About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Learning from Liberia?

OK, just for the sake of full disclosure, I was in fact born in Monrovia, Liberia. But my parents left that country when I was a few months old, so I doubt that said accident of birth colors the present post. Last week Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made history when she became the first woman to win a presidential election in Africa. Africa, a continent where democracies are difficult to get started and even more so to maintain (Liberia being a particularly good example); and yet, they elected a (black, obviously) woman for president. The United States, on the other hand, despite being the self-described best democracy in the world, hasn't even had a woman as vice-president!

Indeed, at the moment the possibility of a woman winning the US presidency is so remote that it is being portrayed only on television, as fiction, in the series Commander in Chief. Interestingly, the main character in the series becomes president by accident, because of the untimely death of the elected president. Not even ABC can conceive of something like this happening naturally, as a result of a straightforward electoral win (yes, I do realize that the plot is more dramatic this way, but still...).

Back to Liberia. Another thing we can learn from the recent elections there is that Johnson-Sirleaf (an academic intellectual!) won by defeating none other than George Weah! George who? Weah is an international soccer star, which means a lot to most people outside the US. It's like electing, hmm, Ronald Regan, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, you know, putting somebody in office because he is famous rather than, say, qualified?

Who would have thought just a few month ago that the oldest continuous democracy in the world could learn a thing or two from the most recent democracy to appear on the planet.


  1. While I agree with your overall point, I'm not sure that electing a woman is necessarily indicative of a "best democracy".

    It is indicative of a fair an equal society, which we should be striving for.

    But the term democracy implies the will of the majority is followed.

    The fact that the majority of Americans (including women) would not vote for a woman is not necessarily the fault of the democracy aspect -- its just indicative of our social maturity.

    In other words, a given country could have the best system ever created, but if the people using the system are not fully enlightened, the results will not reach the maximum potential that the system would otherwise allow.

    Yes, you could construe the term democracy to mean that there are no arbitrary class distinctions or privileges - which is what you may have meant. Either way, I'm just nit picking to give you a hard time :)

  2. For those curious I found this list of Women leaders throughout history:

    Most were monarchs, which obviously were not elected.

    The total number of women leaders ever elected is still fairly low.

  3. Alan,

    yes, you are correct, and yes I did mean to construe the term in the broad sense you suggest at the end. And no apologies necessary for giving me a hard time... :)

  4. Here's a question.

    Does anyone but me think that the idea of Hillary Clinton running for president in 2008 is a fantasy concocted by the Right?

    Not that I have a problem with Mrs. Clinton, but I don't really hear alot of left wingers saying, "Hey, I think she would be a great president," The ONLY people I've heard suggest it are FOX News types.

    Am I wrong?

    (Just a question. I'm still very busy, but it's friday and I'm engaging in one of my favorite passtimes. Do not expect a reply.)

    No One You Know (in case you did't get the joke.)

  5. The election is being investigated. No winner has been declared yet. The woman ahead has close connection the Government of Nigeria. She was in Nigeria visiting the president a week before the election. Nigeria has the most troops in Liberia, as well as the Secret Service protecting her. The other candidate has money and private security, he is an outsider that has no relation to the regional powers. He is likely to be tough on Taylor who is in Nigeria right now. Thus the election was never his, no matter what the Liberian people wanted. The Nigerian Government will be in control of Liberia if she wins, it may give them extra support for their bid to get a permanent UN Security Council seat.

  6. Hi Anonymous - five years on and taking a shot that somehow, someway you may get this and be able to respond to me.

    Your theory is right on and wondering if you wouldn't mind commenting further in private...I am finishing a documentary on that election and your insight seems prescient.

  7. oh and my contact email is cjcarnel@gmail.com. Would greatly appreciating your theories on this election that no doubt was an inside job.


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