Charles Taylor about Lipset and economic development

In an article in the journal Public Culture, Charles Taylor has commented on the basis for democracy:

“What are the conditions that make for stable democracies? Why does democracy take root here and not there? (For instance, why in India and not in Pakistan, when both achieved independence at the same time from the same Raj.) In the postwar period, books such as Lipset’s Political Man tried to answer these questions. Some of their intuitions were good, but others now seem wide of the mark” (p. 118).

In a footnote, Taylor mentions one theme and two concrete examples:

“For instance, the notion that democratic development correlates with economic development. But it turns out that some relatively low-income countries (e.g., India, Sri Lanka) live in functioning democracies while many better-off areas do not”

This amounts to a criticism of modernization theory, with regards to the strict correlation between economic development and democracy. It suggests that a poor country can be democratic and that a rich country is not necessarily democratic just because it is rich.

What Taylor suggests is instead that we should look at the individual social “imaginaries” that have defined the road to the democracy in each individual case.

(It should be noted that this is not entirely fair to Lispet. At least in the 1981 edition, Lipset is clear that he discusses statistical correlations, not absolutes. In that edition he has even explicitly distanced himself from strict modernization theory and argues along similar lines as Taylor.)

Taylor, Charles. “Cultures of Democracy and Citizen Efficacy”, Public Culture, 19 :1, 2007.

The issue here is to try to catalogue which “imaginaries” that are typical to liberal democracy and the examine to what extent these are present in Swedish political culture.

That Sweden went from poor to rich between 1860 and 1930 is no guarantee that Sweden also became a modern democracy.

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