Can You Buy Democracy?

From a great article on the prospects of democracy in Africa:

In order to attract more aid and budget support (resources useful in building patronage and security machines that can they can deploy to tighten their grip on power), African leaders have been willing to sing and dance to the tune the human rights crowd wants to play. So they have solemnly written and enacted lovely paper constitutions that send thrills up the legs of the gullible and easily pleased human rights community.

This is exactly what happened back in the former USSR. I wrote in my diary back in 1996, “Americans, what are you doing? Stop giving us money, stop sending ‘humanitarian aid.’ It just makes everything worse!”

You can’t pay people to establish democracy. You can’t talk them into it. They need to want it, and unless they do, it’s never going to happen.

And now look at Putin who first enriched himself by selling American humanitarian aid in Leningrad  (I hope nobody thinks it went to feed the hungry, do they?), used the money to consolidate his power, and can now stop keeping up the pretense of democracy.

14 thoughts on “Can You Buy Democracy?

  1. Putin only ended up with the money because Americans think everybody and everything has its price. Putin was never for sale he has always had his own agenda. In the same way Hitler thought Germany had been humiliated, Putin feels that Russia had been humiliated. He intends to redress this at every opportunity and so far has been hugely successful in doing so. You have written many times about the end of the nation state. I believe Russia’s isolation (economically and politically) from the world means it may be one of the last viable nation states and Putin can use this to stoke nationalistic fervour.


    1. Your ignorance of the situation is equal only to the aplomb with which you rush to discuss it. It saddens me to see people who don’t even try to find out facts before pontificating. This is extremely contemptuous towards other cultures.


      1. You disagree with what part? That Putin has his own agenda? That he feels Russia was humiliated? That he isn’t trying to redress this? That Russia is not really isolated in some ways from the rest if the world? That he doesn’t play on nationalism? I don’t necessarily think any of these are good things just statements of fact.


    2. You lost me here, lamestllama:
      —I believe Russia’s isolation (economically and politically) from the world means it may be one of the last viable nation states and Putin can use this to stoke nationalistic fervour.

      Russia is not a nation-state, it is an empire that is proud of its imperialism.
      The Russians begin construction of a new nuclear submarine called “Emperor Alexander the Third”…


        1. What I actually said was “Putin was never for sale he has always had his own agenda.” completely different nuances.

          Can you proffer me some evidence that somebody could have offered Putin enough money that he would have implemented a full western style democracy in Russia? Or even some credibe commentary that indicates he would have been willing to implement democracy?

          I would suggest that my opinion that he had his own agenda and that he was not for sale in as far has he would not be giving up on his agenda at any price is far from illogical.


        2. Actually I opened up with “Putin only ended up with the money because Americans think everybody and everything has its price.”.

          You ask “Can You Buy Democracy?” because you believe that democracy can not be purchased.

          Within the first paragraph of your post you ask “Americans what are you doing?”. Thus identifying the people trying to buy democracy.

          Finally you identify the person who “used the money to consolidate his power” as Putin.

          So what is it that you disagree with?


      1. Many European states have had simultaneously had empires and been nation states. The UK had an empire until WWII and was proud of its empire as recently as the 1960’s and was most definitely a nation state during that period.


  2. Putin can be bought. If the West would pay him more than the sum of a) the personal wealth he acquired and b) how much his power is worth to him.
    Next, let’s not overestimate the importance of Putin per se. He is part of a wide corrupt system. So the West would have to pay comparable amounts to all members of the ruling class. The whole amount would be on the order of the GDP of Russia. Obviously, the West is unable to pay that much.


    1. Everything Putin is doing is an attempt to get recognized as the world’s leader who rules the planet on the par with Americans. That’s his “price.” Money he hardly needs because with 13 palaces and a personal fortune in the billions, nobody would be able to interest him in a monetary bribe.


  3. You never buy democracy, directly or indirectly — you only buy influence.

    The idea that you can buy enough influence to produce democracy is entirely risible — the proper term for such a “funded democracy” is plutocracy, and it inevitably devolves into assorted factions of petit would-be thugs who believe they actually run things, mostly on the basis of how well-funded they are.

    Sometimes if you’re very unlucky, one of these would-be thugs comes out on top of the heap, and the price of making deals increases substantially.

    If you are extremely unlucky, delusions of adequacy surface when it comes to the ability to be a leader, rather than a thug with a captive audience.

    As much as the idea of Putin’s future imprisonment on the modern world’s equivalent of St Helena, after his defeat at his own personal Waterloo, gives me a nicely broad smile, he is competent at the game of getting people who are easily made gullible to accept stories about his powers or those of his government.

    Hence the recent stories of weapons that the Russian government has developed have the air of “wishful magic”, in which the Russian government “looks good” by not deploying such weapons out of some imagined sense of “reserve”. This sort of negotiation with the imagination resembles the game that children play of one-upmanship when playing the game of rock, paper, and scissors.

    It’s easy to win at rock, paper, and scissors if you have nuclear rocks that can incinerate unbelievably tough paper and incredibly hardened scissors, after all. 🙂

    And so when I think of how Americans believe they can simply “upgrade the rocks” differently for a “more than fair” game of rock, paper, and scissors as an international policy game, I have to wonder this: who let these barely grown-up Boy Scouts attempt to take charge?

    [your “foreign policy” has now arrived at its destination]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.