to make this possible. We had the Second World War, of course, which had the perverse affect
of doing things like eliminating right-wing extremism
from the political spectrum in Europe, we had, of course, a huge change
in the role of the United States, which not only occupied
for a very long time the continent’s most problematic
country, Germany, right? And also put in place a large number
of international institutions — NATO, Bretton Woods —
that were explicitly designed to stabilize democracy in Western Europe. And, of course, the Western Europeans
themselves actually learned a lot from their failed democratic experiments, when they rebuilt their constitutions, and their political economies, and their international
relations after 1945. They did so very conscious of the fact that they had to be rebuilt in a very
different way than they had before if in fact democracy
was going to work this time. And also important, is after 1945, they did not have to start from scratch. Again, many of the institutions necessary
to make democracy work, political parties, civil society,
local and regional governments; all of those things had existed before. They had to be rebuilt in better ways, but they didn’t have
to bring them up from scratch. And again, if we now go from
Western Europe to Southern Europe, the patterns continues, right?
Here, in Southern and Eastern Europe we don’t get democracy
until the end of the 20th century, and again, after many transitions,
after many attempts. Here is, of course, is Spain, where we get a transition
after Franco dies in 1975, and this sets off a huge wave,
the Third Wave of democratization across Europe, Soviet Union,
Latin America and elsewhere. And so, if we don’t want
to be too Europe centric and we now look at some of the countries
that made transitions in the Third Wave outside of Europe,
that have been very successful, again, we can see many, many similarities:
South Korea, for example, one of the great democratic
success stories in Asia, had a very, very difficult period
since its time of independence, many political transitions,
of course, including a civil war before we got to a stable, successful
transition relatively late in the game. Latin America: military coups throughout
the second half of the 20th century. So here we have Pinochet, of course, who overthrows a
democratic regime in Chile, in 1933; military dictatorship also overthrowing
a democratic regime in Brazil. But again, as we know,
by the end of the 20th century these countries had
transitioned back to democracy and these democratic experiments
have turned out to function very well. What are the lessons to be learned
from this quick run through our history? Well, I think the first one is that
there are many paths to democracy, but very few of them are quick or easy; even the cases that we think of as
classic cases like the U.S. or England, are not so easy, did not happen so quickly, if we
examine them a little more carefully. In the U.S. we needed the Civil War
to get rid of slavery, and then another hundred years
for the government to actually be able to bring democratic rights
to all of its citizens. And in England, it took the 17th century
Civil Wars and Glorious Revolution to get the country a constitutional
monarchy and then another 230 years to make a transition to full democracy
in the 20th century. A second lesson, democratic backsliding
doesn’t preclude later democratic success. I imagine there are a lot
of entrepreneurs in this room, you know that failure today does not mean that success
is out of the question later. With the benefit of history
and hindsight we can see that a lot of the failures
of democracy in the past, in fact, ended up building up some
of the habits, norms, and institutions that could later be used
for successful democracy. And so, I’ll end by saying that I think,
with benefit of historical perspective, we can see that, many of the problems facing new
democracies today are not unique, that they probably, again, have less
to do with the particular histories, cultures or religions of these countries
and more to do with the fact that it’s just very, very difficult to get
stable, well-functioning democracy. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Maurice Vega

59 Responses

  1. there will be only slavery,crime,corruption,wide spread hooliganism,and no world order.just humans turning animal,as there planet begins to erode.

  2. It seems like very few westerners ask the question of why a "stable, well-functioning democracy" is necessary in the first place. After all, there are ZERO historical examples of democratic governance propelling nation-states from poverty & backwardness to prosperity & modernity. If India succeeds, it would arguably be the first. But a sample size of one is hardly a good record. All the hype generated by liberal democratic dogma has obscured the fact that it has yielded absolutely ZERO results in terms of actually moving societies forward.

  3. Democracies fail because they are not founded on a Republic like ours. The Rule of Law, not the Majority Rule.
    Because as long as there is a Majority, the voice of the Minority will always be ignored.
    The Rule of Law, a Republic, treat all EQUAL. So everyone gets a voice.
    Remember, we live in a Republic with some Democratic processes. It's like when you order a hamburger and ask for pickles, it doesn't become a pickle sandwich, it's still a hamburger, just with some pickles.
    Remember that America is a REPUBLIC, not a Democracy. THAT is why we continue to persist…for now.

  4. the only thing democracy allows is a free voting system and community out reach but with out a nation of laws under a republic democracy will transform the governing body into a socialist dictatorship

  5. The waves of revolutions will never stop until we get rid of the Banksters who will always have enough money corrupt a country's leadership or to overthrow a country's leadership by revolution, that was not corruptible.

  6. This chick is completely wrong.
    She assumes that this is a natural progression of democracy.
    When in-fact the whole thing is manipulated by the Money powers…
    Get rid of the money powers and we WILL have stability.
    And then you don't need to call it Democracy or anything.

  7. Stable democracy is an oxymoron. The EU as a whole is infact much closer to tyranny than either Hungary or Russia. We have a Politbyro of unelected dictators implementing political speech censors. Free speech is infact better in Russia than EU today, when the pravda can report news than der Spiegel you see how the lowest denominator has gone full circle.

