Friday, February 24, 2006

# Posted 11:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

FRIDAY BOOK REVIEWS SECTION: These courtesy of our Foreign Policy Society, and H-Democracy which we sponsor.

Patrick Deneen. Democratic Faith. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2005. Bibliography, index. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-6911-1871-X.
Reviewed by Mark Huberty, European Studies, Johns Hopkins University for Advanced International Studies
Published by H-Democracy, at h-net.msu.edu (February 2006)

The Ultimate Faith-Based Initiative?

Through his new book, Patrick Deneen makes the argument that, while superficially ascendant in the world, democracy is fundamentally at a state of crisis born not of its perceived legitimacy, but by its undeniable failure to achieve all that it has promised in the realm of human improvement, individual liberty, and civic cohesiveness. This crisis is borne of the implicit role of faith in engaging men in the democratic project, and the shaky ground on which that faith has been constructed. Only by rethinking our faith in democracy, argues Deneen, and rebuilding it on grounds at once more realistic about man's nature and more supporting of man's dignity, can democracy hope to approach this crisis effectively.

Deneen begins his argument with a survey of the major proponents of democracy, European and American, and shows that behind the rational arguments for the democratic structure of government, there is an implicit admission of faith in the democratic project and faith in the behavior of man. This faith originates from the gulf that separates "men as they are," who may not be capable of democracy, from "men as they can be." By assuming this faith, Deneen points out that democracy's supporters are able to embrace a vision that transforms man into a creature capable of democratic greatness.

The key components of this faith are ultimately reactive. Democracy expects man to be a rational actor, but he does not demonstrate this in practice; therefore, faith supports a kind of elite paternalism that strives to transform him. Democracy expects man at once to be self-interested and public-spirited, but it is not clear how these two opposing behaviors are synthesized; therefore, faith envisions a means by which participation in the democratic institutions makes this synthesis possible. Democracy expects man to accept the rule of his fellow man, but he does not always do so; therefore, the legitimacy of this rule must be supported by means of religious attachment (either explicitly through religion, or through civil religion as a substitute for divine religion, or through the attachment of democratic authority to faith in the goodness of scientific progress).

Deneen argues that such a faith lies at the core of the democratic crisis, not because it is faith, per se, but because the objects of faith are inconsistent with the human soul. Thus, believers in such a faith will be in a continual state of crisis, as they attempt to correct for the failings of democracy by applying more democracy, inadvertently making the gulf between intention and accomplishment wider all the time and worsening the crisis of their faith.

Arrayed against this faith are four major sources: Plato, and the concept and path to a just soul; Tocqueville, and the role of
religion in democracy; and the democratic critiques of Reinold Niebuhr and Christopher Lasch. While each make different points in support of a transformed view of democratic faith, their goals are the same: to develop a view of a political system that is more compatible with the human soul, and to show how such a system will ultimately lead to a more fulfilling democracy for humanity.

Deneen's reformed democratic faith has components of each of these critics: Socrates's optimism about the completeness and trainability of the human soul as shown in Republic and Meno replace the dissatisfaction with human nature expressed in the transformative arguments of the democratic faithful. Tocqueville's conception of the proper (antagonistic) relationship of religion and government replace the reliance on a civil religion for the containment of democracy's excesses. And the humility about the human condition and hope for its amelioration found in Niebuhr and Lasch replace the reliance on self-interest and materialism.

Deneen's prescription, then, for a reformed democratic faith, could be described thus: we must believe that humanity has within it the seeds of democratic greatness; that these seeds can be self-cultivated to achieve virtue and justice in the soul, and civic virtue in the democracy; that religion, properly conceived, can help to correct for the nihilism and self-absorption that democracy tends to fashion by means of its focus on individualism and self-interest; and that, above all, the democratic project requires a unity not based on human perfectionism but on a shared sense of human equality because of human incompleteness--that democracy is undertaken as a monument to our shared interdependency coupled with our essential individual dignity, rather than as a compromise mandated by our self-interested avoidance of Hobbes's war of all against all.

