Friday, January 9, 2009

War between democracies?

Does this current conflict count as a war between democracies?

One could also argue that both World Wars had democratic elements to them. After all Germany was a democracy, if an extraordinarily imperfect one, as were the Allied nations. The First World War is a tougher sell, but even so, democratization had occurred to such a point that the war and war effort became almost populist--a dangerous development especially in regards to war and peace.

In any case, to my mind, while democracy is the worst option save for all the others, it is utterly useless without the rule of law, and similarly it is ineffectual at best, and likely temporary, without, as Havers puts it, "the triumph of western liberalism, or the reasonable toleration of minorities within a majoritarian democracy."

This is one of the huge flaws in the philosophy of democracy spreading. It's one thing to spread the ability to vote, but quite another to ensure elections are fair; quite another to ensure that a majority population doesn't just use their democratic advantage to extinguish all opposition.

Our understanding of democracy is flawed because we exist within it--not as outside observers. We exist within a functioning democratic society wherein the rule of law still, for the most part, holds fast. We have not used our powers of empathy enough when considering just how alien democracy must seem to inhabitants of the Middle East--or how opportunistic people in positions of power can be, and what a weapon anarchistic democracy can be. And that's what it is prior to the rule of law, security, etc. It is anarchistic, essentially a ballot box and a void. And as with all voids, something has to fill it--so you see this happening with fledgling democracies. They quickly become totalitarian States, or are overrun by militants or terrorists or authoritarian religious groups.

Remember, unlike our Founding Fathers, the Iraqis and the Palestinians did not have the Magna Carta in their history, nor Parliament, nor a sense even of "taxation without representation" and so had not fostered similar minds or mind-frames as our Founders were blessed with--who saw democracy as a dangerous thing that must be checked and balanced, tended to like a fire and just as deadly and intangible, with great power to do good or ill.

The fact is, democracy settled into American history organically. It was the natural conclusion to centuries of European political evolution and the geographical and technological realities of the day. Such is not the case, not even marginally, in the Middle East.

And so we see two democracies at war. One is that hollow version of democracy, that cheap generic "exported" variety that America thinks can be foisted on all the underdeveloped nations of the world, true. The other is a young, embattled democracy with great potential and great divisions. But they are both democracies, and it does appear that they are at war...


Mark Thompson said...

Historically speaking, there's quite a bit to back you up here. One thing that never seems to get discussed when the widely-accepted theory of a sort of Pax Democratus comes up is how, exactly, one creates a functioning democracy from scratch (and for that matter, what counts as a functioning democracy for purposes of validating the theory). Typically, the difference between successful democracies and failed democracies is simply whether there is a strong preexisting civil society (which in turn requires a certain minimal degree of freedom). This is usually considered a major explanatory factor for why a nation such as Spain was so able to make a relatively smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy, while other nations simply go through the motions.