Annual James Q. Wilson Lecture
September 21, 1999
Why is Any Nation a Democracy?
Professor James Q. Wilson
Introductory Remarks by Lawrence Mone
[Start Tape 1, Side A]
MR. MONE: Get started. Thank you. Thank you all for coming. My name is Larry Mone. I'm President of the Manhattan Institute and I'd like to welcome you here today. But it's also my sad duty to note the passing of a good friend and trustee of the Manhattan Institute, Fred Rose. Anyone involved in New York City's public life, is aware of Fred's extraordinary accomplishments as a business man and philanthropist. Fred will be missed by many, many people in many, many ways. And I would like to extend our condolences and prayers to his family and friends.
I'm pleased though today that ... to introduce our guest speaker, we were able to induce Roger Starr to leave his country abode in Pennsylvania to return to the city, which he knows so well. A former New York City Housing Commissioner, editorial writer for the New York Times, an author of The Rise and Fall of New York City, Roger brings a rare combination of wit, wisdom, and eloquence to his commentary on urban affairs. A former editor of the Institute's own City Journal, I'm honored to call him a colleague and a friend. Please welcome Roger Starr.
MR. STARR: Thank you Larry. I have introduced Jim Wilson once before, 25 years ago and I promise not to repeat myself. (Throat clear) I will try to talk about the things about Jim Wilson that we ... you may not know. The first of them, of course, is that he ... I'll get the familiars out of the way, quickly. He got his Ph.D. at The University of Chicago. He went from there to Harvard, where he became [unintelligible] Professor of Sociology, I believe, and he stayed there for a long time and then got an Honorary Degree. He has written fourteen books, each one of which is worth reading. His most recent book, the one that you should read now, is ... well now wait a minute, let me get it ... is Moral Judgement.
Now, I'm going to tell you what's unique about our guest speaker today. He is a sociologist, who in a sense is different from most other sociologists in that despite his immense scholarship, his erudition, his patient study; he is also a sociologist who is an intimate, immediate, contact with the instant world around him. He is a worldly sociologist. He understands what happens, as though he himself had sat on a hundred different juries and understood the difference between a jury making a judgement, and a scientist offering an opinion. And this theme is very important in the book, which I just suggested that you read. The fact of the matter is, that the big worry, the big problem that Jim Wilson sees about us, is the loss of personal responsibility. And if you've sat on a jury and if you've been particularly unlucky and sat on a jury in which onemember was a psychologist, you will realize what I mean, when I say that a jury tends not to vote on the evidence, not to vote on the facts, quite as much as its members tend to vote on what they think.
The first jury I ever sat on, for example, was a civil case involving a little boy who tried to chin himself on the incinerator opening on his floor that his apartment ... lived on and he slipped off. His hand slipped off and he broke his toe. He as suing for $5,000 or at least his parents were, suing for $5,000. His toe, was of course, all cured at the time and ... but as his lawyer said, this little boy will never be a Joe DiMaggio because of the great damage to his foot. Now, I can think of a lot of other reasons and so could ... why he might not have been Joe DiMaggio. But when I made the statement that I thought this was wholly unnecessary, he had hurt himself playing. He had hurt himself, not badly and I was in favor of giving him nothing; one of the jurors turned to me and said, "Mr. Starr, are we just here to find out what happened or are we here to do the right thing?" And, I can't imagine a statement which is more thoroughly refuted by Jim Wilson and his book.
His book deals with the fact that a society to work is a society in which people assume as a natural part of living, responsibility towards the principles, towards the laws and towards human relationships. And, of course, Mr. Wilson has ... I'm not to call him Professor anymore, that's behind him. So I'll call him Mr. Wilson. What he has examined time after time is the kind of judgement, the kind of responsibility that exists in different kinds of human agglomerations. He has written book on the morals of capitalism. He has written a book on the morals of the family. All of his books deal with the confrontation of principle and the human web that surrounds us as we live together. And with that introduction, I hope you will now get the best news of all, which is that Mr. Wilson is here and he is going to take over the pulpit. Thank you.
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much Roger. I have written a great deal about society. Indeed that is my chief interest, but technically, I'm not a sociologist. I was trained as a political scientist. There's no reason why Roger should know that, but I would simply urge him not to repeat this label of me, sociologist, in Texas. I spent much of my summers while growing up in Northeast Texas and my sister has lived for the last 25 years in Texas. In Texas if you call somebody a sociologist, it means you are now justified in running them off the road with your pick up truck. When I was studying police and I first met them, they would look at me and say, "Mr. Wilson's a sociologist". And their eyes would get steely. After a while, they started calling me professor and their faces relaxed a bit. Then they started calling him Jim and I finally got somewhere.
