lunes, 18 de diciembre de 2006

La importancia de la cultura en las explicaciones políticas

Que la cultura es una variable importante para explicar los fenómenos políticos, es algo indudable. Sin embargo, y acá hablo desde mis sesgos como politólogo, pienso que deberíamos intentar primero explicar los fenómenos políticos usando variables políticas, y sólo si ellas no son suficientes, recurrir a otras, como las culturales.

Ver por ejemplo el artículo siguiente, y compararlo con el anterior de T.Garton Ash. El por qué la democracia no germina en el medio oriente se puede explicar perfectamente por la desastrosa política exterior de los Estados Unidos, sin necesidad de recurrir a la variable cultural, que termina culpando a los pueblos esa región de los problemas causados por los Estados Unidos. En el mismo sentido, en América Latina no estamos mal por ser católicos, sino por cómo funcionan nuestras instituciones y nuestra política, el tipo de nuestra inserción internacional, nuestros problemas sociales, etc., etc.

Hearts, Minds and Schools

By Lawrence E. HarrisonSunday, December 17, 2006
The Washington Post

The war in Iraq has produced many casualties. One lesser-noticed one may be the death of an idea -- the idea that the culture of a nation or region can be transformed quickly by well-intentioned foreigners. The recent report of the Iraq Study Group scarcely mentions the grand goals of bringing democracy to Iraq, and instead contemplates a drawdown of U.S. combat troops. It seems that the notion of transforming the political culture of the Middle East has been drawn down as well.

"Are the people of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty?" President Bush asked in 2003. "Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? I, for one, do not believe it." As his audience applauded, he went on to criticize the "cultural condescension" of skeptics who believe that Islam and democracy don't mix.

The president was, at best, half right. In the long run, the values of freedom may be right and true for all people in all societies. But the cultural values favorable to pluralism and entrepreneurship are indispensable to building democracy and capitalist prosperity.

For the past half-century, politicians and experts in rich countries have tried to improve living standards and build democracy in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Early on, they, too, were convinced that tyranny and poverty could be defeated, that democracy and capitalism were rooted in human nature. With a few exceptions, such as South Korea and Taiwan, meaningful progress has not materialized.

Some cultures and some religions clearly do better than others in promoting democracy and prosperity. Iraq and Afghanistan show that, where culture is adverse, a blind belief in the power of freedom is a frail foundation for U.S. policy.

But culture is not destiny. The failures in Iraq and instability in Afghanistan do not prove that these or other countries are condemned to stagnation and political oppression. For politics to change, however, culture must change, too -- and that takes much more than dispatching troops, holding elections and writing constitutions.

During my 20 years (1962-82) with the U.S. Agency for International Development, I directed five missions in Central America and the Caribbean. Like other young idealists, I believed that President John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress -- a "Marshall Plan" for Latin America -- would make the region safe for democracy.

But as I encountered daily the intractability of Latin America's problems, it became clear to me that poverty and injustice were rooted in the region's values. I was learning what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan would articulate years later, after the Russian economy collapsed in the late 1990s. "I used to think that capitalism was human nature," he reflected. "But it isn't at all. It's culture." The same is true of democracy.

In the late 1970s, I worked in Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. In 1804, when Haiti became independent, it was vastly richer and more powerful than the Spanish colony to the east. But today Haiti is by far the poorest country in the hemisphere -- in 2003, its per capita income was $1,740, compared with $6,820 for the Dominican Republic, according to U.N. estimates. Adult literacy was 51 percent in Haiti, vs. 88 percent in the Dominican Republic. And while Dominicans have experienced substantial democratic continuity in the past 40 years, authoritarianism has been the norm for Haiti.

The Dominican Republic's evolution has been typical of Latin America, while Haiti's has been typical of Africa. Why the difference? The dominant religion in Haiti is voodoo, which nurtures mistrust and irrationality. Its roots are in the Dahomey region of West Africa -- what is today Benin. The levels of income, child malnutrition, child mortality, life expectancy and literacy are virtually identical today in Haiti and Benin.

