(I wrote this in November of 2006.)
(A decade on, with events in Turkey, Thailand, Burma, on the) (African Continent and elsewhere it still seems relevant.)
Macrozamia riedlei, the Zamia Palm is a pretty, palm-like plant of South Western Australia. It is also quite poisonous and has lead to the death of many imported herd animals. Yet the original inhabitants of the area, both human and animal, all lived comfortably with this plant and were even able to add it to their diet.
I am led to wonder about other transplants and importations. Democracy is a wonderful political invention. There is no doubt of this fact. It is also a recent evolution in history. It may even be a short-lived failure. Yet if it were so, it will be remembered as a beautiful failure.
Perhaps we should look as closely at Democracy as we do at our plants. Should it be grown in all soils? Does it need a special fertiliser? Could it be poisonous in some climates?
A quick overview of the origins of Democracy would note that an aborted form occurred in Ancient Greece. That Democracy, in part, grew out of the very bloody French Revolution and was immediately transplanted to North America. That it also grew out of the 13th century Magna Carta in England. This was a slow gestation and it was not until the early years of the 20th century that it finally bore the fruit of electoral equality in Britain and its Empire. Europe also saw a successful flowering of Democracy.
There have been many attempts to transplant and impose Democracy into other parts of the world. Most have failed and the transplant has turned poisonous. Much of Africa is ruled by poisonous mutations of democracy. Other variations can be seen in much of Asia and Arabia. Democracy seems to work for a while, then it degenerates into a dictatorship of the small majority. Genocide and electoral manipulation leads to that small majority entrenching itself. Without the correct soil and nutrients, Democracy rapidly mutates into a poisonous caricature.
My American friends often tell me that they do not live in a democracy. That the USA is a Republic. Looking at the political garden in North America, I tend to agree. Democracy has failed that particular transplant. It now exudes a noxious patronage which is afflicting the whole system.
Our headlines at the moment, without mentioning the word, are about America’s urge to transplant democracy yet again. This time into Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. As political horticulturist I fear for the twisted forms these experiments will take.
Like the Zamia Palm, Democracy can be fatal to those who have not been acclimatised to it from birth.