We are approaching the end of this century and it seems to behoove everyone, including myself, to make centurion remarks. And I'd like to make those remarks today about what I regard as the two greatest changes in the social organization of mankind, that have occurred in the last 100 years. Namely, the rise of democracy and the rise of genocide. By democracy, I mean a political regime in which the people consent to their government, and a reasonable degree of human freedom is guaranteed. By genocide, I mean mass murder committed by own's government or one's own neighbors. The difficulty is, is that it's easier to explain genocide than to explain democracy.
Mankind for most of its history has lived in small villages; for 10-20-30 thousand years. In those villages, composed perhaps of 30 or 40 families, sometimes only 30 or 40 people, everyone outside the village was a stranger. And being a stranger was treated as a stranger; always suspiciously, sometimes in a warlike manner. When agriculture and animal husbandry brought people together in towns and villages, they were forced to live with other strangers and their suspicions were heightened. And then when the industrial revolution made large cities possible, the stage was set for leaders motivated by some combination of power and ideology, and using the advantages of modern technology; that is to say, the advantages of technological surveillance and instant death, to maintain control of their nations by punishing the strangers. When the village becomes a nation, many people who once were called strangers are made the target of predatory policies and we see this all about us.
By contrast, democracy is an oddity. How can people who evolved in small villages, be made tolerant of people who grew up in different villages? How can they be made to accept people who have different skills and different habits and a different religion? How can village government, based on tradition and consensus, be transformed into a national government that is based on votes caste by strangers. Democratic government cannot rest simply on written constitutions. Many Latin American nations have written constitutions that are almost indistinguishable from that of the United States, and yet democracy in Latin America is rare and may indeed be shrinking.
Religion, of course, may help explain tolerance, if people take the Golden Rule seriously. But we know that some religious people are fanatics and we know that some agnostic ones are tolerant. And we know that in some religions, as in Islam, there is no distinction between religious rule and secular rule. And therefore, in some, happily few Islamic states, religious rules are enforced at the point of a sword.
Voltaire once said that a nation with one church would suffer from authoritarianism. A nation with two churches would have a civil war. A nation with many churches would have peace. We have many churches. We have peace among people who belong to these churches. But political freedom had to precede religious freedom, or it would not exist.
Let me offer four explanations for why I think democracy, against all these odds, has grown up in this last century. And those explanations are these: isolation, property, homogeneity, and tradition. The easiest of these is the first: isolation. The freest nations have been those that grew up protected by broad oceans or high and impassable mountains. England, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States have large ocean boundaries. Switzerland has a mountainous boundary. The significance of isolation is not simply that people take some comfort from being isolated. The significance of isolation is that there is no need to maintain a large standing army, no need to support a powerful king or ruler who will command that army, and no need to extract from the public, high taxes with which to pay for that army. In short, isolation relieves many people of any demands for unfettered rule allegedly on their behalf.
The nations without secure national boundaries: France, Austria, Hungary, Prussia, Russia have been those in which the demand for popular rule and a weak central government always had to be subordinated out of necessity to the need for a powerful army and a powerful person to command it. Imagine if you will, what the United States would have been like if Spain had remained in Florida and France had continued to retain the Louisiana Purchase, which is most of the Midwest? There would have been skirmishes. There would have been incidents. There undoubtedly would have been wars. Our national government would have grown more powerful, more quickly, taxed and regulated us more heavily, and sent more of us into war, whatever the Constitution said.
The second condition for democracy is private property. Now for many thinkers private property is the enemy of the human equality, and if it is the enemy of human equality, it must be the enemy of democracy. I think differently. I do not think that property is theft. I do not agree with the authors of the Communist Manifesto, that the purpose of their movement is to eliminate private property. I agree instead with Aristotle who said, in an effort to refute the views of Plato, that "private property, in fact, helps people." He explained that private property stimulates work by providing rewards to those who do work. It reduces arguments by supplying a rational basis, "who owns what", so that you can allocate goods on the basis of that rational assessment. And it enhances pleasure by creating a physical object that people can love. He began his book on politics by describing not the polis [phonetic], not the village, not the country but the household. And having explained how households work, he then went on to explain how governments work. And the purpose of government was to perfect and enrich the character of the householders. But private property only supports democracy if its ownership is widespread. If one rich man had almost all the property, and countless poor ones had virtually none, there would inevitably be a struggle between the land-rich ruler and the land-poor followers. The central question, therefore, is how do we explain the widespread ownership of private property? Professor Allen McFarland at Cambridge University in England has given us a powerful insight into these forces.