Unfortunately, on reaching the end Democratic Faith Deneen has not gone as far as one might have hoped. He begins the book by stating that, "Against the growing (and related) tendencies toward democratic "faith" and democratic "cynicism," I would like to recommend instead a form of "democratic realism" (p. 8). But when one reaches the end, one finds instead a kind of altered democratic faith. He admits this possibility, too, in his introduction, saying that, "Undoubtedly, some will see my variety of democratic "realism" as a form of democratic "faith" by another name ... it is a duly modified label I am willing to accept" (p. 10). While that faith is more realistic than its predecessor, in that it is based on a sense of humility about the imperfection of mankind and buttressed with a sense of hope about mankind's prospects, it is still faith, and still liable to turn to cynicism should reality not coincide with the expectations of the faithful. What we hold out hope for is a democratic argument that can stand on its own. Perhaps that is our own faith, our own belief without proof that such an argument exists.

A possible road to this argument makes a brief appearance during discussions of John Dewey's democratic optimism; in the role science can play in democracy. Deneen specifically notes the emphasis of Francis Bacon on the value of scientific skepticism due to its motivating power for man, preventing him from becoming complacent in his natural environment. Such admonishment is similar to that of Socrates in Meno, where he holds out the possibility to humanity of self-improvement in pursuit of the just soul. Unlike Socrates's faith in the ability of humans to learn virtue, however, science requires no such faith. Its methodology does not tolerate the essence of faith, belief in the absence of proof; rather, it explicitly sets up a method by which claims of truth can be tested and verified or rejected.

Furthermore, amidst Deneen's search for a "realist" foundation for human equality, he need look no further than science. It takes no faith to know the state of human equality from science: empirical proof, building each day, provides ample support. This universal equality, which by its nature says we are all equal at birth, suggests a profound equality deeper that our human needfulness": it suggests a depth of commonality in origin, history, and human nature that transcends the unequal abilities we may develop in our individual lives. It also suggests a degree of humility about our origins, unique as we are in the world for our sentience and power. Deneen is right to suspect science on the basis that science has in itself no morality; but it can provide a valuable fact-based foundation from which to build this new realism.

Despite this, Democratic Faith is valuable for its careful description and criticism of the foundations of democratic thought active in the world today, and for pointing the way towards resolving the contradictions that currently lead democracy and its citizens towards a sense of despair about the prospects for self-governance.

Democratic Aid in Eastern Europe

Maren Roth. Erziehung zur Demokratie? Amerikanische Demokratisierungshilfe im postsozialistischen Bulgarien. Muenster: Waxmann, 2005. 316 pp. EUR 29.90 (paper), ISBN 3-8309-1310-9.
Reviewed by Ulrich Schnakenberg, Universit├Ąt Kassel

When politicians or researchers discuss the positive effects of promotion of democracy and a free market economy, they almost inevitably refer to the U.S.-led democratization of Germany and Japan in the aftermath of World War II. In her doctoral dissertation "Erziehung zur Demokratie?" Maren Roth asks the question to what an extent such an analogy is justified. What are the parallels and differences between "reeducation then and "promotion of democracy" today? Her main focus, however, lies on the concepts and reality of democratic aid in Eastern Europe. Especially on these aspects she provides welcome insights.[1]

First of all, Roth agrees that a comparison between post-war Germany and post-Communist Bulgaria can be drawn, in spite of all the discrepancies in terms of socio-economic background and political culture and in spite of the fact that Germany was occupied when the transformation took place and Bulgaria was not. The author stresses that the two cases have several things in common: In both countries, Western governments spent considerable amounts of money and energy on democratization to achieve institutional change as well as a change of mind. In both countries, America and her allies did not impose "reeducation." Instead, they relied to a very large extent on persuasion, moral and financial support and on providing a positive example. Moreover, not only the means but also the aims were similar: the ultimate goal of the sponsors of democracy was to create politically mature and economically prosperous civil societies (p. 44). Both after 1945 and after 1989, the USA put special emphasis on the education sector and on the younger generation, and so does Roth in her study.

