Saturday, December 23, 2006

Democracy

What’s this about no democracy in Iran?
“TEHRAN, Dec. 18 — Partial returns from Friday’s Iranian elections suggested today that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had experienced a major setback barely over a year after his own election. The victory of a pragmatic politician, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, over a hard-line candidate associated with Mr. Ahmadinejad gave one strong indication that voters favored more moderate policies. Mr. Rafsanjani won almost twice as many votes as the hard-liner, Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, for a position in the 86-member Assembly of Experts. The Assembly has the power to replace the supreme religious leader.”

I keep reading such reports and seeing video of Iranians voting, which means to me that democracy is alive in Persia although it may not be the same brand as what we call democracy. When Bush & Co. tell us that certain “evil” countries in the Middle East (not to be confused with “moderate” countries which Washington approves even though they are not democratic at all) are not democracies, they must often mean – if they mean anything – that those governments are not “democratic enough”.

Well, in the first place, when did God announce that democracy was the ideal form of government? For a very long time the word was that God had given kings the divine right to rule. And even if God has changed His mind, who has proved that democracy will be beneficial everywhere in the world, or even that it will work at all in every state?

Based on what the American people got for their votes in recent years, I would say that democracy has failed in the United States except to the extent it is seen as “the least bad choice”. When one gets into an argument about democracy, the rock bottom clincher on the pro-democracy side is, “You can at least get rid of bad leaders by voting them out, which you can’t do in a monarchy or dictatorship.” There is a lot to be said for that point, but it is still a “least bad choice” plea rather than an affirmative argument for the virtues of what democracy gives to the voters.

Also, people sometimes forget that bad dictators and monarchs have often been deposed by coup or revolution, if not milder means, and that a dictator may therefore be more aware of and responsive to majority public opinion than the average U.S. politician who begins taking a calculating interest in his constituents a few weeks before election time.

It is not democracy which protects the rights of minorities and majorities, but rather the rule of law within a sufficiently orderly and stable society. The worst form of government might be a powerful, greedy tyrant whose whim is law, but I would argue that the best and most efficient form of government would be a dictatorship by a benevolent leader who has the people’s welfare at heart and recognizes the restraint of rational laws and a functional legal system. I think that in spite of the praise of ancient Athenian democracy, the prevailing view among the finest thinkers of the time was that rule by the best was superior to rule by the most. Nothing has happened to change that principle.

A passing thought: Would you rather have a democracy with torture (as we have now in America), or an authoritarian government without torture? “Democracy” simply means, in theory, “rulership by the majority through free elections”. It does not necessarily come with a package of other good things.

The big flaw in arguments for democracy or something approaching it is the failure to recognize the shortcomings in the judgment of the voters and their susceptibility to demagoguery and the present information plague, managed news. While most people are relatively unintelligent, I believe that most have sound instincts about what is good for them and bad for the group with which they identify. But when it comes to the details, especially economic matters and foreign policy, they are easily misled by obfuscation, obscurantism, specious arguments, and outright lies. Public opinion can be no better than the published opinion which forms it.

Be all that as it may, for the United States to launch aggressive wars and threats of wars in the name of “bringing democracy” to this or that foreign state is insupportable by any ethical or logical standard. Democracy is no cure-all and is not even suitable for many populations. Most likely it is knowingly exported as a placebo, the actual purpose being to replace the native method of rulership with elections whose outcome can decided by the management of “news” and other organs of propaganda. Add the that the greater ease of “managing” politicians than a strong individual leaders, and a “free people” in terms of right to vote may actually be less free than a people living under a benevolent authoritarian form of government.

I wonder how many Iraqis would vote for the horror they now endure with American-imposed “democracy”, in preference to what they had during their years of order and prosperity under the Baathists?

1 comment:

Yves said...

Well said. Bush is hardly a good advertisement for democracy.

The main virtue of democracy in our present society is its ability to deal with corruption and the grossest forms of incompetence. But this only works if there is a truly free press (no intimidation), and the principles of fair play are well established.

In Britain, the foundation stone for democracy was in the Anglo-Saxon Witanagemot or Moot. After the terror of the Norman invasion, the next step was Magna Carta in 1215. It has taken nearly 900 years to get where we are which is not that good. For example, Tony Blair remains prime minister after all the undemocratic and corrupt things he has got away with.