Democratic nation building must overcome natural human behavior

December 13, 2005

The rapidly rising costs - human and financial -- of our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures make it increasingly imperative that the United States abandon its proclaimed policy of bringing democracy to the nations of the Middle East, whether they want it or not, says a Penn State researcher in a new book.

"With rare exceptions, that policy of 'democratic nation building' has been unsuccessful in the past; it is unsuccessful today and is almost surely certain to be equally unproductive in the foreseeable future," notes Dr. Steven A Peterson, professor of politics at Penn State Harrisburg.

In a new book, "The Failure of Democratic Nation Building: Ideology Meets Evolution," Peterson and Albert Somit of Southern Illinois University argue that humans are social primates with an innate tendency for hierarchical and authoritarian social and political structures, and that democracy requires very special "enabling conditions" before it can be supported by a state, conditions that require decades to evolve.

Viable democracies require the conjunction of very special material and social "enabling conditions." As the relative rarity of democracies and the overwhelming predominance of authoritarian governments throughout human history testify, that conjunction happens infrequently.

"Humans are social primates and evolution has endowed the social primates with an innate tendency to set up hierarchically structured social and political systems," the researchers note. "Humans also have an innate tendency to dominance and submission behaviors. In short, authoritarianism is the 'default' option for many communities."

That is why democracies require special conditions, such as adequate level of economic development, absence of religious conflict, functioning government institutions and adequate levels of education, among others, the researchers note.

As a result, attempts to export democracy through nation-building to states without these enabling conditions, are doomed to failure, according to the book just published by Palgrave MacMillan.

"Democracies are a minority among governments because they are so hard to establish and tend to be fragile because of human behavior," adds Peterson of Penn State. "At the same time, the American democracy is experiencing increasingly serious economic, political, and social strains. That is, or should be, a matter of concern not only for Americans but for all fellow democracies, since, the tribulations of the American republic have a way of setting the agenda for other democratic societies - for better or for worse, and no doubt some of both."

"Perhaps, the resources expended on nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan would be more productively devoted to strengthening democracy at home rather than in trying to establish it elsewhere," Somit notes.

Penn State

Related Human Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

The National Human Genome Research Institute publishes new vision for human genomics
The National Human Genome Research Institute this week published its 'Strategic vision for improving human health at The Forefront of Genomics' in the journal Nature.

Turbulent era sparked leap in human behavior, adaptability 320,000 years ago
The first analysis of a sedimentary drill core representing 1 million years of environmental history in the East African Rift Valley shows that at the same time early humans were abandoning old tools in favor of more sophisticated technology and broadening their trade, their landscape was experiencing frequent fluctuations in vegetation and water supply that made resources less reliably available.

COVID-19 control rests with human behavior, at least until a vaccine arrives
As the world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine and confirmed cases exceed 30M, Australian and American behavioural researchers say the key to containment rests in understanding human behaviour and how our personalities may influence better cooperative behaviour for the global good.

Emerging infectious disease and challenges of social distancing in human and non-human animals
Humans are not the only social animal struggling with new infectious diseases.

Powerful human-like hands create safer human-robotics interactions
A team of engineers designed and developed a novel humanoid hand that may be able to help human-robotic interactions.

Research identifies regular climbing behavior in a human ancestor
A new study led by the University of Kent has found evidence that human ancestors as recent as two million years ago may have regularly climbed trees.

'Substantially human,' a good starting point for determining boundaries of what's human
Recent and rapid developments in the biosciences continually blur the lines between human beings and other living organisms, while straining the legal definitions of what is or is not human.

Brain imaging reveals neural correlates of human social behavior
Advances in the study of human social behavior may lead to a better understanding of normal processes such as empathy and theory of mind, as well as dysregulated conditions including autism spectrum disorder.

Human medicines affect fish behavior
Human medicines that act on important signal systems in the brain make fish bolder, shows a new study on three-spined sticklebacks by researchers at Linköping University, Sweden.

Cheater, cheater: Human Behavior Lab studies cheating as innate trait
The Texas A&M Human Behavior Lab took a closer look at cheating during periods of relative economic abundance and scarcity to determine whether cheating for monetary gain is a product of the economic environment.

Read More: Human Behavior News and Human Behavior Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to