by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
This forum does not always agree with Fareed Zakaria. But the TIME columnist is certainly on to something when he writes this week about the necessary preconditions within a society seeking to develop a successful democratic government.
Along with several others, I have argued that countries with strong traditions of the rule of law tend to develop a democratic culture that also protects individual rights. In the West, for example, legal protections for life, liberty and property developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Only much later came universal adult suffrage. Liberty preceded democracy, not the other way around. What distinguishes the U.S. is not how democratic it is but rather how undemocratic it is, with an unelected Supreme Court, a Senate that is one of the two least representative upper legislative bodies in the world and a Constitution and Bill of Rights that expressly limit the power of a democratically elected government.
Poor developing countries should place an even greater weight on the rule of law. It’s crucial that before the first elections, before politicians gain enormous legitimacy through the polls, a system be put in place that limits governmental power and protects individual liberty and the rights of minorities.