Exploring “Non-Western Democracy”

Issue Date October 2015
Volume 26
Issue 4
Page Numbers 140-155
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Support for the concept of non-Western democracy is becoming more voluble, widespread and determined. In many places, it has become a central focus of debates about the future of democracy. Calls for non-Western varieties of democracy are part and parcel of the rise of a post-Western world order. The search for forms of democracy that differ from prevailing Western norms is legitimate and needs to be taken seriously. But it also merits a carefully thought-out response. The concept of non-Western democracy is a challenging one. While the sentiment in favor of local ownership and authenticity in political forms is sound, a distinctive non-Western variety of democracy has yet to be defined with any precision. At the same time, non-Western countries certainly offer new ideas for democratic innovation, and democracy supporters from the West need to do more to encourage these ideas.

Why are calls for non-Western democracy proliferating? There are several reasons. These calls flow from both political changes within states and shifts in global power balances between states. The first reason for non-Western democracy’s rising appeal as a concept is Western liberal democracy’s own poor performance of late. The rise of non-Western powers is the second reason. Rising powers’ pushback against Western democracy is associated with these states’ newfound ability and determination to exert their effective sovereignty.