In England, as far back as historical records may go and this goes back about to the 13th century, the individual land ownership of England has been its most distinctive feature. It did not have the kind of society that you find in much of Eastern Europe. In much of Eastern Europe, land was owned by a family, a clan, rather than by an individual. The clan or the family managed its land collectively. No one could sell the land, no one could inherit the land. An individual within this family might play a leading role in managing the farm, but he had no right to own it or to sell it. To maintain the land, of course, agricultural labor was necessary, so children were required to be such laborers and since children were required to be laborers, marriage tended to occur at a very young age. And these marriages designed to protect family boundaries and to maintain certain relationships were arranged by parents and other older relatives.
The farms in Eastern Europe produced goods chiefly for domestic consumption rather than for exchange in the market place. Now this clan control of property, not limited to Eastern Europe by any means, meant that land rarely changed hands and since land rarely changed hands, there was hardly any law created to govern land exchanges. Since farm produce was not often sold on market places, there was little law developed to govern exchanges. Since marriages were arranged there was little law developed to manage conjugal affairs.
In short, there was little law of the sort we now recognize. And not only little law, few courts. The courts that existed were often the king, the prince, the ruler, speaking with judicial authority rather than some independent body of judges who would try to balance competing claims.
In England, matters were very different, and not only in England, perhaps as well in much of northwestern Europe. From at least the 13th century on, individual ownership of land was common. Parents, of course, exercised a great deal of authority over their households, but they did so as parents who owned this land. Land there could be bought. It could be sold. It could be bequeathed. It could be inherited. In England, even a woman, in the late Middle Ages, could inherit land from the estate of her husband. Many of these people, of course, were poor, often desperately poor but most of them were not landless.
Individual ownership was important. So much important that a man could start a family until he owned land. Now it might take quite a while to accumulate the resources in which to get the land. You might have to inherit it from your father. You might have to work as an apprentice to accumulate the money with which to buy it. And so their marriages occurred much later in life. They incurred later in life, which had, as a parenthetical expression, a certain affect on British premarital sexual relationships. These unions that were formed after the man had acquired enough land to support a family, were unions that were not arranged. There were, of course, families, as we know from the novels of Jane Austen, that tried to arrange suitable marriages, but even in the early years, it was necessary for the people, the man and the woman to consent to the marriage. And sometimes they did it, often they did it as their parents wished, but often they did it as their parents did not wish.
Because land in England and perhaps in other northwestern Europe countries could be bought, sold, bequeathed and inherited, a law grew up by way of managing these transactions. This law, a collection of individual judgements made by individual judges, later accepted and codified by higher courts, became the common law. By its very nature the common law endowed people with legal claims. Initially, one against the other, but in time, as we shall see, between legal claims that protected them, as against the Crown. These claims that people had out of the buying and selling of land and the buying and selling of farm produce meant that people acquired rights. And since they were defined by courts that were to a large degree independent of central political rule, these rights could be understood as a limit on the powers of that central ruler.
Now, there was, of course, an English aristocracy that owned vast tracts of land. But the interesting thing about the English aristocracy was that its position was dependent on land ownership and not on any individual grant of entitlement that was reflected in the common law. And this can be seen resulting from the practice of primogeniture. Primogeniture means, of course, that the eldest son inherits the land and a title, if any, of his fathers. All of the other sons inherit no title and no land, though amounts of money might be set aside for their support.
This means that the English aristocracy did not naturally grow in number. Quite the opposite in France, where, lacking primogeniture, all of the sons inherited the title. All of the sons increasingly inherited smaller and smaller bits of land and they spent their time trying to defend their privileged status or going to Paris, in order to pay court to the King. Something that he found useful; because by paying court to him, he was controlling them. And we don't know why England developed this pattern of individual land ownership. The historical record simply runs out. This is also true I suspect of a few other northern European nations. But having acquired a property-based legal system, the ground work was laid many centuries later for the emergence of democratic government and for the emergence of capitalism.
The third requirement was ethnic homogeneity. Now this is a difficult matter to address without being misunderstood, so let me go through this carefully. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, along with many others has observed that ethnic rivalry is the deepest and most pervasive source of human conflict. During the 75 years of the cold war, I suppose we could be excused for thinking that ideology and economics were the greater dividers of human life, but now we know differently. Russian has broken apart on ethnic lines. Gorbachev failed to understand the ethnic cleavages in the Soviet Union. Much of Africa and the Middle East is split along ethnic lines. Yugoslavia has broken apart on ethnic lines. The wars in the Bosnia and Kosovo were wars of ethnic rivalry. The first World War was a struggle over national, that is to say, ethnic self-identification. The second World War, though it probably would have been brought about by Hitler in any circumstances was defended by him on ethnic claims, namely that the Arans [phonetic] were a superior race of people who had the right to control others and those whom they controlled, they were prepared to extinguish.
