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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

With Democracy For All and Freedom for None

It would be tempting to attribute the disaster spreading across the Middle East to a brief flirtation with democracy snake oil, but for the better part of the last century the political class of the United States could talk of nothing else. Nearly every war was fought was to spread democracy, protect democracy or worship at the altar of democracy.

For much of the 20th Century it was the working assumption of the sort of men who got up to give speeches in crowded halls that it was democracy that made America special. But it is not so much that democracy made America special, as America made democracy special and workable. And that is because democracy only works when government is limited. When government power isn't limited, then democracy is just tyranny with a popular vote behind it.

In a poignant historical irony, American democracy went into a prolonged decline just as its political class was busy speechifying about the importance of exporting it abroad. Government authority was increasingly centralized and elections began to come down not to ideas, but to divided groups fighting it out in a zero sum struggle for total control of each other's lives. American democracy has been exported to Iraq. And Iraqi democracy was exported to America.

With unlimited authority vested in the government, we no longer have elections to decide policy, but to determine whether an oppressive social and cultural agenda complete with a loss of civil rights will be forced on the rest of the country. And our last election was as polarized as an Iraqi election and with a similar outcome.

Democracy was never the solution for the Middle East; a region that is properly multicultural in the sense of being a collection of quarreling tribes, religious factions and ethnic groups. And all that democracy accomplished was to give the majority another tool for oppressing the minority. Instead of bloody revolts leading to dictatorships, there were bloody revolts leading to elections which then led to dictatorships. And only a fool or Thomas Friedman would consider the addition of this extra step to be any kind of improvement.

A multicultural society does not invalidate government by popular vote unless that society is also so split along tribal lines that elections are decided based on the rate at which races and religious groups make up that society. When demographics become valid predictors of political outcomes, then democracy becomes theocracy and ethnocracy. And the only alternative is to resort to reserved political offices for different groups in Beirut style.

There are two elements that make democracy livable. Limited government and national character. And the former depends on the latter. Dispense with the national character and you lose the limited government and democracy becomes a slow descent into tyranny, accompanied by the spectacle of hollow elections.

The Muslim world lacked either limited government or national character and so the democracy experiments there were doomed to become one type of horror show or another. The two dominant streams of political ideology in the region are Socialist and Islamist. The difference between the two is that the Socialists are mildly Islamist and the Islamists are mildly Socialist. Both of them however have no tradition of respect for the law and are motivated by utopian programs based on absolute power.

There was never going to be a good outcome. Understanding that democracy would no more solve the region's problems than shooting a rabid dog full of PCP would improve its mood was as easy as looking at the dominant political movements that were going to compete in such an election. Each of those movements, aside from hating America, also has no ability or interest in working with anyone outside their narrow agenda except in temporary alliances that would end in the inevitable betrayal.

American leaders were ill-prepared to grasp this because the Republicans were still besotted with an idealistic vision of American democracy propounded by the Democratic Party in the first half of the last century and utterly incapable of understanding that democracy is a tool and it only works in the hands of a people of good character.

No major Republican leader has spoken against the democracy export business because questioning the export of democracy to another country also questions the character of the people there. Republicans talk about American Exceptionalism, but limit it to the country's political systems. In such a narrow reading, America is superior because its political systems are superior, not because its people are any different or better than anyone else.

But people define systems more than systems define people. Democracy works differently in Phoenix than it does in Detroit and democracy in Cairo works differently than it does in Tokyo. The ballot box is a Rorschach inkblot, an open space that people interpret and make use of in their own way. For some people the ballot box is a means of controlling one's masters. For others it's a way of appointing masters who will control and steal from other people on their behalf.

The Democratic Party could understand the expected outcome, but could not be expected to see anything wrong with it. The Muslim Brotherhood was just doing what they were trying to do; take power and then exploit the election to rewrite the laws, destroy any existing checks and balances and use an economic crisis and temporary rule to ram an entire cultural agenda down the throats of the country in order to transform it into a place more to their liking.

