Democracy Is a Means of Addressing Problems, Not an End in Itself

Regarding the thoughtful and thought-provoking opinion-page article Democratic' Unraveling in the Third World," July 24: I disagree with the author's characterization of democracy and the democratic process - what he calls "the word." While the word is increasingly used in today's world, it is not a singular term. Democracy is instead a dynamic and descriptive term. It characterizes the movement of societies toward opening their government to competitive political systems, dissenting voices, and civic participation in the decisionmaking process. I agree with the author that this assessment should not be limited to "simple-minded preoccupation with electoral forms." Such superficial examinations ignore nonpolitical efforts to sustain a pluralistic culture. Still, electoral forms provide the mechanisms through which power can be peacefully transferred and are an important step in a more open society. Democracy should be viewed not as an end but as a means toward addressing problems in society. Though movement toward more open political systems may initially release pent-up energies of ethnic and tribal rivalry, democratic governance ultimately provides the institutional mechanisms through which to channel those energies into peaceful, constructive political debate. We must resist the tendency to view democratic movements as a threat to stability. We should instead view them as the means toward resolving pressing problems of human existence: the lack of human dignity, tolerance, and social justice in the world. J. Brian Atwood, Washington

Last year, while I was in a seminar dealing with issues of US military power, it seemed to me that the concept of "nation-state" was becoming an anachronism; yet there was no evidence that this change was surfacing in debates on US foreign policy. This article is the first to express some practical vision of the subject. Pressures within third-world societies are dissolving the traditional sovereign viewpoint. I would suggest that this is taking place even within North America. The United States melting pot, into which many races, creeds, and religions are thrown, appears to be losing its ability to melt. Our sovereign nation-state is being challenged from within by the rise of ethnic groups who want separate identities. Is this a challenge to our time-honored concepts of a republic based on equality? I think not. We have inherited a continuance of what really built our nation-state in the first place: an ability to provide freedom of expression and a demand for tolerance toward other ethnic groups. This is the reality of our nation-state which we must not forsake. R.S. Reynolds, San Jose, Calif.

This otherwise marvelous article contains one flaw. For anyone living or working in Latin America, it is extremely jarring to read the term "American" used to refer only to the United States. Latin Americans are themselves guilty in this regard. It is especially pathetic to see ads promoting their "American" products which are clearly from the United States. If a US product is better than a local one, fine, by all means say so. But it is sad to see these other Americans engaged in this misnoming. Dorothy Barnhouse, Managua

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