Milestone Post

This is my 500th post on Recycled Sip, going back over the past three years. Rather than just toss out some throwaway oddball news item, I'll take on a more serious subject.

Last night at work, I was thinking about the situation in Pakistan, and why Islamic societies like Pakistan and Iraq may be stony ground on which to sow the seeds of democracy. I'm currently reading David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, a book about how four different waves of immigration from four different parts of Great Britain have shaped American society, both in the aggregate and in its regional variations. I was thinking about that, and about how some of the most successful democratic societies in the world were all founded by English speakers, largely because they brought with them from the mother country a history of self-government and cultural values that made the government work for the people. From the United States and Canada in North America to Australia and New Zealand in the south Pacific, and even to some extent in India (which was colonized by the British up until Indian independence and partition in 1947), certain ideas are shared about the proper relationship between the government and the people.

The details may vary from country to country, but the common concepts that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, such as individual rights and freedoms which are inherent to the people, the rule of law, and limited governmental powers which are granted by the people to the government, are present in all of them. I don't think we realize how unusual, and indeed, how radical such concepts are compared to most of the rest of the world. We have several hundred years of this British heritage as our birthright, and it has shaped us in subtle ways that we often don't even realize.

But why is India a comparative success story, the world's largest democracy, while neighboring Pakistan has frequently lived under military dictatorships? After all, for two centuries, they were one country under the benign dominion of the British Empire. Is it just the fact that India is primarily Hindu, while Pakistan was explicitly founded as an Islamic republic? Is religion more of a central fact of life in Pakistan than it is in India, and does that religion act in ways that are contrary to the development of a democratic civil society? Or are other cultural values, such as tribalism and a greater tolerance (indeed, an expectation) of corruption, the real problem?

Lots of questions, and I have no real answers for them. Just thinking out loud here...