Which comes first? Democracy, rule of law, development or a strong State? - A question for Ukraine

Which comes first?  Democracy, rule of law, development/modernisation or a strong State when creating/rebuilding a nation?

Isn’t that a good question?

Given all are somewhat shaky in Ukraine in comparison to most other nations in Europe, which is the priority for the State and is it the same priority for society?  Not necessarily the same answer it has to be said.

Now I know that upon reading the question many of you readers will have chosen one of the four possibilities listed and can put up a reasonable ans solid argument as to why it should take priority as the foundation for the rest.  But why did you choose whichever one you chose?  Is it based on logic, or culture or history?  Maybe just a gut feeling?

Is there a right formula or does it matter in which order priority is given?  Are they all necessary for a happy society anyway?

If I look back at the British history, rule of law would seem to be the foundation.  When the Normans came across the channel, promptly putting an arrow in the eye of King Harold and set about ruling southern England, they brought with them words and practices such as “jury”, “justice”, “judge” and “evidence”.  Mon dieu!

A strong Franco/Anglo State followed and several hundred years later after kicking the French back across the Channel,  (mon dieu nouvaeu!), a rather undemocratic, robust parliament was formed by the elite in essence to try and prevent the King treating England as his Kingdom (which it was) and doing just how he pleased (which he did).

Eventually we do get to a more democratic parliament, a more subdued monarchy and thus we have rule of law, democracy (unless you are a woman), and a strong State.

Development/modernisation is a more difficult concept as it can occur slowly and time makes it almost invisible, or it can happen swiftly as it did with the industrial revolution.  To keep things easy, we will identify development/modernisation with the industrial revolution rather than the UK’s globe-trotting empire building  and development by assimilation.  (After all Ukraine is unlikely to go for global dominance and empire building so there could be no comparisons.)

So, in a matter of (only) 900 years or so, the UK goes from patriarchal gang governance to rule of law, then gets a strong domestic State free of external interference, then democracy (of sorts), followed by development/modernisation on an industrial scale and eventually a far more inclusive democracy when women eventually get the vote.

Is that the model that works most effectively?  It is the same model followed by the US when it broke away from the UK after all.   Is it the model Ukraine must follow to get where we would all like to see it go?  Well possibly - but not necessarily.

China has had a strong State for about 2 thousand years, and yet only recently it has seen rule of law and development at an incredible pace (in comparison to its history), but there is still no democracy and never has been.  Eventually there will be democracy no doubt, but it has accomplished its position in the world today without it so far, and didn’t start with rule of law like the UK.

So is this the model Ukraine should follow?

What of some other nations such as Indonesia in Asia?  It is a strong democracy (and is much overlooked as a success story in Muslim democracies).  Development/modernisation is strong, but rule of law is weak and corruption is rampant thus making the State weak as well.

However, if you chose democracy as your foundation for Ukraine, is the Indonesian (and some other nations) the right model and the UK or Chinese models are thus wrong for Ukraine?

Are we right in thinking that the middle classes, which are a vital part of any democratic society as they keep the elite from running amok and also prevent the peasants from revolting,  are always going to seek democracy?

Being middle class,  would they be just as content with the rule of law being applied with equality across society by a strong State which is continually developing/moderising and thus improving their quality of middle class life?

Would they topple a competent and benevolent ruler for a gridlocked or ineffective democracy just to have a democracy at the expense of rule of law and development/moderinisation?  Would they topple a poor democracy and insert a ruler to get effective rule of law and development/modernisation?

As I have stated, Ukraine suffers from a very weak and often ineffective rule of law that is far from being applied evenly, the State is weak and cannot control its administrative organs who regularly obstruct any reforms, development and modernisation is retarded.  Democracy is only 20 years old here and it is subjected to personal popularity contests rather than policy based voting.  In fact democracy in Ukraine is not so much a beauty contest but a contest to find the least ugly and poisonous of the hydra’s heads.  A question more of whether I would want to remove my eyes with a spoon or a fork.

It does though, have all the ingredients in my opening question in existence already, both on paper and in practice.  It just happens that none are remotely robust.

Of these weak, small saplings, which requires the most care and attention for the others to also develop in the protection of its shadow from the elements?  In nurturing the one most likely to eventually allow the others to grow under its protection, what image does that portray to those looking in?

If we look at Ukraine over the past 20 years, under Kravchuk (unsurprisingly as the nation was falling apart after the collapse of the USSR) and Kuchma there are prima facie parallels at efforts for a strong State.  Under Yushenko and Tymoshenko efforts at democracy.  All failed.  Under Yanukovych we return to the strong State foundation.

Under both strong State and democratic models corruption flourished, a second massive cash driven black economy thrived, modernisation (if you call McDonalds and shopping malls appearing in towns and cities modernisation) has arrived through FDI and the oligarchy copying small parts of town planning from the West, but thus far none have actually managed to address the core structures of society effectively.

Is the UK’s model of rule of law first and foremost, a strong State (which is almost a default position from rule of law), then democracy and modernisation/development the right model for Ukraine?  It took us 900 years to accomplish and Ukraine is only 20.  Even if it followed that blueprint it would do well to achieve sustainable, robust results across the board over 60 years. Would the Ukrainian society want to follow that model and is it patient enough to wait that long?

As democracy came a very long time after rule of law and a strong State in the UK model, certainly the EU would want democracy to be higher up this “to do list”.  But as nations such as Indonesia show, democracy without rule of law and a strong State to enforce it leaves society engulfed in rampant corruption.  In fact the Yushenko/Tymoshenko years governing Ukraine are very much a mirror to Indonesia prima facie.  The cost of corruption rocketed and the State weakened.

So, the question is not as easy as when you plucked your priority policy from it upon first reading.  There seems to be no steadfast model to follow when it comes to creating a successful State.  Many of the ingredients are the same, but all have differing prominence in different nations.

So the question again,  Which comes first?  Democracy, rule of law, development/modernisation or a strong State?

Anyone with a definitive answer that can be implemented in a timely and peaceful manner, please send it to every developing nation on the planet, the UN, World Bank, IMF, the countless think-tanks and innumerable academics.

Do mention this blog and me in the preface and acknowledgements of what will undoubtedly be a best selling book!

Meanwhile we will muddle along as always in the knowledge Ukraine will get there, or thereabouts, sometime in the future, by playing with the alchemy of democracy, rule of law, a strong State and modernisation/development. - Hopefully without blowing up the laboratory in the process or finding the mice have lost patience and are in revolt!