  8. The so called Arab Spring is about the CIA, NGOs and Hillary Clintons State department instigating civil insurrection as the US as done several times in the past 60 years.


    You are saying "Why democracies fail — and why that’s okay | Sheri Berman | TEDxNewYork "
    I can tell you that, in whatever way you look at it, there is no single democratic country in the world. Every 4 yr election in USA and else where is ELECTION BY THE STUPID MAJORITY FOR THE SERVICE OF CORPORATIONS. Have you ever heard ELECTION BY THE PEOPLE AND SERVICE TO THE PEOPLE AT ALL?

    What is party donation in 1st place? What are the pupose of fat lawyers? Who draft the bills in 1st place?

    Weake up professsssooooorrrrreeeeee! and teach the reality. Don't brainwash youngesters saying these junks are part of democracy.



  10. I think real democracy depends on empathy. We're in it together and we have to do it together, and with caring and love. I like Riane Eisler's (The Chalice, The Blade 1987) tracing of gylany from before the age of empire into our coming era after empire. It is David Korten's and Joanna Macy's Earth Community. Coming soon.

  11. The "military" regime actually SAVED Brazil from becoming a second Cuba. In fact, the same people who were defeated by the military are now back in power, and now Brazil is close to becoming an Orwellian nightmare with complete censorship of opposing ideas. Get your facts straight, lady.

  12. this country was never supposed to be a democracy. it was supposed to be a constitutional republic. a government with a simple framework that no entity could infringe on. that limited the government to very basic power and kept the government off of the backs of the people. then the socialist came in and slowly took away our freedoms and destroyed our rights made government bigger transforming our republic into an dangerous democracy. anyone who knows history knows democracies are the fast track to social communism/ oligarchal rule. that is because when you have majority/mob rule it is incredibly easy to fool the masses with multi form propaganda into believing anything stirring themselves up into a belligerent frenzy to take away their own freedoms and rights. it is incredibly easy to fool the majority now we live under the oppression of an oligarchy of the same people in the corporate and political world dominated by nepotism who trade off positions of power. nothing will ever change the same people in control of our government will keep control and continue the illusion of transfer of power and term limits but the agenda will never change. people who still believe there is a difference in republicans and democrats are severely deluded. we have let this monster get out of control for too long going unchecked. it is now beyond being able to contest it they have amassed inconceivable power and resources, we have failed. now the nation will suffer it's continuing demise because of the weakness of the people to stand when it counted.

  13. So… outside of England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States the establishment of successful democracy is within living memory. With less than a century of sustained democracy in most democratic countries some would argue that it's too early to tell if democracy is sustainable anywhere outside of the Anglo-ethnic legacy countries. I'm being too pessimistic here, any country can be a successful democracy in my opinion, but I wouldn't want to be the democratic evangelist trying to assure one that if they start now they can become sustainable democracies after a mere 160 years of violent fratricidal chaos.
    The most successful democracies outside of the Anglo-ethnic legacy countries are in Western Europe and in Northeast Asia. These democracies were incubated during the Cold War and heavily subsidized by the United States. The Asian democracies also followed a politico-economic formula developed by Otto Bismark in which a totalitarian government focused the resources of the country to strategic industries run by aristocratic or quazi-aristocratic families providing industrial employment for its citizens and social modernization investments from surplus funds. The countries that used this model: Germany, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. All of these countries pulled themselves from the third world to the first, and four of the five represent arguably the four most successful democracies outside of the Anglo-ethnic legacy block. Another country that's using a modified version of the Prussian model is China, but I think, like Singapore, it's not going to become democratic any time soon.
    As for the other democracies of the world, they should understand that when Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand became democracies the industrial revolution was young and the only competition they had was each other, way across the ocean where it took a long time to deliver goods many of which were spoiled by the voyage. Modern countries are having to compete way above their weight limit, and democracies have a difficult time explaining to their constituencies the need to make long term investments to improve industrial competitiveness. Of course, so do dictatorships.
    I do think democracy is right for any country that wants it. But if a country is not already wealthy then I would suggest they concentrate first on developing their economy and their industrial capacity so that they can sustain a political system that is inherently precarious, like democracy. And hopefully in the meantime, they can count on something besides sabotage from the already existing democratic states.

  14. Germany was only "problematic" because we were challenging Britain and France (hell, we beat France in war more times than they beat us!) and thus the Treaty of Versailles was put in place a treaty that had Germany pay the last reparations for world war ONE (!) less than 10 years ago!)…this made Germany bleed out and it was used by the Nazis to rally support to their cause (otherwise we might not have had a freaking Nazi government in Germany and no WWII would have happened either…unless Stali had started it!)

    Also it's: Successful wanna-be democracies or fake democracies! After all studies show that politicians do what the wealthy want and not what the majority of the people want (look at the German refugee crisis! Many Germans didn't want unregulated immigration, no! We wanted the rule of law to be respected and that meant not taking any of those refugees because all of them (if they go to Germany!) come from save countries (can't reach Germany otherwise, unless you take a plane and refugees don't take planes normally – unless they aren't refugees and even then it's mostly the ones we deport back to their home countries!))

