New Book: Does Everyone Want Democracy? Insights from Mongolia

Does Everyone Want Democracy? Insights from Mongolia by Paula L.W. Sabloff. Left Coast Press 2013. 266 pp., 282 pp. / 6.00 x 9.00 / Apr, 2013, eBook (978-1-61132-719-9), Hardback (978-1-59874-565-8)

Do all people desire democracy? For over a century, the idea that democracy is a universal good has been an article of faith for American policymakers. Anthropologist Paula Sabloff challenges this conventional wisdom about who wants democracy and why. Starting with the psychological literature, she explains that certain values (personal dignity, self-determination, and justice) appear to be universally esteemed today, partly because they match up with some universal human such emotions as hope and fear. She argues that people can live these emotions and values better under democracy, which promotes economic and political freedom, than totalitarianism, which does not. Thus the principles of democracy may, indeed, be universal. However, the data collected from 1,283 interviews of Mongolian citizens suggest that how people want their government to act is idiosyncratic. Mongolians’ culture, history, current circumstances and future aspirations influence how they want government to support them and how they view their role in maintaining democracy.

The book begins with an historical chapter, for one cannot talk about governance in Mongolia without understanding Chinggis Khaan and his place in the hearts of Mongolians today. Photographs from the archives of the National Museum of Mongolian History illustrate the historical chapter.The book then describes people’s changing attitude toward human rights, political rights and freedoms, economic rights and freedoms, government’s responsibility toward its people and citizens’ responsibilities toward their government. Tables and original photographs illustrate this part of the text.

This fascinating study of Mongolia – feudal until it became the first country to follow Russia into communism and now struggling with post-socialist democratization – is a model for investigating how everyday people around the world actually think about and implement democracy on their own terms.

Paula L. W. Sabloff is a professor at the Santa Fe Institute. She is a political anthropologist who has conducted research in Mexico, the United States, and Mongolia. She has taught at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pennsylvania. She curated the exhibition “Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan” at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution). She is editor of several books including Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan (2001), Mapping Mongolia (2011), and Higher Education in the Post-Communist World (1998). She is currently applying network theory to Mongolian and Mexican databases.

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