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Americans Must Fight for ‘Actualized’ Democracy, Author Says

December 15, 2015America is in a life-and-death fight for democracy, says Georgetown psychology professor Fathali M. Moghaddam, author of The Psychology of Democracy, published today by the American Psychological Association.

The broader picture is that there is a fight against democracy and the determination of terrorists to end open societies,” says Moghaddam, author of The Psychology of Dictatorship and editor-in-chief of Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. “ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban – these groups fear and want to end openness. They are backed directly and indirectly by a number of dictatorial regimes.”

Dictatorship, the professor argues in his latest book, is far easier to establish than democracy.

A Recent Phenomenon

“We evolved culturally and psychologically within dictatorships,” notes Moghaddam, who was born in Iran and educated from an early age in England. “Democracy is a very recent phenomenon.”

And it is a phenomenon in danger, he says.

Most countries that gain a chance of democracy through revolution devolve into dictatorship, he adds, and the countries that are likely to replace America as super powers are either dictatorships or close to dictatorships.

"There are really only two cases in which major leaders have had absolute power and given it up,” says the professor, who joined Georgetown University in 1990. “George Washington and Nelson Mandela. They voluntarily gave up power. You don’t get many of those.

Actualized Democracy

Moghaddam’s book posits that no countries – including the United States – have accomplished what he calls “actualized democracy.”

Borrowing a term from psychologist Abraham Maslow, the Georgetown professor says actualized democracy in one in which all citizens share full, informed and equal participation in decision-making.

With the disenfranchisement of significant numbers of voters, trust in government historically low, and ‘leading’ presidential candidates who have extremist, ethnocentric views, America hasn’t achieved actualized democracy, Moghaddam says.

Something to Fight For

“All critically thinking people would agree that when we look at the list of some of our presidential candidates and their debates, we must question the quality of the democracy we have,” says Moghaddam, who in 2012 won the Outstanding International Psychologist award from the American Psychological Association’s Division of International Psychology. “If the best we can do is to have this kind of a debate as a reflection of our democracy then we need to do better. And what my book is suggesting is there is a path toward a far better democracy. Psychological science can help us progress along this path.”

The book presents 10 characteristics that a pro-democracy individual should have, including believing you can be wrong, critically questioning everything, revising your opinion based on evidence and a willingness to learn from others who are different.

“We have to fundamentally reform our education system, particularly the public education system, and focus on developing citizens capable of fully engaging in a democracy,” Moghaddam suggests. “I’m hoping the book will help, particularly younger people, see that democracy is something they have to fight for.