Now there are democratic nations that are ethnically diverse today, but at the time they were formed, there was much less diversity. England was ethnically an Anglo-Saxon nation when democracy began to develop. America during its founding period was overwhelmingly an English nation. So also, by and large, were Australia and Canada and New Zealand.
Switzerland is an interesting exception to this. It is an ethnically quite diverse country, with people from German and French and Italian backgrounds, more or less equally divided between protestants, catholics, living together in this community. But they succeeded by a device which, so far as I know, has never been duplicated elsewhere, assigning the ethnic groups to individual cantons and giving to these cantons political power and denying central political authority to the central government. The President of Switzerland is a weak president, because the power, especially the legal power lies essentially in the ethnically homogeneous cantons.
Now let me be clear about the argument I'm making about ethnic homogeneity. I am not defending ethnic homogeneity. I'm not assuming that such homogeneity is a good thing or ought to be preserved at any cost, nor am I arguing that democracies cannot be ethnic ... become ethnically heterogeneous. Certainly one of the great glories of the United States is that it has become both a democracy and the most ethnically diverse nation in the world. This is a great accomplishment but it is a very rare accomplishment.
My argument here is purely historical. With the exception of a few unusual places such as Switzerland, the slow growth of democracy and a respect for human rights is made easier. I would say much easier, in nations that have one, more or less common culture. Democracy in England proceeded democracy in the United Kingdom because in Scotland and Ireland and Wales, there were different views and different cultures about how the government should be arranged. And even today, Scotland is bargaining hard for its own independence. In the formative periods of a nation, ethnic diversity is as great a problem as being surrounded by military opponents. The ruler will come from one culture and with the support of that culture will try to dominate other cultures and therefore, will have a legal system and a military system and a taxation system designed to dominate the rival culture. Claims that are made about the rights of the people in these ethnically diverse ancient communities would be difficult to sustain when many people in the dominant culture, think that people in the non-dominant culture are not human beings or are not entitled to rights. The fourth argument is tradition. Democratic politics is rarely produced overnight. 1914, Europe had only three democracies. By the end of the first World War, that number had grown to 13. Largely by the arrangement of careful line-drawing on the maps. But by the time of Second World War, that number had been cut almost in half, as Germany and Italy and other nations once again became authoritarian.
Between 1950 and 1990, there were as many authoritarian, as democratic nations in the modern world. And the rate at which democratic nations converted into authoritarian ones was about the same as the rate at which authoritarian nations converted into democratic ones. Democracy grows slowly. It is always in peril. Senator Moynihan has observed that today there are only eight nations in the world that both existed in 1914 and have not had their government changed by force and violence since then.
The oldest democracy, England, has relied heavily on tradition to preserve its precarious role. Its problem; one that every nation must eventually face, is how to make government legitimate, when it is voted into power by people you do not like. Or to say the same thing a bit differently, the problem is how to get a government to respect the rights of people who do not support it. The great event in English history that began to make this possible, is all familiar to us. It occurred in 1215, when Magna Carta was signed. I say great event, but in many ways it really wasn't a great event. It had become a great event only in retrospect.
If you read the Magna Carta as it was written, it does not resemble at all the Bill of Rights of the United States. It was not a constitution. It was not part of a constitution. Most of it was about taxes, debts, fines, licenses and inheritances. It settled a number of ongoing practical disputes between King John and the feudal barons. It was not about human rights. Read today, taken alone, it would strike you as an odd historical legacy and my experience as a teacher reminds me of the fact that nobody does read it today. But as the late Dean Irwin Griswold of the Harvard Law School once put it, Magna Carta is not primarily significant for what it was, but for what it came to be. Five centuries after it was written it had become the touchstone for English liberties - and how. Why? It became this touchstone for English liberties because it was constantly invoked to settle new claims arising out of rivalries between the King and the aristocracy, or the King and the people. In order to do this, the King had to settle the argument by reaffirming Magna Carta. There were at least 40 occasions in English history, where the King reaffirmed Magna Carta in order to settled a quarrel. And each time he reaffirmed it, it became more important. Even though nobody had read it.
