Modernization Theory

As an American citizen who has lived through the Bush administration’s failed attempt to affectively intervene and establish democracy in the Middle East, it was initially hard to grasp Inglehart and Welzel’s argument, “modernization theory implies that the United States should welcome and encourage economic development around the world”(Inglehart and Welzel, 15). However, after fully reviewing their piece, Development and Democracy: What We Know about Modernization Today, I now understand that the reason the Bush administration failed to implement democracy in Iran was because they neglected to realize that “democracy is likely to emerge and survive only when certain social and cultural conditions are in place” and got involved  “without first establishing internal security and overlooked cultural conditions that endangered the effort” (Inglehart and Welzel, 1). I now understand that democratization isn’t as swift or strait forward as one who grew up in a democratic high-income nation would believe, since “the value systems of high-income countries differ dramatically”(Inglehart and Welzel, 7) than those of lower-income nations, such as Iran.

So one may ask, is it possible to implement democracy in a traditional low-income society with traditional gender roles and strong religious affiliation such as Iran? The answer: present day modernization theory, which implies that “economic and technological development brings a coherent set of social and political changes” (Inglehart and Welzel, 6). With the empirical example of Iran, in 2008, “the United States Congress appropriated $60 million for programs to promote democracy, the rule of law and governance in Iran” (Stephen J. Hadley). If the U.S. had understood that in such a deeply historic and religious nation such as Iran, simply putting money into their government will not fortify democracy. Rather, Inglehart and Welzel would argue that putting emphasis on social issues and rights such as the “value on individual freedom and self-expression” will set a stable foundation for the insurgence of democracy (Inglehart and Welzel, 7). Certainly, “democracy is unlikely to survive in a society torn by distrust and intolerance”(Inglehart and Welzel, 14), however, if modernization theory is fundamentally applied, then “in the long run”, democratization is more likely to arise. If applied, “once set in motion, it tends to penetrate all aspects of life, bringing occupational specialization, urbanization, rising educational levels, rising life expectancy, and rapid economic growth” (Inglehart and Welzel, 1).

Although modernization theory is a very complex set of ideas with long term benefits, if applied correctly I believe it would increase democratization significantly and resume the international hold that has be placed on democratic growth over the last decade.

Works Cited:

2009. Inglehart, Ronald and Welzel, Christian. “Development and Democracy: What We Know about Modernization Today”.Foreign Affairs.


5 thoughts on “Modernization Theory

  1. Your example of Iran presents an interesting point. As a general concept I think it makes more sense, since the country is still subject to theocratic rule and social upheaval may indeed come about as a result of continued industrialization efforts by the Iranian government. More to the point, Inglehart and Welzel do seem to support your statement with empirical evidence. However, I would suggest the counter argument that continued industrialization in an oil rich country such as Iran may actually lead to increased popularity for the current regime. Instead of social changes being directly linked to industrialization, I would make the case that the citizens of Iran would be more accepting than they were previously of their leaders dogma, on the condition that the general quality of life seen by Iranian citizens improves dramatically as a result. This is substantiated by the Iran’s continued attempts to build power plants, which could absolutely improve the lives of citizens. I would like to see how the next few years play out, as they construct these power grids.

  2. While you say that implemented democracy only works if citizens of that nation fully particpate in that demoractic movement, doest this movement only come naturally or is it coming through the force of the group pressing for democracy in that region?

  3. Low level economic development does not influence society wide changes all that much, since it focuses on minimum wage jobs. Minimum wage increases reduces job opportunities. It is too low for breadwinners and too high for youngsters and students wanting to make a few bucks, apprentices and those who want to get a foot in or obtain job experience. Job creation and focused educational help would help breadwinners, and thus the general society, more.

    So, why don’t the policies from the past 50 years do a better job? Because they are “make-you-feel-good” projects, not endeavors designed to solve the problem. An analogy would be if we gave shoes to a man about to drown when what he really needs is a lifeline.

  4. I totally agree with the fact that democracy is not meant to work for every nation. Democracy is a western ideal that does not have the same cultural values as the countries that it is being forced upon. For instance, although Iran has been colonized and influenced by several European countries democracy still does not apply to Iran. It must also be recognized the democracy is religiously biased, particularly towards Christianity. Being that Iran is a predominantly Muslim country democracy is not the best method for the country’s government. Instead I believe that United States should stop spending their money abroad to spread democracy and come to the realization that democracy can not be applicable in all situations.

  5. However, given that historically the set form of rule in Middle East was extremely hierarchical, with a multiple cast systems within larger groups. As this form of governemnt had been in place for decades, it can be easily assumed that democracy to foreign eyes would be antithetical to their own beliefs. Not to mention that modernization theory is quite racist in its contotation of condescension to so -called ¨primitive¨ culture, a thought commonly associated with the colonial period of Europe

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