After providing an overview of the "reeducation" policy in post-war Germany, Roth quickly turns to the U.S.-sponsored post-1989 strengthening of democracy in Bulgaria. On the basis of three case studies, she tries to demonstrate the impact of and the reaction to international and especially American "democratic aid" in Bulgaria. As the first case study which portrays George Soros's Open Society Institute shows, Roth does not limit her focus to governmental action but includes the efforts of NGOs. In the following two chapters, the author illustrates in some detail how projects such as the Open Education Centre and the American University in Bulgaria were established and how they work. In spite of being rather short, this section makes up the centrepiece of the book and convincingly highlights some of the successes as well as the many shortcomings of American democratic aid.

Methodologically, Roth's studies are founded on a formidable array of primary sources, the most valuable being a collection of more than 75 interviews conducted in 1998/1999. Regrettable, though, is her decision not to give the full names of interview partners. Understandably enough, some interviewees spoke only under the condition of anonymity, but then she even refuses to disclose the name of somebody as prominent as the deputy education minister and founder of the Open Education Centre (p. 197). The reader has to do his own research to find out that Roth was talking to Rumen Valcek.

One of Roth's major aims is to evaluate the achievements or rather the deficiencies of the Bulgarian transformation process. But just how do you measure success and failure, respectively? In her conclusion, the author differentiates between "hard facts" (economic data, statistics on election turn-out, and election results, etc.) and "socio-cultural facts," which are far more difficult to assess. The author's main thesis is that "socio-cultural facts" play a major role in explaining Bulgaria's problems to adapt to Western constitutional and economic models.

Initial hopes for a speedy transformation have largely been destroyed. While most authors would agree with this conclusion, many explain Bulgaria's difficulties to cope with the western example with the country's fourty-five-year Communist rule. Roth, however, stresses that also the decades, and indeed, centuries before 1944 have to be taken into consideration when explaining Bulgaria's current struggle to overcome her backwardness. In her view, this struggle is severely handicapped by a persistence of traditional "cultural patterns" (p. 274). Many of her examples demonstrate that Bulgarians founded Western-sponsored NGOs just because there was money available, that they adopted all too flexibly to priorities set by the donors and that they spent money on the basis of personal friendships rather than according to the quality of the proposed project.

What can we learn from this book? Roth agrees that assistance from the outside can help in establishing and consolidating democracy (p. 107), but she doubts whether political and economic liberalization can be realized at the same time (p. 98). The author also shows much scepticism towards easy solutions and explains that NGOs do not necessarily do a better job in promoting democracy than do governments. She argues, e.g., that George Soros's Open Society Institute is even more vulnerable to corruption than most programmes established by the U.S. government because Soros relies heavily on local staff. On the other hand, Roth also criticizes a "lack of cultural awareness and sensibility" among non-Bulgarian personnel of international agencies (p. 278). All in all, Roth does not propose revolutionary theses. The real importance of the work lies in the myriad sources which are the product of time-consuming oral history research. To sum it up, her study supports views already voiced by many researchers with reliable evidence.[2]


[1]. Of course this is not uncharted land. An important study was written by Kevin Quigley, _For Democracy's Sake. Foundations and Democratic Assistance in Central Europe_ (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1997).

[2]. Compare Janine Wedel, _Collision and Collusion. The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe 1989-1998_ (Basingstoke: Macmillian, 1998); and Claus Offe, "Cultural Aspects of Consolidation: A Note on the Peculiarities of Postcommunist Transformations," _East European Constitutional Review_ 6, no. 4 (1997): p. 64ff.

Citation: Ulrich Schnakenberg. 'Review of Maren Roth, Erziehung zur Demokratie? Amerikanische Demokratisierungshilfe im postsozialistischen Bulgarien,' H-Democracy, H-Net Reviews, February, 2006.

Published by H-Democracy, at h-net.msu.edu (February 2006)

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(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

I take great exception to Huberty's interpretation of de Tocqueville's concept of religion and democracy.
'In France I had always seen the spirit of religion and the spirt of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other,' he wrote, 'but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.'
Adding,'Religion....must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of the country for if does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions.' In fact, he concluded, most Americans held religion 'to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.'
The foregoing quotes taken from Paul Johnson's "A History of the American People", page 390.
Like so many on the Left, Huberty would seek to deny religions' almost primary role in the success of the the US. As well as ignoring that the most successful Western Democracy in that 21st Century is also the most religious one.
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