The Puritan Revolutionaries defended Magna Carta, even though I'm sure most of them hadn't read it either. And as it passed into English custom, so also was it transferred to America custom. American colonists in the 17th and 18th Century, spoke of having the rights of Englishmen, by which they meant the rights of Magna Carta. Andrew Hamilton, not Alexander, but Andrew Hamilton defended Peter Zanger's right to publish unpopular documents in Colonial America and by reference to Magna Carta. Even though Magna Carta has nothing to say about freedom of speech. The Constitutions of the United States and of the several individual states, put in writing, the assumptions though not the language of Magna Carta. And it's these assumptions that transform this ancient and somewhat dull list of grievances into a document that transformed the Western world. Those assumptions were these: the judiciary should be independent of the ruler; private property was important; and the law of the land, that is to say, the British common law was the basis for settling disputes. Magna Carta, therefore, in once sense was a myth, for it conferred very few rights, but it was a useful myth. Over five centuries, it shaped how people thought about government. They assumed that government had limited and defined powers, that there were limits on political authority and that judges independent of the rulers would settle conflicts about what those limits might be.
In America, the Declaration of Independence occupies something of the same standing. It has become the basis for our assumption that we possess self-evident rights, that all men are entitled to life, liberty and property, changed by Thomas Jefferson to read the pursuit of happiness. These entitlements can only be abridged by law. Now the average American today, as any political scientist knows, who are asked to read the Bill of Rights and say, "do you think it really means what it says, with respect to the following concrete case"; many Americans would say, well no, I don't think that person should have free speech, or that person should have freedom of the press. But they revere the Declaration because of what it represents as a whole and the assumptions behind it. Today we wonder whether the rest of the world will become democratic. I do not know. Unless history offers no lessons at all, one must wonder whether a political regime as odd and unlikely as democracy will ever dominate the world.
None of the conditions I have mentioned, not isolation, not private property, not ethnic homogeneity, not deeply-felt traditions of human rights, can be found in China, or Russia or in much of Africa or in much of the Middle East. Bits and pieces of it exist in parts of Latin America and democracies have struggled into existence in those places. But in many of those places they are falling back into authoritarian rule.
Now in the modern world there may be two contemporary ways to spread democracy without relying on these four historical factors. One is military conquest. In the 19th century England supplied India with the basis of democracy by occupying it and teaching Indians that this is what the rule of law meant and this is how government should be organized. In the 20th century, the allies did the same thing for Germany and Japan. The condition of our leaving your country is that you embrace democratic rule as we have specified it. These nations seem to have retained democracy. Unfortunately, democracies rarely conquer other nations, so we cannot expect that democracy will spread again by the further use of this technique.
Another mechanism is the existence of the global economy. Globalization penalizes any industry that is not competitive, any consumers who are protected by tariffs or subsidies. It does so by raising the prices of the goods they purchase and lowering the efficiency of those who do the producing.
Not every nation with free markets is a democracy. Consider Singapore, extraordinary efficient market, certainly not a democracy. But every democratic nation in the world does have something akin to free markets. So free markets are a necessary, but not sufficient condition for the emergence of democratic rule. I think it is a necessary condition because free markets encourage new ideas, encourage scientific inquiry, encourage an opportunity for innovation, pay money for mass education, and insist on a prudent level of regulation. Now today Singapore believes that it can remain a great economic power without becoming a democracy. China has bet that it can do the same. An optimistic friend of my in California has predicted to me that by the year 2013, China will become a democracy as the result of these economic forces. Possibly, but my question back to him is, "Will it still be a democracy in the Year 2033?"
In the long run, democracy and human freedom are good for everyone, even though they may create some mischief in the near term. But the good that they can create will only occur to people who have that historical moment that enables them to be calm and to be tolerant. Edward C. Banfield, my former teacher, who I think was perhaps the best student of American politics in this century, has written this: "A political system is an accident. It is an accumulation of habits, customs, prejudices and principles that have survived a long trial and error, and of ceaseless response to changing the circumstances. If the system works well, on the whole, it is a lucky accident, the luckiest indeed that can befall a society. For all of the institutions of society, and thus its entire character and that of the human types formed within it, depend ultimately on the government and the political order." I would only add that a workable democracy is the most happy accident of all. We must nourish ours and hope that others will come along to supplement it. Thank you.
MR. MONE: Thank you. We have some time for questions but I would ask you because it's a big room, we have some handheld mikes, so if you would wait until the mike reaches your table before you ask your question. Thank you. Professor Wilson you can come back up and field them. Okay?
MR. WILSON: Judy has a mike. Okay.
