Thursday 9 July 2015

Can Orthodox or Muslim countries be modern liberal democracies and successful economies?


I always thought Greece should not have been admitted to the EEC and made Romanians cross by saying so back in the late 1990s. It seems I was right.

Marx of course got it exactly wrong. Culture determines economics, not the other way around. And culture is determined by religion much more than anything else plus climate, history – genetics? We shall see if extending the EU to cover Orthodox countries will prove a good idea.

Greece is an agricultural country given an artificially high standard of living by the Americans and then the EEC and EU for geo-political reasons. Nothing wrong and everything right with agricultural, conservative countries but things are arranged in such countries by connections and families and clans, unlike in atomistic Protestant societies like the UK and USA. Plus you have the Byzantine tradition of the powerful autocratic state.

Can Orthodox or Muslim countries be modern liberal democracies and successful economies?

It’s simply a question, but a very good one. Some people mention Malaysia and Indonesia but it's early days with those two as far as democracy are concerned and it's the Chinese who drive the Malaysian economic miracle. Where else? Turkey was for long secular and undemocratic - now it may be becoming Islamist.

Obviously 'human rights' - some of which I love and some I don't - are a product of enlightenment which is a product of western Christianity, Protestant and Catholic.

This morning a friend who's a high up in EBRD told me his friends in the negotiations with the Greeks thought the Greeks would probably leave the euro.

Is this best for everyone? I suspect so but really I don't know and these matters are above me. This evening it seems like the Americans and French will force Germans to cave in.

Russia: we are not enjoying the spectacle of the Greek crisis.

This headline reminds me of Lord Whitelaw saying: 

We must not gloat. It would be wrong to gloat. But quite frankly I am gloating like hell.

Meanwhile a bigger problem might well be the stock market crash in China and certainly a very much bigger problem yet is the vast influx of asylum seekers rushing into Greece and Italy To this the solution, unfortunately, is not to admit any into Europe. But the EU does nothing.


  1. Great post Paul ! I Wonder whether any Ortodox society could attempt to bust your framework and replicate the Japoneze or South Korean miracles. I would like to believe it is Romania.

  2. I did a whole degree module on this.
    There are very good reasons why Arab/Muslim democracies struggle to exist: Turkey is the strongest contender (and is rapidly losing its democratic credentials): others are hampered by rentier economies, failure to modernise, nationalism (a response to the colonialism of the west) and lack of leadership. Iran, funnily enough, is the next best model. Strong country, elected government (setting aside the mullahs), totally anti-western model of government, however much the west dislikes it, it works. Others include Malaysia and Indonesia, but both beset by problems and increasing radicalisation - and also problems arising from their colonial histories. it isn't a fair comparison, basically: and therefore the question is moot.

  3. Indonesia is a brutal & violent empire though. It would be an increase in human virtue & benefit if the Dutch took it over again, however impossible that might be in practice.
    Mark Griffith

  4. First I am not sure I understand your point about why Romanians were cross when you said that Greece should not be part of the EEC? Please explain.

    Over time though everything is relative. I viewed Spain, Italy and Greece as the second class citizens of the original EEC pact. Interestingly all of these countries with Portugal suffered in the recent economic crisis. I agree with you that Greece should not have been part of the EEC and that culture in this example does have a part to play in the way the economy is run. Part of that culture is the mental attitude and approach to what is gained and how it is obtained. The EEC/EU has become a means of many of the weaker countries accepting easily obtainable handouts without any price to pay. I was reading an article recently by a Greek criticising her own countrymen's poor work ethic. Despite some dips in the Spanish and Italian economic situation they have for the most part begun to recover.

    However now these countries almost seem like the elite when the Romanians and Bulgarians have become part of the "community". If the strong European economies had little to gain from the aforementioned countries, they have even less to gain from East European ones. The debacle that has happened in Greece will be a drop in the ocean compared to how the 2004 and 2007 members will drain the union. Watch this space...

