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TRANSCULTURAL FRIENDSHIP: OUR POLITICAL FUTURE

Chapter Four: Autocracy and Democracy

Section 2: Autocracy to Democracy

 

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 Ribbon Dance by the Academy of Chinese Performing Arts, 1996 dress rehearsal. Linda Qiu, front left.

 

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Democracies evolve from autocracies through a series of mixtures and blends of the two forms. As indicated in chapter two, the process of development can be better understood when the laws regulating each system are identified. We are concerned here with the relations between the system and the subsystem. One major factor in determining these relations will be discussed in detail in chapter four -- the fact that democracies require developmentally higher capabilities on the part of the members of the social system. This is related to the reasons democracy is developmentally superior to autocracy.

 

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Because there tends to be a correspondence, albeit imperfect, between the level of societal development and the modal developmental level of its individuals, there tends to be a correspondence between the structure of the subsystems and the system as a whole. The advantages of this correspondence is that each of the subsystems tends to reinforce the capabilities required by the other subsystems. Thus, democracies will tend to have more democratic corporations, schools, and families.

 

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However, the correspondence is not perfect. In the first place, large systems are more cumbersome than small systems, and so develop more slowly. Thus, any autocracy is going to have some complex subsystems, made up of people in the upper portion of the developmental distribution of individuals. Likewise, the lower portion of the distribution in a democracy will prefer autocratic subsystems. Specialization will require subsystems with forms somewhat different than the whole system -- e.g. the military in a democracy; research in an autocracy.

 

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The conflict between the principles of uniformity and diversity across systems and subsystems provides us with a mechanism for development. The society is made up of individuals and groups distributed according to developmental levels. A society, at any developmental level, which is successful, will make it easier for its members and subsystems to achieve the modal levels necessary to maintain the society. However, this will mean, in turn, that more people will surpass the old modal level, so that the modal level is raised.

 

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As the modal level rises, more complex subsystems will tend to form -- already increasing the complexity of the society. The more mature individuals will have the capacity to envision more effective ways of organizing the whole society, and the subsystems they form will help develop the skills and provide the leverage for moving society toward a more complex form. (This will be less likely where the simple form is more advantageous than the more complex alternatives.)

 

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If the leadership is flexible and foresightful, it will instigate reforms -- raising the developmental level of society. If it is not, the growing chasm in developmental levels will generate a tension that will be resolved by violence, if necessary. The result is often an improvement, but when the upper levels of the population are decimated so that the modal level falls, a return to a simple order is required. 

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Thus, there is a general trend from autocracy to democracy, at least where environmental conditions favor the latter. However, this movement is not rapid. The educational subsystems will tend to follow the form of the society at large -- and the simpler educational systems are less effective. The improvement in modal level from one generation to the next is incremental.

 

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This is part of an answer to a potential challenge to the main point of the chapter -- that conditions are increasingly favoring democracies over autocracies. One might ask why there are any autocractic systems at all. One response is that the advantages of democracy are relative to the environment, which has not always been as favorable to democratic forms as it is today, and will be in the future. The second response is that there has not been enough time for the favorable developments to unfold. In fact, some of the less developed countries may take generations to achieve the current levels of some advanced societies. Even the advanced societies will take generations to achieve some of the potentials outlined in this paper.

 

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In the previous section, we discussed the developmental attitude that was to accompany the evaluations of societies. In every society, there are more advanced individuals who can envision a better world. Often, unfortunately, these people are less aware of the real restraints of societal development. This lack of awareness breeds a readiness to condemn less developed societies, as well as their own, since they all appear to unreasonably fall short of the envisioned potential. Whoever is in power may be blamed for holding back the desired progress. It may be true that a revolutionary change of leadership is what the doctor ordered.

 

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However, the condemnation is misguided. It is the successes of the less developed society that permitted the development of the individuals who created the vision that will change society. The change to more complex and competent societal forms will always be necessary, but the attitude of the reformers may be either condemnation of, or respect for, the prior form. The respectful attitude is an aspect of a more highly developed individual, and when it is modal, will make for smoother transitions.

 

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This is a reason change within a democracy is less violent than within an autocracy. (The individuals are better developed more likely to hold the respectful attitude, more able to make those in power receptive to change, etc.) One may say generally that autocracy is the father of democracy, and deserves respect accordingly, even as it is being replaced.

 

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Having discussed the developmental relations between autocracy and democracy, we must then explore the advantages of each in more detail. This analysis will also make it clear how democracy is more complex than autocracy. Then we must weigh these advantages and disadvantages against each other in the context of the change described in chapter three. In preparation for these comparisons, we will consider generally the criteria according to which societies can be judged.

 

 

 

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