Friday, January 27, 2006

The Dangers of Democracy

The landslide victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections exposes the mistake of the Bush administration in promoting democracy as the solution to problems in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Darwinian conservatives are committed not to pure democracy but to limited government. A Darwinian view of imperfect human nature suggests that no one is to be trusted with unchecked power, even when that power has been conferred by popular election. To secure ordered liberty, we need a system of balanced government under the rule of law based on the principle of countervailing power so that power checks power.

By contrast, Bush and the neoconservatives have adopted a utopian view of democracy based on popular sovereignty as the solution to the world's problems. But what happens when a majority of the people elect Islamic terrorists as their rulers? If pure democracy is our only standard for good government, we cannot object. But if limited and balanced government is our standard, then we can condemn pure democracy when it does not prescribe that power is to be limited and balanced.

The foolishness of embracing pure democracy through majoritarian rule is also evident in the neoconservative advocacy of presidential leadership acting outside the rule of law to exercise "wise discretion" in response to emergencies. To assume that a popularly elected president should be free to act outside the law for what he judges to be the public good is to assume a utopian view of human nature that ignores the corrupting effects of giving unchecked power to ambitious rulers.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Larry,
Did we have a choice about the war. Johm McCane said we did not because the sanctions were falling apart. Do we have any alternative to Democracy as an attempt to get out? Hamas, like Algeria before them show that just elections are not enough for a country to be democratic.
Great post.

Mark Griffith

ashok said...

Hmm. I thought this was sensible.

The neat thing about a democracy is that a people can't hide their true intentions from the rest of the world. A game of "some of us attack you, while the legitimate authority doesn't rein them in because death wins a peace process and land and money" can't be played as well anymore.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Arnhart. It seems that the Bush administration has placed their hope, foreign policy, upon utopian principles. The administration wrongly believes that human longing for liberty is enough to establish a stable democracy.

Hamas did not come to power through a longing, it came to power because it was able to deliver services to the people. Hamas is a political Machine. For over ten years the organization has solidified its power without being in power by handing out jobs, health care and police protection.

Now that Hamas has achieved legitimacy, why do we think that legitimacy will change the core principles of Hamas? Hamas will continue to do the things the people want them to do provide stuff! And, as Hamas provides the stuff, they will continue to call for the destruction of Israel.

Does Hamas beg the Tocquevillian question, "If democracy is good, is more better?"

Andy Schott

ashok said...

I'm not some "utopian," and I have no faith in the peace process. Democracy is not about "longing for liberty," or "justice," or any garbage like that. We have strength. To have other peoples be democracies is to 1) open up their internal battles to our eyes, and make their ability to conduct a policy against our interests that much harder, and 2) hold an entire people, with their weaker state, accountable for their actions.

Re: 1 - What I want is Hamas exposed to as much scrutiny as possible.

Someone pointed out that Fatah is basically the same thing as Hamas, and also has similar incentives. I think the scrutiny, again, is the key. A lot of people aren't happy about Hamas, not one bit, and they're not winning any PR battles in what is a pretty liberal media.

Re: 2 - Israel will have the right to utterly annihilate the Palestinian state if Hamas tries anything stupid.

Democracy isn't about longing for liberty. It's about, when one has strength over another, holding an entire people accountable for their stupidity, and thus forcing some semblance of rationality out of them. The price of irrationality is a war the Palestinian authority cannot win. Democracy hugely helps the United States hold actors accountable. I have no problem with Hamas' victory, as long as we will let Israel destroy them the second anything is perceived to go wrong.

Barry said...

"By contrast, Bush and the neoconservatives have adopted a utopian view of democracy based on popular sovereignty as the solution to the world's problems. "

Let's see - in the US, they've fought democracy as much as possible, making sure that the necessary mechanisms (such as information availabiilty, good vote-counting, and the ability to vote) are destroyed or corrupted.

In Iraq the plan was to rule the country as a dictatorship for a few years, writing the basic laws, installing a puppet government to enforce those laws and run the 'elections'. Meanwhile, Iraq was to be looted of anything worthwhile, bought by crony capitalists with connections to the administration. Presumably not at market value.

In other countries, Bush has gotten along famously with dictators and emerging dictators (such as Putin), while shunning others (Chavez) who have better records.

Bush, the neo-cons and the GOP don't support democracy.