How should we learn from American conservatism (or anything else for that matter)
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

“What can we (meaning Indians) learn from American conservatism ?”,  this is a question that is being  frequently asked and discussed by many Indian bloggers, generally belonging to what who can be called, for lack of any better term, centre right.

Now I have a problem with this question. This may seem weird considering how much I obsess over American politics. To describe my unease will be difficult, however it is simple to illustrate it.

See this is Indian democracy,



And this is American democracy



Now most of the times when above question is discussed, the answers tantamount to borrowing steering or transmission from Benz, force it into our contraption and expect contraption to work like Benz. Unfortunately this is not how machine, or for that matter democracy, work.

Democracy, put it simply, is hard. It is a complex system consisting of interdependent sub-systems and components. To make things, well, more complicated, unlike machines humans are complicated with (allegedly) free will, they have feelings, which makes any system dependant on their actions, such as democracy, difficult to design or predict.

Learning about social institutions, which ultimately democracy is as is economics, from external examples without the broader context in which they function is fraught with danger. Yet that is the mistake we have repeatedly made, first romance with socialism, and now flirting with libertarianism.

So does this mean that it is impossible to learn from outside. Far from it! But to really learn instead of focusing on the specifics and the contemporary, we have to go one level higher and investigate the factors which influenced the evolution of American democracy to its present state. Only when we have knowledge of these factors we can actually judge what will work in our context, and how exactly should we go about re-designing our institutions.

But whatever we do,  let’s not get carried away with it.