  15. Nothing has really changed. Our so called democracies are ruled by an elite behind the scenes, so I think the whole premise of this talk is faulty.

  16. India is a big exception to your theory. There were no violent revolutions and it got a pretty stable democracy right in the first attempt. Although it may be attributed to help from the British while designing the Indian constitution.

  17. Congrats for the presentation, I´ll use some intersting fragments to quote in my job. Im a positive creative lawyer working in give more life to democracy. In Mexico we have a democracy in construction, but with a lot of problems, I´m working in put the power in the right hands. blessings

  18. what is? anarchy, totalitarism, dictatorship, fail state all together and communism coming equal poverty for people in Venezuela

  19. Democracy and capitalism doesn’t fail. A system fails after it has devolved into a dictatorship.The dictatorship fails and hopefully returns back to a democracy and capitalism.

  20. Watched this but couldn't get the real reasons why democracies fail which is the title of the argument, also some countries mentioned as examples never had successful democracies before their democratic experience failed.

  21. Democracy needs an update. For example, Great-Britain never had a 100% democracy. And it never had a democracy by sortiton. It's new but old too, once worked very well in old Athens. Ireland and Iceland are doing this now, not just as an experiment. Please check 'sortition' on youtube. In French it's 'Tirage au sort'. It means randomly selected citizens will work together in order to govern, with or without professional politicians. I think it's worthwhile to examine, and probably the path to take.

  22. I've been exploring this in my studies. I dont believe democracy was ever viable. If we seriously study the Ionian school, we find conflicting ideas of what democracy is and how to achieve it. Likewise, we have to understand that the individual relationship with the cultural tools they are given can be affected by any number of variables. This means that a whole society of individuals free to explore their individuality will inevitably challenge the individuality of another in a society where those tools are not so equally dispersed, understood or used.

    This lady, like many anthropologists, understand that this is the fundamental issue with civilization.

    Democracy gives us the freedom to be heard, but what is the function of being heard? It comes down to the dispersal of a good or service within society and creating a majority dictatorship.

    In the end, you then have authority decree that there is a new standard to which everyone must conform.

    Ironically, these uniform societies tend to function much better with near-monarchic governance.

    The Arab Spring was about tearing the Arab World apart for its wealth. Mot a cry for freedom. Qaddafi to this day is still one of the most loved men in the Bedouin world who anyone from that region would speak highly of.

    The economy was functional and operational. He just wanted to form something like the EU in Africa and unite- with a joint military force.

    An African Union with the same legislative process as the EU. A military force rivaling China's manpower (not tech). Put these together and you have a Union so wealthy and secure that they could easily defend their interests.

    Arab Spring was all about the same thing it was about when things first started to ramp up there in the early 20th century. It was all about resources.

  23. Democracy fails for at least two glaring reasons …number one? Corruption blotting out the truth specificantly any number of vermin power mongers "volently" harnessing the ears of the public and number two ? widespread ignorance and superstition religions….people too damn lazy to actually care what might be right and not right….just little piggy morons with barely a functioning brain cell

  24. Let's just forget American/ euro influences on other countries eh? We know how. Ugh easier they made stable democracies in those vassal states don't we? ?

  25. Another globalist shill. You can't build a functioning civilization and democracy with a sub 90 IQ population.

  26. "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what is for lunch!" Quote ascribed to Benjamin Franklin

  27. The United States is a democratic republic, which is very different than a standard democracy. Other than that, this was a great presentation!

  28. thoughtful content well presented. Thank you, Ms Berman, I really enjoyed this. Glad that you emphasised the importance of global institutions. That's a piece of the puzzle that's too weak at the moment – we need stronger and veto-less institutions for the 21st century (think global warming and migration)

  29. Ted can’t possibly give a 13 minute talk about all the intricacies of what is required to create a successful
    There are so many holes in this video, or even in seeing there are many different forms of democracy and
    None of them are equal.

  30. Democracy has never been truly implemented in the so called democratic countries such as the United States. It was not even mentioned in its constitution. Democracy is just a weapon the western world use to destroy other country’s government to continue to economically colonize it. And the most ironic thing is that the people in the western world believed democracy themselves now. That is why the western world start to decline, economically and politically.

  31. All the western countries are not independent, they are all dependent to the United States. Economically and politically.

  32. You still didn't explain how culture doesn't matter . you just explained that it is difficult to create democracies

  33. I'm sorry, but the so called arab spring was a CIA conspiracy that can be traced far back about 2 decades ago. for those who understand French, check out Michel collon in his videos; he explains well everythng with solid proofs and undeniable evidence.

  34. Well democracy is a flawed institution that might work atm, but it will fail in the end, like communism, since humans are pack animals, and packs needs strong hard alpha leaders.

  35. After 40 years of watching this experiment go South… The actions after 9/11 by govt,and after the economy failed in 2008 and bailed out the banks. I believe we are living a delusion, no justice for the poor, following the Epstein Case who could skate on this stuff is they were a common man

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