MALE VOICE: Professor, Mr. Wilson, why didn't democracy emerge in Japan before the second World War. They were quite isolated ethnically ...
MR. WILSON: ... homogeneous.
MALE VOICE: Yeah, homogeneous. They had private property.
MR. WILSON: No tradition of human rights.
MALE VOICE: (laughter) Even after the [unintelligible] Restoration. There was no Magna Carta clearly.
MR. WILSON: That's right. I mean the [unintelligible] Restoration changed the form of government but did not equip Japanese with the feeling that they had rights against the ruler. The tradition of human rights was put in particularly to deal with the Japan case (inaudible).
MALE VOICE 1: Mr. Wilson, thanks for the stimulating talk. I wonder about the condition ... tradition as a condition. It's a little bit tricky isn't it? Because how do you get a tradition of democracy and human rights if you don't already have one? And I wonder whether the prior condition or more condition might be something you didn't mention, which is; ideas of democracy and human rights and the success and force with which they're argued and expounded as a society?
MR. WILSON: Well, I think you're quite right. I think ideas do have consequences; not an unusual view to people at the Manhattan Institute. And I think that the discussion of rights helps people acquire a sense of freedom. But I think the demand for freedom is in many ways stronger than the demand for democracy. Colonies wanted to be free of the mother country. Oppressed minorities wanted to be free of the dominant culture. But once free, do they create a democracy; only in a few cases. I think there is one way, which I didn't mention, but about which I've been brooding, that the discussion of ideas may facilitate this in the future. And that is the Internet, or any other way of mass communication, that everybody living, everywhere in the world can know instantaneously how similar people live elsewhere in the world; it may lead them to realize that there is a close connection between democracy and the perpetuation of freedom and democracy and the maintenance of personal affluence. But I don't know enough about this yet, to really say that very strongly. But I do think the discussion of ideas is important. I think it would be interesting to write a history of Germany or Japan from 1945 to the present and talk about how democracy was sold to two countries which had had virtually no experience with it. Sold, to be sure, initially at the point of the bayonet, but sold enough so that most people today do not think democracy is in serious danger in Germany or Japan, though a 100 years from now, things may be different.
MALE VOICE: I wonder, in your opinion, how are we in the United States doing on our homogeneity? Are we getting better at it? Are we losing it?
MR. WILSON: Well, I think we've become ethnically the most heterogeneous nation in the world and we have done an extraordinary job of accommodating to it. With all the problems, goodness knows, a nation that practiced slavery for 250 years does not have a proud tradition on this matter. A nation that once had up signs in work places, "No Irish need apply", highlights how difficult it is, but today despite the many problems that exist, we've done a very good job. Some people, politically, would like to make the nation less heterogeneous. They would like to close the borders. They would like to have minutemen, with guns at these borders to keep out other people. I hope they do not succeed, because this is the one place in the world where democracy and heterogeneity can survive. And if it can survive here, perhaps we can teach other nations how to make it survive elsewhere.
MALE VOICE: Mr. Wilson, how can democracy be sold to Russia, short of selling at the point of a bayonet? And should the West do more of some things and less of others and what would they be?
MR. WILSON: I haven't any idea how you could sell democracy to Russia. My general view is that, though it may be painful, we have to let Russia work this problem out for themselves. I don't know whether you work for the IMF. I hope not but it would be a good idea if they kept their hands off of Russia. The Bank of New York does not need more large deposits. (laughter). We must be constantly on guard that old Russian elites may not once again threaten their atomic weapons or their military power to jeopardize other nations. We must be alert and aware of this. We must engage them in the traditional forms of diplomacy, but we can't remake their country for them. They have to do it and it will take generations for this to happen.
Russia is sunk in corruption today. Late 19th century America was sunk in corruption. The progressive movement arose in this country to combat corruption in America. It not only succeeded. It overdid it. (laughter). But if it took us a 100 years to move from widespread corruption to the legacies of the "nanny state", it's going to take at least that long for Russia to do the same.
MALE VOICE: Mr. Wilson.
MR. WILSON: Yes.
MALE VOICE: I, perhaps, civil-mindedly think of democracy as being the result of the appetite of individual people in the street. And I'm wondering where individual appetites fit into the societal framework that you've formulated?
MR. WILSON: Well, I will repeat what Tokefield [phonetic] said in Democracy in America. Americans love freedom and equality but they love equality more. And the reason they love equality more is because equality today, does something for them right now. While freedom protects only people with whom they disagree. And that is why in the long run, nations that aspire to freedom wind up with an effort to produce equality but no means to assure freedom. So I think the American people clearly and many people throughout the world believe in freedom. The question is how do you convert that belief and freedom to operating institutions, when you will notice almost from day one, that if you install freedom and actually protect it, you will be helping your enemies and that is a very hard lesson for people to learn.