A fanatical ideology that disguises its intentions well enough to make it past the polling places and into the government is democracy's silver bullet; whether it's fired from a gun wielded by the left or by the Muslim Brotherhood. And if there is a large enough electorate cheering it on, then democracy becomes populist tyranny. It becomes what all unlimited power does, regardless of whether it's wielded by men who seized power with bloody axes or after a vote count, it becomes unlimited repression.

Limited government is the missing ingredient in such democracies, but limited government is also the first up against the wall after the democratic revolution has been completed. Fanatics don't believe in limiting their own power. They believe that the only way to make things right is with unlimited power. They cannot be trusted because they do not put any principle or value above getting their own way. The law means nothing to them, truth and honor even less, ethics is a dead letter and as radicals they have no long term investment in the republic and don't mind if it perishes while they tear down its values and institutions.

Limited government embodies respect for the individual, for the values of one's neighbors and their right to keep living their lives the way that they always have. If you believe in the essential decency of people, then you are also willing to leave them alone. If however you do not believe that people will make the right decisions on their own, then you invariably reject limited government.

The individual as a moral entity is at the heart of limited government. The left, which denies the individual, viewing him only as a representative of a race or a class, of a brainwashed polity in thrall to movements and false beliefs that must be crushed, has no room for limited government. Neither does Islam, which rejects human free will, for the moral imperative of the Jihad and the forced conversion of infidels.

Democracy without the individual means as much as a million monkeys composing Shakespeare. Without the individual, the ballot box is only a tool for collectivist impulses and identities, for a makeshift insecure majority imposing its will on a minority or a coalition of insecure minorities doing the same thing to a majority. There is nothing special or exceptional about such behavior. And it is arguable whether it is more moral for such a display to take place through the vehicle of democracy, rather than open riot and repression. The latter at least do not bother to disguise what they are.

Limited government deriving from individual freedom is the only thing that lifts democracy above the violence of the mob. The Muslim world never had that and so its experiments with democracy were doomed to be nothing more than a baton being passed from one form of tyranny to another. More tragically, the United States which once had it is losing both the limited government and the individual freedom. And that means that democracy in America is bound to follow the same path as in the Muslim world, where democracy becomes only another way of taking over a country.

17 comments:

kayemigart said...

Thank you. Sadly, you're dead on the money.

lemon lime moon said...

"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." John Adams

SoCal Observer said...

Well said, but I would like to clarify something you said:
"The Muslim Brotherhood was just doing what they were trying to do; take power and then exploit the election to rewrite the laws, destroy any existing checks and balances and use an economic crisis and temporary rule to ram an entire cultural agenda down the throats of the country in order to transform it into a place more to their liking."

You forgot to add that after they transform their country into their version of paradise the populace can't wait to leave their despot controlled hell-hole for America. They then proceed to demand we transform our nation into the same kind of hell-hole they escaped from.

We basically lost limited government during the great depression and WWII. I guess the average voter fell into the fallacy of "if a little is good, more is better." Doesn't work with laxatives or government. Keep upping the dose and you get no benefits but all the side affects and complications. Take enough and even a "safe" over the counter product turns lethal.

George J. said...

Very well said.
I don't have anything to add other than that was pretty damn spot on, like usual.
I enjoy reading your work, as it concisely and accurately states what a million indoctrinated and hyper-educated but strangely oblivious journalism-school grad monkeys typing on a million laptops cannot, or would not, say in a million news stories on the "mainstream" media.

VA_Rancher said...

Kayemigart,

Ditto.

Lemon Lime Moon,

Amen. Spot on.
'Nuff said...

Leo said...

On 4 March 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Al Jazeera provided more informative news coverage than the opinion-driven coverage of American mass media. ... as if Al Jazeera is driven exclusively by opinions of totally innocent and inherently good celestial entities, but I digress. If small Qatar can undertake such a successful global propaganda project - why millions of U.S. conservatives cannot create a comparable global TV network? The need in such a TV network is apparent and overwhelming. The funding should not be a problem ("fund or perish" choice is a perfect motivator). Dedicated talented qualified people are always willing and ready. WorldNetDaily probably comes close in decent global coverage of main world events, but it severely lacks 24/7 TV format. Fox News is not exactly conservative, it is not available internationally as easily, many people are not welcome, and who needs any "fair and balanced" slow-frog-boiling anyway. Glenn Beck's GBTV / TheBlazeTV is not bad, but it is essentially one man's political theatre, and many people are not exactly welcome there. RightNetwork is a good idea, but not yet a reality.