Some religions and cultures do better than others at promoting personal responsibility, education, entrepreneurship and trust -- all values that shape political and economic development. When it comes to democracy, prosperity and rule of law, Protestant societies -- above all, the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden -- have generally done better than Catholic nations, particularly those of Latin America. Confucian societies such as Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and now China have produced transforming economic growth. Islamic countries, even those with oil, have not.

The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once stated: "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself."

With these words in mind, I've spent the past four years leading the Culture Matters Research Project at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, where I am a senior research fellow. The effort has involved 65 social scientists, journalists, politicians and development practitioners from 25 countries. We undertook case studies of more than two dozen countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe, several of which had experienced or were undergoing
transformations from traditional to modern societies.

Our goal was to capture the role of culture and cultural change in a society's evolution. We found that Confucian values of education, achievement and merit played a central role in the economic "miracles" in East Asia. Open economic policies and the welcoming of foreign investment triggered several transformations, including in India, Ireland and Spain. Visionary leadership was crucial in the cases of Botswana, Turkey and Quebec. In Ireland, Italy, Spain and Quebec, modernization was also accompanied by decline in the influence of the Catholic Church.

We concluded that enlightened policies can, over time, produce cultural change -- change that in turn spurs political pluralism and economic development. However, it is extremely difficult to impose such changes from outside; war is not a helpful instrument. Better tools include education that inculcates democratic and entrepreneurial values; improved child-rearing practices; religious reform; and development assistance keyed to cultural change.

The first step is to end illiteracy, which is the greatest obstacle to progressive cultural change. It impedes the human capacity to learn and perpetuates fatalism and superstition. Human progress lags most in societies in which illiteracy is highest, above all in Islamic countries and Africa. Literacy among women may be even more important than literacy among men because of the crucial role women play in child-rearing.

A second, longer-term goal is ensuring a high school education for all. Spain offers a telling example: In 1965, during the Franco dictatorship, 38 percent of the country's high school-age population was in school; in 1982, seven years after Spain's transition to democracy, it was 88 percent.

Child-rearing techniques must also be rethought. Traditional child-rearing patterns are sustained from generation to generation, yet in many countries such customs may instill values that impede progress for individuals and for society. For example, Costa Rican psychiatrist Luis Diego Herrera argues that child rearing in his country typically upholds shrewdness over honesty. "Children are taught contradictory standards of behavior," he said. "They are supposed to abide by the rules, but if they break them, the important thing is to get away with it."

Reducing the role of religion in politics and religious reform more broadly may also be crucial, particularly in the case of Islam. The groundbreaking U.N. Arab Human Development Reports stress openness to the values, ideas and institutions of the non-Islamic world, including tolerance of other religions and commitment to education and gender equality. The advocacy group Freedom House judges not one Arab country to be free, and that has much to do with a culture that nurtures authoritarianism, discourages dissent and places a lower priority on education.

Catholic ambivalence about free markets has contributed to Latin America's costly dalliances with socialism, a point stressed by Catholic writer Michael Novak. Orthodox Christianity's similar ambivalence has contributed to anti-capitalist currents in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Support of democratic capitalism by both religions, coupled with their concern about injustice, corruption and crime, could play a key role in progressive cultural change.

Finally, aid agencies and universities must take culture seriously. Because their staffs include professionals committed to cultural relativism, such institutions have largely avoided confronting cultural obstacles to progress. However, they can play an important role in support of reform-minded national leaders by integrating culture into their research, strategies and projects.

Culture does matter. But politics can change culture and enable more rapid progress, substantially transforming societies within a generation. The anguish of the U.S. adventure in Iraq, genocide and famine in Africa, and the huge flow of poor people seeking a better life in rich countries are among the vivid reminders of how difficult it is to create a more democratic, just and prosperous world. Confronting culture can make that challenge more manageable.
Lawrence E. Harrison is author of "The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It From Itself" (Oxford University Press).

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