Democracy, Free Markets and Habits of the Heart
The collapse of the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire has generated much debate among analysts about the process of rebuilding society and facilitating the development of democracy in the post-Communist world. One of the most interesting perspectives on this subject comes from Francis Fukuyama, a consultant with the RAND Corporation in Washington, D.C.
Consolidating Democracy in Post-Communist
In recent decades, changes have occurred worldwide on the first and second levels described above. The birth of pro-democracy movements, coupled with renewed interest in the free market, has led to many changes in governments since the late 1970s; in recent years, authoritarian rulers have given up power -- or had it taken away -- all over the globe. Throughout the 1980s this heightened interest in democracy has been followed by major institutional changes, although the process is still far from complete (F. Fukuyama, "The Primacy of Culture," Journal of Democracy, January 1995).
Making changes in the institutions which form a civil society and in basic cultural values is a much slower process than toppling an existing government. Unlike parts of Eastern Europe, where civil society has sprung back to life relatively quickly, such as in Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic, the birth pangs in Russia have been much sharper. In Moscow, old Communist elites are still in charge and continue to staff the new (and not-so-new) institutions of the Russian Republic.
The excitement about democracy which quickly led to changes in normative beliefs generated great expectations that could not be met, because basic cultural values did not change at the same speed. This gap between expectation and reality threatens genuine progress in places like Russia, because people quickly lose their newly-found faith in democracy when things get difficult during the transition. This demonstrates that cultural factors are of critical importance, perhaps the most important, in the development of democratic societies.
Trust as "Social Capital"
Fukuyama describes the United States, Japan and Germany as high-trust, group-oriented societies. He also argues that for democracy and capitalism to work properly, they must coexist with certain cultural habits that ensure their proper functioning. Laws, contracts, and economic rationality "provide a necessary but not sufficient basis for both the stability and prosperity of postindustrial societies; they must as well be leavened with reciprocity, moral obligation, duty toward community, and trust, which are based in habit rather than rational calculation" (p. 11).
In the concluding chapter of his book, Fukuyama argues that "a successful capitalist economy is clearly very important as a support for stable liberal democracy. . . there are virtually no wealthy capitalist countries that are not also stable democracies. One of the great problems of Poland, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, and other former communist states is that they have tried to establish democratic political institutions without the benefit of functioning capitalist economies." (p. 356).
In Russia, democratic political leaders and their supporters believe in democracy and free markets on an intellectual level, but they and their fellow Russians lack the necessary social habits to create a unified political organization. The "social capital" in Russia has not matured to the point where spontaneous sociability happens. Self-organization and working cooperatively for mutual enrichment is not a common practice in post-Communist Russia. This is not surprising, as these habits were punished by the monolithic power of the Communist Party, which discouraged initiative and fostered the atomization of society.
These are "habits of the heart," and there is no quick way to change them in Russia or any other societies in transition from Communism or other authoritarian forms of government. Education is one of the most important ways to impact "habits of the heart," particularly an education which is grounded in religious faith and which integrates morality, ethics, and the academic disciplines.
Dr. John A. Bernbaum