MALE VOICE: Mr. Wilson, in addition to the four factors that you recommended and talk about, I've read some French sociologists that argue that the structure of the family has a great deal to do with what kind of political ideology they'll hold on to: Emmanuel Todd [phonetic] being one of them. Have you any thoughts on how family structures in different parts of the world impact political process?
MR. WILSON: No, other than the extended or clan-based family, is not friendly to democracy because it does not produce those legal and political changes necessary to sustain it. But I don't know whether the structure of the family makes a difference with respect to democracy. I have many concerns about families. Some of which I've expressed in this forum before. But whether they're linked to the form of government we have, I really don't know.
MALE VOICE: My question is related to the question of ethnic diversity ...
MR. WILSON: Uh-huh.
MALE VOICE: ... and the notion that democracy and freedom is a magnet for ethnic diversity. All over the world people are trying to get into America, because they have this pull for going some place that's economically prosperous, some place where you can have individual freedom. And therefore, there's a push against (inaudible) because the new arrivals, the immigrants, the ethnic diversity, they want to become part of the America freedom and democracy movement. Therefore, ethnic diversity; one might posit the hypothesis that ethnic diversity contributes to and fosters democracy and freedom as opposed to the other way around.
MR. WILSON: Well today, it probably does, but we have to recognize that the hidden forces in American society who are reacting against mass immigration; who are reacting against the ethnic diversity of large cities, though hidden, is not trivial. I live in Los Angeles, and when economic times are difficult is Los Angeles people start talking about closing the borders and telling the children of illegal immigrants that they can't go to school. I think that's appalling. Now that times are better in Los Angeles, people don't talk that way anymore. But when times turn bad again; so that, I think that though our borders should not be open, we must be selective and admit only as many people as we can from time to time handle.
Nonetheless, America is a democratic loadstone to the world, but I'm not convinced yet that at the present time, that facilitates democracy. I'm simply saying that our democracy by and large accepts that. Yes, [unintelligible].
FEMALE VOICE: Large parts of the globe, particularly the most developed parts of the globe are experiencing a new demographic phenomenon, the aging of the population. Do you think that ...
(end of side A)
(begin side B)
MR. WILSON: ... democracy because it does not produce those legal and political changes necessary to sustain it. But I don't know whether the structure of the family makes a difference with respect to democracy. I have many concerns about families, some of which I've expressed in this forum before. But whether they're linked to the form of government we have, I really don't know.
MALE VOICE: My question is related to the question of ethnic diversity ...
MR. WILSON: Uh-huh.
MALE VOICE: ... and the notion that democracy and freedom is a magnet for ethnic diversity. All over the world people are trying to get into America, because they have this pull for going some place that's economically prosperous, some place where you can have individual freedom.
And therefore, there's a push against (inaudible) because the new arrivals, the immigrants, the ethnic diversity, they want to become part of the America freedom and democracy movement. Therefore, ethnic diversity, one might posit the hypothesis that ethnic diversity contributes to and fosters democracy and freedom as opposed to the other way around.
MR. WILSON: Well today, it probably does, but we have to recognize that the hidden forces in American society who are reacting against mass immigration, who are reacting against the ethnic diversity of large cities, though hidden, is not trivial. I live in Los Angeles, and when economic times are difficult is Los Angeles people start talking about closing the borders and telling the children of illegal immigrants that they can't go to school. I think that's appalling. Now that times are better in Los Angeles, people don't talk that way anymore. But when times turn bad again so that, I think that, though our borders should not be open, we must be selective and admit only as many people as we can from time to time handle.
Nonetheless, America is a democratic loadstone to the world, but I'm not convinced yet that at the present time, that facilitates democracy. I'm simply saying that our democracy, by and large, accepts that. Yes, [unintelligible].
FEMALE VOICE: Large parts of the globe, particularly the most developed parts of the globe are experiencing a new demographic phenomenon, the aging of the population. Do you think that this aging factor will bring along with it a wisdom factor, a propensity for many of these nations to try to be democratic?
MR. WILSON: Well, the aging of the population tends to be occurring in nations that are already democratic. And the non-aging of the population is occurring in nations which primarily are not democratic. So that I would put the question you raised somewhat differently. Will an aging group of people clinging to democracy and capitalism in a few nations in the world, be able to sustain themselves when the population is growing very rapidly in nations that are not democratic or not capitalist? I don't know the answer to that question. However, I will modify it in one respect.
