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The Failure of Democratic Nation Building: Ideology Meets Evolution Paperback – January 5, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230621120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230621121
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,394,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Al Somit and Steve Peterson have written a book that is provocative, unconventional, and all too persuasive. Even if U.S. policies were more thoughtful and consistent, the efforts to create democratic regimes in the Third World are likely to fail: given the trajectory of genetic and cultural evolution, most of us are more comfortable with social systems that are stratified and hierarchical. Democracy requires eternal vigilance, which is a lot of trouble. With a choice between the liberté, egalité, and fraternité trinity and the combination of security and prosperity, most of us will settle for the latter."
--J. David Singer, University of Michigan

About the Author

Steven A. Peterson is Professor of Politics, Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg and Director of its School of Public Affairs. Albert Somit is Professor Emeritus at Southern Illinois University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Hiram Caton on May 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Iraq's a mess. A very costly mess-over $200 billion and rising. The loss of life and injury haven't been convincingly estimated. It depends on whether the reports of harm done by depleted uranium particles are credible. The DOD dismisses the reports, but it takes the same view of the Gulf War Syndrome and the Nam Agent Orange sickness. If the reports are true, the moral burden is heavy. Then there's opposition to the war by EU nations and in domestic U.S. politics. Disagreement's the name of the political game, but this conflict's about the fundamental question of America's conception of its role in international affairs. The logic of the Congressional authorization of military action against Afghanistan and Iraq also authorizes military action against Iran, which seems more likely with each passing day. And after Iran, where, Syria? Then there's the big ticket item: the failure of U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to build democracy. Many honest Americans sincerely believe that it's the nation's destiny to spread the blessings of democracy throughout the world, whenever and however possible. That includes not only military action to knock out dictators, but also `open borders' that allow opportunity-hungry people from around the world to swarm into good old USA; legal, illegal, doesn't matter because immigration laws aren't enforced.

Somit and Peterson take aim at one key premise driving the mess: belief in democracy as the high destiny of humanity. They argue that democracy happens only when historically rare enabling conditions are in place. The reason for its rarity is that the human species evolved, as the great apes and simians evolved, a social structure of hierarchy: we prefer kings to average guys and gals.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on December 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
According to the authors, political democracy is rare and declining, so the United States would do better to deploy its resources in supporting democracy at home rather than attempting to support the extension of democracy to other countries. The reason they give for their position is that our species, being a member of the small class of social primates, is hierarchical and authoritarian by nature, so only the most fortuitous confluence of circumstances is favorable to political democracy. In essence, it takes extremely powerful cultural forces favorable to democratic government to counterbalance our genetic predisposition towards authoritarian government.

This book is well written and hard-hitting, nicely produced, short and to the point, though horribly overpriced. Clearly the publisher expects only libraries and a few benighted souls such as myself, to fork over the cash. The authors delight in acknowledging how unpopular their view is, and how widely it is ignored. Yet, they aver, basic evolutionary psychology leads them inexorably to their dismal conclusion.

Now, I would vigorously dispute their claim that democracy is on the decline in the world, and the United States has wasted its resources in supporting democratic regimes. The democratization of Japan, Germany, and even France and Italy after WWII were directly the result of US efforts, and these democracies have been extremely enduring. The US supported mostly right-wing dictatorships in South America and the Pacific Basin after WWII, prior to the Reagan administration. Following this period, and with US support, there were extremely successful and enduring democratic regime changes throughout Latin America and the Pacific.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Reader 1 on December 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The rapidly rising costs of America's efforts to produce democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan make it imperative for citizens to re-examine the American policy of trying to bring democracy to other parts of the world. This book argues that, with some exceptions like Germany and Japan after World War II, that policy of democratic nation building has been unsuccessful in the past; it is unsuccessful today and is likely to be equally unproductive in the foreseeable future. Democracy requires very special "enabling conditions" before it can develop, such as adequate level of economic development, absence of religious conflict, functioning government institutions, and adequate levels of education, among others.

Why so? Natural selection has endowed the social primates, like homo sapiens, with an innate tendency to set up hierarchically structured social and political systems. Humans have an innate tendency to dominance and submission behaviors. In short, authoritarianism is the 'default' option for humans in politics, the authors suggest; only with those enabling conditions is democracy likely to develop.

At the same time, the American democracy is experiencing increasingly serious economic, political, and social strains. That is 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. The reader might well ask, as the authors do, if the resources expended on nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan would be more productively devoted to strengthening democracy at home.

Whatever people might think of the specifics of this book, the argument needs to be taken seriously, since the stakes are very high indeed. To assess America's chances for exporting democracy, we need the kind of hard-headed analysis that books like this provide.
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