Why did liberal democracies flourish in Europe and North America earlier than on other continents?

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In a sense, liberal democracies began to develop in places outside of the West in response to developments in the West. Some might see the adoption of Western government as a means of adapting to the demands of modernity, believing...

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There are many different ways of looking at this question.

In a sense, liberal democracies began to develop in places outside of the West in response to developments in the West. Some might see the adoption of Western government as a means of adapting to the demands of modernity, believing modern development to be a necessary, progressive, and/or predetermined outcome. The problem with this perspective is that Europe itself played a direct role in propagating the notion that its form or forms of government were superior to others. As inheritors of this idea, we as modern people tend to take for granted that liberal democracy is a necessary and even preordained outcome, but were countries outside the West catching up to adapt or were they buying into the notion that they must adapt under the influence of the political notions propagated by the West? Modernity in the West came with an explosion in agricultural production, urbanization, large-scale industry, military might, and ultimately imperialism, as well as a virtual monopoly on the propagation of information. To what extent is "liberal democracy" an objective term and to what extent is it molded to the political needs and self-perceptions of Western countries that get (or got) to define it? Selective application of the term can also be used to dominate or get involved in the affairs of weaker countries. This power dynamic is important to consider.

If we provide a fixed definition of liberal democracy as a republican form of government, with an explicit emphasis on individual rights and the rule of law, we could begin to explain why it first developed in the West. The most direct answer is that it emerged from the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700s. That is when political thinkers articulated the notions that undergird the liberal democracies of today. Without the Enlightenment, the American Revolution and French Revolution could not have taken place, at least in the form that they did. You could then trace the question back further and ask why the Enlightenment occurred in Europe. The origins of the Enlightenment might be found in a complex of social, economic, and cultural factors going back to the Renaissance. Among them, historians often emphasize humanism, empiricism, and secularism. The links below should help you delve a little further into some of the issues; however, I'd also recommend picking up an accessible intellectual history book, like Richard Tarnas's The Passion of the Western Mind.

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Unlike India during the Mughal Empire or China during the Ming Dynasty, the collapse of the Roman Empire and the relatively primitive state of the Germanic tribes left Europe decentralized and without absolute authority. Instead, during the era of feudalism in Europe, landlords operated in a relatively independent way under sovereigns who did not have much power. 

While monarchs exercised a stranglehold on people in the rest of the world, the propertied elite of Europe had great power and began to demand rights from their monarchs. The aristocracy also had representative bodies, such as parliaments, to help them curb the power of monarchs, and they built on a foundation of liberty from Roman law.

It was what the author refers to as "the conflict between the aristocracy and monarchy" (page 38) in Europe, particularly in England, that gave rise to democracy. For example, in 1215, English nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, which not only guaranteed rights for nobles, but also granted freedoms to towns and to churches. The Magna Carta was the first limitation on kingly power in Europe, and, as enforced by the judicial system in England, it helped give rise to democracies in England and North America that developed much earlier than democracies did in other continents. 

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