Anonymous said...

The article is basically a version of Edmund Burke's speech on the French Revolution. An immoral people will not long be free for their own inability to fetter their desires will require that government intercede. This is why I never understood "economic conservatives" that were "socially liberal". You cannot be economically conservative without being socially conservative for very long and vice-versa. This is due to the the fact that if you are "economically conservative" to a "socially liberal" people, you will not long be re-elected, they will replace you so as the people of today can get what they want today and the people of tomorrow, our children and grand-children, will be left the bill.

Edward Cline said...

I left this comment on yesterday's column.

The trouble with the term "democracy" is that it's the wrong term for what the Founders intended this country to be, which is a "republic." It wasn't for nothing that Benjamin Franklin replied to a woman, after the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, when she asked what form of government the delegates had created. He answered, "A republic, if you can keep it." He didn't say, "A democracy, if you can keep it." Most of the Founders were students of history and loathed democracies, which as a rule degenerated into literal mob rule contained by a demagogue who promised the mob bread and circuses and other goodies from the public trough. This is what happened to Rome, and the Weimar "Republic" and other nations. They became majority rule democracies, enabling the rise of Caesars and Hitlers and Mussolinis. The republic the Founders had in mind and labored in Philadelphia to create was an individual rights-protecting government, and the Constitution was a document intended to define the limits of the federal government so that mob rule and demagogues would have little chance of acquiring the powers of kings, dictators and men on horseback. It was not a document created as an open-ended legal instrument. It was intended to be closed to statism. "Democracy" is not synonymous with "republic." Sloppy, inexact, ill-informed, or expedient usage has blurred the distinctions between them.

Anonymous said...

As they say on the talk shows, first time reader and first time commenting. I believe this article is right on. Enjoyed it immensely.Weather you wrote your own thoughts, observance of history, or paraphrased someone else speech makes no difference to me. It has given me a better understanding of what is happening in America.

Anonymous said...

Lincoln freed the slaves and enslaved us all.

Dennis Latham said...

All I know is that forcing some ridiculous health care plan on people who are supposed to have the right to choose in their democracy what coverage they want...is the same thing as genocide because I guarantee you the agenda is to rid the country of baby boomers by letting them die from diseases that could be treated. The VA is already using such a doctrine, and it does not look good for the elderly in America.

Marcel said...

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord
Psalm 33:12
Ever since we as a nation turned our back on God as a nation,every area of American life has become cursed,everything from education,economy,government,health,you name it.
It started with the removal of God/prayer from school and it's been the slippery slide down to hell ever since.
We're almost there !

Lemon said...

"Lincoln freed the slaves and enslaved us all.
Uncalled for an totally a lie.

Wilson said...

Yes, it's not so difficult now to see the hole we're in. The last two or three generations have not been taught the basics of how and why this country was founded and how those principles can still benefit humanity today. The question I have is, how do we climb out of here?

Edward Cline said...

In an earlier comment, I noted that democracies "majority rule democracies, enabling the rise of Caesars and Hitlers and Mussolinis." My apologies. I forgot to mention Obama.

Keli Ata said...

Dennis--it sounds as if this country is becoming like the stranded passengers in the movie Lifeboat, choosing which passengers should survive for the greater good and which should be thrown overboard.

I had to take a class called "values clarification" in high school. A scenario similiar to that of Lifeboat was presented to us--who would we have given the boot?

There really much values clarification, only pressure to decide which passenger had the least value.

Elisandra said...

When I was in school we were taught that the Founding Fathers went to great lengths to create a system where the government could not take over the people's lives. Very sad to see so many people today want their lives controlled by the government, and want to force such horror on the rest of us.

As for Democracy and voting, yes, voting leads nowhere good if those voting aren't good people.

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