The growth in the population even in underdeveloped nations is slowing down. It is not rising, as the United Nations thought 20 years ago it would. Demographers are at least as bad as sociologists at predicting the future. And so that, somehow people are adjusting to the need to have a lower population growth rate and I think the reason they adjust to it is very simple. The more prosperous you become the fewer children you have.
This demographic transition I think is a very powerful force. Wherefore people are improving their economic lot they're reducing the number of children they have so that ... that may mean that nations that are improving their economic lot will slowly get older and, I hope, catch up with rest of the world in terms of personal freedom. Sir.
TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: DUE TO FLUNCTUATION IN SOUND, UNABLE TO HEAR ACCURATELY WHAT THE FOLLOWING PERSON IS ASKING. RENDERED BEST POSSIBLE.
MALE VOICE: You mentioned Los Angeles a minute ago. There are many interesting develops in California recently. When Lieutenant Government Gustamon [phonetic] visited Mexico (inaudible) Davis [phonetic]. (inaudible) the majority leader recently made comments and suggested that President Sedillo [phonetic] of Mexico should take part in California politics. Speak (inaudible) viewpoint about this quasi-Eastern situation that's emerging in California where the largest minority is also the population of a neighboring state. How do you think that will affect the people of California?
MR. WILSON: Well that's a wonderful question. A former student, now a close friend of mine, Peter Scarry, [phonetic] has written a book called, The Ambivalent Majority that talks about Latino politics in San Antonio and Los Angeles and it's organized around the following question: "Will Latinos think of themselves as a group or a race?" If they think of themselves as a race, then the American-Mexican border is meaningless, and everything must be done to facilitate movement. If they think of themselves as a group, that border is very significant. They are a group in the United States, wishing to become more American.
In my opinion, based on his research, and my own personal experience in California, the vast majority of Latinos think of themselves as a group, not a race; and they're working very hard to become part of the United States, which is why so many of them supported an end to bilingual education. It wasn't quite a majority, because the people who owned the Spanish language television and radio station support retaining it for obvious material reasons.
The leaders, however are a different matter. Remember that Latinos do not vote in large numbers. So there leadership group is selected from an artificially small segment of the community and the leadership group is playing to a different constituency and in that group there is a greater tendency to regard Latinos as a race and not a group. And so I think there's a kind of tension there which time will work out but at the present time, I prefer what I've learned about Latino opinion to what I've learned about what Latino leaders happen to say.
MALE VOICE: Jim, I have the impression and it's only this; that there is a much greater interchange of people coming to the United States and Americans going over broad, that it has been increasing gradually over the last 20 years. Is that going to have an impact on these people going home to those countries that are not democratic and beginning to realize that maybe there is something magical going on in America they'd better learn about?
MR. WILSON: Well, I think that's the origin of the Tiannamen revolution in Beijing. An awful lot of Chinese students who had come to American universities began to think that there was a different way to organize their affairs. Unfortunately, they were rolled over by tanks, but I do think that international communication, international travel makes a difference. It makes a difference at a very slow rate. I think it has made Americans more tolerant of other people, because they see how other people live. And I think it's made other people more interested in the United States, because they no longer believe quite so readily what their local newspapers tell them about the United States, most of which is a lie.
FEMALE VOICE: One more question.
MR. WILSON: Okay, one more question. You have the microphone sir.
MALE VOICE: Since the number of voters keeps declining do you think we're losing our democracy?
MR. WILSON: Well, that's a very good question. There is a great disenchantment with politics today. There is no disenchantment with democracy. If you compare how people in America feel about their form of government, and the idea of democracy, and how people feel about it in Germany or Italy or Mexico and England; America is at the top of the list. We just don't happen to like the politicians who run it. At sometime, we're going to have to accept the fact that if you like a form of government, you're going to have to put up with the people who run it. And I think Americans do, but they're less willing to vote for them. They're also more engaged through the activities of causes, interest groups, and local politics.
Americans are very engaged people when I comes to politics. They just happen to think that voting is one of the least relevant ways to become engaged. They see that things happen when you get involved personally. Or as in England you vote once every five years for essentially one person. In the United States there are 500 thousand elective offices. With that number of elective offices, it not surprising we don't vote very much.
I think Americans are engaged in an organizational way that is ... Justice Tokefield [phonetic] described, the envy of the rest of the world. I think nations that rely simply on high voting turnout and don't have our organizational system are missing the boat.
MR. MONE: That's a great question to end on. Thank you Jim.
[end of recording]