Posted by: hobbesonafob | August 18, 2009

This is either a bad comparison or something worth making note of: Local Politics of Afghanistan and Alabama…yeah I’m going there.

So apparently it is difficult to blog while working and finishing up two full credits  (French and Economics). I’m sure things will slow down once school starts up again, and I begin my M.A. program…

As of now, I’m thought experimenting with democratic state-building. This is partly due to the coming elections in Afghanistan and my general interest that tends to “mission creep” into all sorts of areas.

Here is the point I would like to make in this post (I think): for a healthy democracy to work well in practice, a sense of individualism needs to exist. Not only does this individualism need to exist, but one must be able to act upon his or her individualism. In other words, I can express my own individualism and act upon my own interests without being intimidated, threatened or killed.

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article on the New Yorker’s website ( highlights the lack of individualism in Alabama during the 1950s:

The Alabama of Folsom—and Lee—was marked by a profound localism. Political scientists call it the “friends and neighbors” effect. “Alabama voters rarely identified with candidates on the basis of issues,” George Sims writes in his biography of Folsom, “The Little Man’s Best Friend.” “Instead, they tended to give greatest support to the candidate whose home was nearest their own.” Alabama was made up of “island communities,” each dominated by a small clique of power brokers, known as a “courthouse ring.” There were no Republicans to speak of in the Alabama of that era, only Democrats. Politics was not ideological. It was personal.

The idea that primary loyalties were confounding the ability of the individual to vote independently is also apparent in Olivier Roy’s article  “Development and Political Legitimacy: The Cases of Iraq and Afghanistan” (Conflict, Security & Development, 4:2 August 2004) where he describes the “Afghan identity”:

This Afghan identity is based on a common political culture, which could be summarised as follows. ‘Real’ political life is played out at the local level and primary loyalty lies with a ‘solidarity group’, whatever its sociological basis. This function can be fulfilled by any community, clan, tribe or village composed of an extended network of people who tend to consider themselves as protected by this group affiliation and able to build on it for whatever purpose (business relations, political constituency, patronage and clientelism, and also, during the war-armed resistance (p. 173).

I think what is highlighted in both quotes, is the idea that identities play a strong role in politics. Now, if we accept the idea that some cultures are more prone to individualism and other cultures are more prone to collectivism (corporate cultures in different countries have been widely known to exhibit these differences), ultimately, for a strong democracy to work, there must be a strong sense of individualism. If this individualism is lacking, then does it follow that for democratic state-building operations to succeed in a collective culture, a culture change must occur?

But, what about political parties? Are they not a form of allegiance towards a “solidarity group” that individuals can participate through? I think the difference, is that maybe one form of solidarity group (e.g. primary loyalties to a clan) has less individualism than a political party in a democracy. I would argue that the big difference between political parties and “local level identity politics” is that I can shred up my Socialist Medicine United Party of Canada membership without facing any coercive actions against myself and my interests. However, if I were part of a community that would ostracize me if I were to vote according to my individualistic interests, the consequences would be much higher.

Simply put, politcal parties (in theory) should be easy enough to walk away from without experiencing coercive acts.

I’ll revise my last statement that not only democratic state-building must seek to change a given culture, but, it must also eliminate groups (CNAs and CCNAs) that may coerce individuals. I believe these groups are usually prosecuted according to the law and/or constitution of a given state.

I think this follows…



  1. I’m not sure if individualism is a pre-requisite for democracy (maybe it is)… But, I definitely think that as time goes by it becomes a symptom of a healthy democracy.

    I know next to nothing about China… but I imagine the popular old adage from that state, “the nail that sticks up gets hit with the hammer” is slowly diminishing away.

    On a side, I saw that New Yorker article but was just not interested enough in Alabama politics to read through the 10 or so pages.

  2. “On a side, I saw that New Yorker article but was just not interested enough in Alabama politics to read through the 10 or so pages.”

    Yeah, Gladwell writes on some pretty obscure topics (one that comes to mind is the history of the shopping mall). Too obscure for Jeopardy! contestants, but interesting nonetheless.

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