Great Decisions lecture series
Through March 15
Next week: Exit from Afghanistan and Iraq
Week 5: Indonesia
Week 6: Mexico
Week 7: State of the oceans
Week 8: Energy geopolitics
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Mondays
Where: Gainesville Civic Center, 830 Green St., Gainesville
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursdays
Where: Cumming Library, 585 Dahlonega Road, Cumming
The third lecture in an eight-week series called Great Decisions focused on what proved to be the controversial topic of promoting democracy.
The discussion was led by Jonathan Miner, associate professor of political science at North Georgia College & State University.
Miner asked a group of more than 70 people if democracy was destined for global dominance and what place the U.S. has in promoting democracy in its foreign policy. The response was mixed.
"We are in a time where democracy most definitely has the upper hand as far as countries that are moving toward that style of government. But by no means has (democracy) become the dominant form of government in the world," Miner said.
He began his lecture by explaining that since the fall of the Soviet Union, democracy is a growing trend in governments. After the collapse, there was a period where countries had the opportunity to pursue democratic systems of government but many authoritarian attempts at democracy were unsuccessful for reasons specific to those countries.
He said democracy is on the rise primarily because there are not too many opponents in the world at this time.
He said that generally speaking democratic governments are more peaceful. Especially toward one another.
The reason that there are fewer wars, Miner explained, is because the people in democracies must agree to go to war and they are less likely to agree because they have more to lose.
He mentioned several political theorist who all suggest that democratic governments bring about peace.
He said they all back up his argument that populations who are represented and are provided similar civil and legal rights are more protected against war because the people feel they have more to lose and will not support their country going to war unless there is no other option.
"If you are looking at the totality of war, in which there are many thousands, democracies play a smaller part in that statistic than non-democracies," Miner said.
He said there are two ways in which a government will change. One way is by forcing a regime out of control and the other is by a government stepping down.
He said an example of this can be seen in the grassroots movements across the Arab world last year.
Many of the Arab nations that have seen such changes, such as Egypt and Libya, are struggling to maintain order. While Tunisia, he said, is likely headed for democracy.
"It takes a long time for these things to happen. For people in the United States foreign policy to think that this will happen quickly is not really realistic given the historical record," Miner said.
He said there are many examples of small-scale democracies in communities across the Arab world.
Councils and groups of elders have often represented their communities and played the decision-making role for their communities.
"They've never taken hold in any of those countries because they've always been ruled by empires or dictators or monarchs but in every country in the world there is at least in some part of their history a thread that can provide for the arrival of democracy," Miner said.
He said the rise of democracy in a region is dependent on its cultures and values.
Many counties have recently held elections for the first time. Miner said this can be a bit of a misconception because elections do not always signal democracy.
He said elections are not exactly necessary at the start of a democracy.
"What we have in many countries today are on the surface, elections that seem democratic and free but are manipulated behind the scenes in favor of certain candidates," Miner said.
The audience members at Miner's lecture had a wide range of opinions and suggestions on promoting democracy.
"We can all have very, very different opinions as to whether this is worthwhile and what will work, but the reality is that it's a very complex problem no matter what formula you might come up with. For a different country in a different region, it's not necessarily going to work and if it does its going to take a very long time for it to be successful," Miner said.