Political Culture of Democracy from Genghis Khan to Today
|Mongolians today value democratic
government. In fact, for a country that endured 70 years of Communist
rule, they took to democracy very fast. Why would this be so? Was
it the influence of Western culture at the end of the 1980s? Was it
Mongolians' own nomadic life, where nomads were free to come and go
even when the government and class system were hierarchical? Or was
it the Mongolian tradition of valuing democratic principles handed
down to them by Genghis Khan? It was probably a combination of these
Khan established these democratic principles 9 years before King
John signed the Magna Carta..."
|What is most
surprising to people in the West is the idea that Genghis Khan is
associated with democratic principles at all. Yet the Mongolian people
today, having learned his story from their grandparents, know that
he codified the four basic principles that make a country a democracy:
participatory government, rule by law, equality under the law, and
personal freedoms. What is even more surprising is that Genghis Khan
established these democratic principles 9 years before King John signed
the Magna Carta, the document that initiated British (and therefore
Below is a list of Genghis Khan's democratic principles. These principles
- and their explanation - are described in detail in chapter four
of Paula L.W. Sabloff, ed. Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis
Genghis Khan's Democratic Principles
Conditions for democracy:
· Participatory government (Wise Men's Council, Great Assembly)
· Rule by law (The Great Yasa)
· Equality of citizens:
- Meritocracy (the army, Wise Men's Council, Great Assembly)
- Respect for women (The Secret History of the Mongols)
· Personal freedoms (of religion, speech)
interviewing a herder woman, Tuv Aimag, 1998.
|In the summer of 1998, voting-age
Mongolians were interviewed about their ideas of democracy and Genghis
Khan as part of a research project. 867 people were interviewed in
Hovd and Ulaanbaatar and the surrounding countryside. Citizens from
all walks of life were included: people of different genders, ages,
education levels, occupations, etc.*
|The interviewed Mongolian citizens
were asked to 'Please list the characteristics that make a country
a democracy.' Their list of answers is not very different from that
made by American students, as seen in the second column of the table
|Mongolians and American students'
ideas on democracy are similar (answers are ranked from most to least
Mongolians democracy means:
students democracy means:
Personal freedoms (of speech, religion, movement, demonstrations,
pluralism, etc.) are guaranteed.
|2. A multi-party
system drives the democratic election process and representative
||Rule by law
prevails through the Constitution; the laws and courts are
|3. Human rights
system drives the democratic election process.
A free-market economy, including open competition and privatization,
economy organizes the economy.
|5. Rule by law
prevails; government, laws, and courts are just/fair.
||The system of
government is controlled through checks and balances.
|6. Freedom of
the media ("press") is guaranteed.
(openness in government and no government corruption) prevails.
of/by the people.
|8. All are equal
under the law and enjoy equal rights.
ancient Greece, Rome.
|9. Humane, democratic
||All are equal
under the law; equal rights are guaranteed.
|867 Mongolian citizens (Hovd,
Ulaanbaatar and surrounding countryside) interviewed in the summer
|20 undergraduates and graduates
at the University of Pittsburgh, 1994. All are American citizens born
in the U.S.
define a democratic nation in ways recognizable to us."
|The basic Western democratic
principles are clearly seen on the Mongolian list. We can conclude
from this that Mongolians define a democratic nation in ways recognizable
to us. This is all the more interesting because Mongolians had been
taught an entirely different definition of democracy when they were
part of the Communist bloc. Communist democracy is economic
equality. People are not equal unless they are equal economically
- their dignity comes from sharing what they have. This definition
can be found right in Karl Marx' Communist Manifesto.*
And it was used in the Soviet nations, especially in the 1980s when
people behind the Iron Curtain heard more and more about democracy
in the West and wanted that kind of government also.
|Western democracy, on the other
hand, stresses political equality. To us, democracy means that all
people are equal under the law; they participate in their own governance
and take responsibility as citizens for how laws are made and enforced.
|The Mongolians' list of democratic
characteristics gives strong indication that they have switched to
the Western definition of democracy within eight years of gaining
freedom from Soviet control. There is nothing on the Mongolian list
that suggests economic equality - equal distribution of goods - is
a characteristic of democracy.