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illiberal democracy

Day 2 of the drive, I was nearing Wisconsin, and the guy who wrote the book “The Future of Freedom — Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad” came on the radio. The show was “On Point” and it was a call-in show. He said some really good things, talking about the fight between liberty and democracy. It’s all about how pure democracy without any brakes on it are really dangerous, and how the Bill of Rights, the Constitution in general, are instrumental in making the US a land of the free. And the thing that truly makes the US great is this compromise that gives us democracy while putting brakes on the power of the majority.

And that’s what we’re missing in places like Nigeria and Iraq, where elected governments are frightening and intolerant. Nigeria is going to have a vote between a Christian and a Muslim for president, and I shudder to think what that could possibly end up meaning, no matter who wins. Shootings, ethnic cleansing, or even milder things like laws passed based on religious scripture, like laws against women showing their faces in public.

But anyway, this guy’s point seemed to be that we needed to ease Iraq into it a bit, giving them something a little more authoritarian until they were ready. No, that’s not what he said either. All he was really saying was just elections isn’t enough — the safeguards are needed, too, to provide true liberty.

But the thing that struck me oddly, and made me call in to try to get on the show, was the comment about their society needing to get to a point where democracy could work first. A “modernization” of society, he called it.

I was going to ask about how this “modernization” he refers to is, in essence, “westernization,” in both appearance and truth, and point out that, at its heart, the Bill of Rights is an agnostic set of principles.

Religion is an attempt to find spiritual guidance... but it is also a way to gather political power. It was one of the first ways they did it, and it was extremely effective for a very long time. The US’s true claim to greatness was, in some ways, divorcing itself from any given established religion, and forming a secular state.

He also talked about how pure democracy has never been seen to work, but many countries (Chile and Taiwan, notably) had started out authoritarian and been eased into a US-style democracy, and these have worked...

Hmm. I am rambling quite a bit here. I would have liked to have known what he would have said to that. Maybe I’ll buy and read his book. It appears to be on Amazon, and his name appears to be Fareed Zakaria.

I just don’t know. It seemed to make a lot of sense while I was listening to that show.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
cos
Apr. 19th, 2003 10:22 pm (UTC)
democracy
On Democracy vs. Liberty, read Ira Glasser's speech from the 1988 presidential campaign, here:
http://cos.polyamory.org/text/texts.html

The notion that we can create a democracy of the kind we want in Iraq is at least a bit arrogant. Probably a lot. The British tried this with many of their colonies, including Iraq, but failed miserably. Taiwan is a good example of a country developing its own democracy, at its own pace, over many years. We could get into lots of other examples of how democracy develops or is imposed... Japan, Iran... but I will leave that for now.

I'll just say this: for western style democracy to work, you need a literate population, and enough of an economy that most people have some time to devote to endeavors other than survival.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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