Saturday, July 11, 2009

Problems and disasters -- and a piece on India's democratic achievement

Sometime in the last few years I came to the conclusion that one's life may usefully be divided into two parts, one where you're beset with a few or many problems which just seemed to soak up all of your time. This is most of your life. Then something really bad happens and that's it.

If this is a useful insight, it means you better enjoy the times when you have lots of problems.

Right now is one of those times for me. Not including family commitments that right now are taking up a certain amount of time and energy -- e.g., a trip to the Big Smoke (Toronto) and back in one day--I have got a lot on my plate. Just this week on the scholarly front, I wrote and had an abstract accepted for a major conference (the creative energy for one day used up, admittedly to good purpose), and then got an acceptance of a chapter I proposed for a book on the history of democracy, just as I was finally writing about, rather than reading and rereading material about, 14th century men at arms for my book on Charny's questions. That acceptance qualifies as a problem because the chapter, on ancient India's democracies, must be done by September 30th.

These are problems, you say? Stop whining, Muhlberger, you say; better yet, stop showing off! You have (you might rightly say) three good projects on the burner. And you are on sabbatical.

All too true. I am just concerned that something might get burned, or undercooked, on that stove. From where I sit, there don't seem to be too many working days before September 30th.

Problems, problems. But at the moment, no disasters.

I have to admit that I'm very pleased to be included in this book, which is entitled The Secret History of Democracy. Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I am interested in current democratic movements. It may be less obvious that I have tried, generally working with Phil Paine, to see democracy as not something restricted to just a few countries in the modern era. I have a World History of Democracy website, which you are welcome to visit; to get a taste of my particular perspective on world history and democratic history, see the short excerpt of a paper I gave in Delhi in April 2005 that I've put it at the end of this post. There is plenty of room to disagree with me or ask for clarification. That is what the comment section is for.

Imagine the world in 1900.

Informed observers examine the prospects of four important regions over the upcoming century: Germany, China, Russia, and India. Which would be picked as the most likely to succeed? And which has, in retrospect? Restrict the criterion of success to “lowest casualty count,” to my mind a more sensible criterion than per capita GDP. Who comes out ahead?

I think it is inarguable that, even keeping in mind the tragedies of Partition, the consequent wars on the subcontinent, and many other incidents of violence and disorder, that the casualty count has been much lower in India than in the other three. This alone is a significant fact of 20th century world history. But of equal importance is the explanation for that fact. Indian aspirations for democracy, and Indian implementation of democratic institutions deserve the credit. Again, do the thought experiment. Take away the aspiration, take away the implementation, what would the subcontinent look like today?

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1 Comments:

Blogger Bavardess said...

I think your mission to look at the history of democracy beyond the modern ‘western’ experience is really valuable. Democracy has become so closely tied to the ideals of western industrial and post-industrial capitalism that it seems many people have trouble separating the two, and they assume you can only have democracy if you also accept free market capitalism. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I’d certainly be interested to know more about societies that had democratic government outside a capitalist economic model.

1:41 AM  

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