    Secondly, I strongly disagree that culture is determined by religion. I could write a whole thesis on this from experience and knowledge but suffice to say my culture is thoroughly British, even though I was brought up a Muslim. This does not mean that every Muslim brought up in the UK has a British culture - hence the complexity of these two factors and the inaccuracy in linking them. Take India for example, a country of 1.25 billion people with a culture that joins many but with beliefs and religion that can be very divisive.

    I do agree though (and perhaps my example already proves this) that climate, history and perhaps genetics do have a part to play in one's culture.

    Finally, I would also say that your question, albeit a very good one, tries to ask too much in one go. A liberal democracy and a successful economy are two very different things and again should not be linked together.
    I am currently living in Abu Dhabi and I would say this is a very successful economy, but a liberal democracy? No, I don't think so.

  5. Good article, I am from the Republic of Macedonia, Greece's northern neighbour, where an orthodox majority and muslim minority happily coexist (although this coexistance is mostly a pragmatic reaction to circumstances) and this question whether we can have liberal democracy AND a strong economy permeates our daily lives. It is a difficult, but pivotal question.

    1. Please say more. I imagine in Bosnia, Albania and Macedonia Muslims make good democrats - though possibly not very good Muslims in the sense that they are very secular.

  6. Several funny things crossed my mind readings Paul’s article:
    - The Greek explorer and geographer Pytheas was the first who wrote about Britannia in the 4th century BC. Pytheas referred to Prettanike or Brettaniai, a group of islands off the coast of North-Western Europe. I guess when he asked himself about those islands being able to become a place for democracy he concluded that democracy, being a Greek concept, could only be adopted by people believing in Zeus;
    - In Zimbabwe 63% of population is protestant and 17% is catholic, while in Nicaragua 59% of the population is Catholic and 22% is Protestant; I can clearly see the enlightenment produced by western Christianity, Protestant and Catholic, in the economies and political systems of those two countries (if you don’t like the examples, just try other countries from Latin America or non-Muslim Africa).
    - Couple of months ago I read an article in The Telegraph saying “Christianity on course to be minority religion in UK”; I guess this will mean the end of democracy in UK;
    - The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights had 9 drafters; one of them was Charles Malik, a Greek Orthodox Christian from Lebanon and another was Alexander Bogomolov from USSR; just saying…
    - Before the WW2 Romania, an Orthodox country, was a democracy and it had a successful economy; it became a totalitarian communist country after the leaders of the biggest democracies of that moment, US and UK, placed it under USSR’s influence.

  7. This thesis requires a thorough answer (I wish I had more time at my disposal) and many of the previous commenters have taken a good swing at several of the issues.
    However, it is missing an essential clue to unravelling what the real question is: do we really need to entre the pseudo dilemma of neoliberalist, Chicago school economics vs democracy? Or rather is western civilisation and neoliberal economic culture willing to trade systemic stability and prosperity with true freedom and democracy?
    The reason being that actually these two (neoliberalism and democracy) are, I am afraid, profoundly mutually exclusive.
    How paradoxical is it that we should be wondering that where democracy was originally founded, Greece, we now need to be considering whether "new-world" economics can be compatible? If neoliberalist economics is so freedom friendly and so very democratic why was there such a row over having a referendum in Greece two weeks ago then? What's the big deal? Or have we already forgotten what the BBC had as a headline four years ago while contemplating a referendum in Greece then titled "Beware of Greeks baring votes!"
    In addition, and despite being thankful for the flaw (as it is profoundly revealing of the way that western culture vulgarly groups otherness), how can we ever place Islam and Orthodox Christianity in the same contemplating sphere, while also furthermore disassociating modern social engineering tactics from modern economies?
    Nowadays, once the media have been tamed they are then unleashed to achieve their social reconditioning goals; culture can be manoeuvred and westernised to achieve the goals of the neoliberal system. Today the story goes: econonic target, social engineering through media, culture reconditioning and then economic impact.
    But what happens when common people are smarter than the media social engineers?
    we start having conversations like these...