The Spirit of Democracy (2008)

The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies throughout the World
: Larry Diamond
Publisher: Times Books (New York)
pp 449

Available from:

Larry Diamond on NBC's Meet the PressIn his new book,
Spirit of Democracy, Professor Larry Diamond surveys the world wide effort to promote democracy. A senior fellow at Stanford University, Professor Diamond is a reknowned observer of global democracy as well as the co-editor of the
Journal of Democracy.

He was an advisor to US President George W Bush in Iraq which led him to author an earlier book
Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq.

He was in Singapore last year to deliver a lecture at the Institute of Policy Studies and and he met Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew during his visit.

He presented this book to Ms Chee Siok Chin when the two met in Kyiv, Ukraine last week at the World Democracy Movement Assembly.

The Spirit of Democracy devotes one chapter to Asia in which Dr Diamond talks at length about Singapore. Below is an excerpt from Chapter 10:
The Asian Exception?


Three outspoken opposition politicians, J. B. Jeyaretnam, Tang Liang Hong, and Chee Soon Juan, have been sued into bankruptcy by PAP elites who claimed defamation for criticisms of Singapore’s government and of them personally. Bankrupt individuals are not allowed to sit in parliament; this force Jeyaretnam to surrender his seat and Chee to relinquish future runs for office. They can also be barred from traveling internationally, as Chee was i n 2006 when he tried to attend the World Movement for Democracy conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Tang felt compelled to go into exile after the 1997 elections, when he faced numerous defamation suits from PAP ministers and MPs after he called them liars for labeling him as dangerous, anti0-Christian, and a Chinese chauvinist.

Yet Chee – a neuropsychologist who career was ended in his early thirties when the regime engineered his dismissal from National Singapore University – continues undaunted. With each arrest for speaking in public without a permit or handing out a party newspaper, her serves longer sentences, in worse conditions, following judicial proceedings that are (as he describes them) ever more peremptory and biased. “I am already bankrupt,” he told me in a bare walk-up apartment that serves as his party headquarters. “Idon’t know how they can make me more bankrupt. Every time they move against me, it makes me more determined.” Like few other critics, Chee has gotten under Lee’s skin. An astute observer of Singapore explained that Chee “is the type of person they would have recruited. He is articulate and focuses on issues they are vulnerable on, like income disparities.” In addition, Chee directly challenges the government’s prize image of honesty and openness, urging Singaporeans to protest the Orwellian limits on public assembly and speech.

For Lee Kuan Yew, who won massive defamation suits against both Chee and Jeyaretnam, this is too much. “He is an opportunist. He is mad,” the minister mentor told me in 2006. “If he is mad,” I asked, “why bother with him?” Because, Lee said, “this is not the kind of opposition we want to encourage.” But it became clear during our conversation that there was something more at issue – the way Chee repeatedly attacked the regime’s ethics on managing public funds. Chee had compared the regime to the National Kidney Foundation, a charity that got embroiled in a 2005 scandal for its lack of transparency and misuse of donated funds. Mentioning the allegations, Lee said, with visible agitation, “He is a liar…We guard our reputation as incorruptible people jealously. What is wrong with that?” Lee fondly recalled the days, after the PAP defeated the Right and the Communists in the mid-1960s, when “we got an opposition that behaved.” He continued, “You behave like a first-world opposition and we will treat you like that. You try to destroy the system, and we will respond in kind.”

Prof Larry Diamond’s lecture at Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies:
The Whole World Can Become Democratic, Even Singapore! (12 Sept 2006)

More about this book…

In his new book, The Spirit of Democracy, Professor Larry Diamond intensely scrutinizes the global effort on democracy promotion. By both exploring the sources of progress as well as the locations and reasons for failure, Diamond presents a comprehensive assessment that is realistic but also hopeful. Diamond presents his arguments through a world of examples, citing the negative Putin’s Russia and Musharraf’s Pakistan; the unsuccessful politically but nevertheless exemplary Toledo’s Peru; and even the more difficult places like Nepal, Iran, and Thailand.

By comparing the progress of today with that of the mid 1970s, when he was a Vietnam War protester, Diamond expresses hope. At that time, Diamond notes, barely a quarter of all independent states were using free and fair elections. But times have changed since then: “by the mid-1990s,” he writes, “it had become clear to me, as it had to many of my colleagues involved in the global struggle for democracy, that if some three-fifths of the world’s states, many of them poor and non-Western, could become democracies, there was no intrinsic reason why the rest of the world could not do as well.”

Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, notes that “no one has thought harder or more broadly about the past and future of democracy than Larry Diamond. A passionate treatment, infused with optimism and eminently readable, The Spirit of Democracy is a must for anyone who cares about the toughest challenge of balancing national values and national interests.”

Book Review by The New York Times: Democratic Vistas
Other Reviews:

Read also:
The Democratic Rollback: The Resurgence of the Predatory State

by Larry Diamond (Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 2008)

Summary: After decades of historic gains, the world has slipped into a democratic recession. Predatory states are on the rise, threatening both nascent and established democracies throughout the world. But this trend can be reversed with the development of good governance and strict accountability and the help of conditional aid from the West.

Larry Diamond is a Senior Fellow at the
Hoover Institution and Co-Editor of the
Journal of Democracy. For more information about this book, please go to
Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (SDDRL) at:

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