Monday, January 31, 2005

The perpetual insecurity of democracy

Iraq had its historic elections yesterday as millions defied death threats to turn out to vote for the first times in their lives. The votes are still being counted, but it is a mistake to think that the process of building a democratic Iraq is now complete.

That there remains much work to do is all too clear from our own example: although the framers envisioned a nation built on the principle that all men are created equal, it has taken more than two centuries and counting to realize that vision. African-Americans could not vote until after the Civil War, and it was perhaps another century before this right to vote was realized in practice, and as recent elections show, there still remains much work to do in this respect. Women did not even receive their right to vote until Woodrow Wilson was president. There is still a long way to go in perfecting the democratic process in this country. Campaign contributions are a form of legalized bribery. The impoverished education of millions deprives them of an opportunity to participate effectively in the political process and the lack of health care and day-to-day survival concerns make political participation the last thing on the minds of many of people.

As we watch the process of democracy unfold in Iraq, it is important that we all support the process, even those of us who marched against the war. Although the merits of going to war remain debatable, perhaps more so today after no weapons of mass destruction were found, history may look kindly upon the invasion as a "mistake" that worked itself out in the end. This would go especially if Iraq becomes a relatively stable Muslim democracy in the mold of Turkey. But of course this outcome is by no means guaranteed. There could well be an Islamic revolution that transforms Iraq into another Iran. Middle Eastern politics, already messy, could become even messier.

Judge Learned Hand once remarked that "the spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right." Iraq stand its guard, always insecure about whether democracy can survive, while pressing full steam ahead in the quest to form a more perfect democracy that treats every voice with the respect that each deserves. This development of democracy will always remain an incomplete process, just as in America, where we ourselves still have a long way to go.


Blogger Tso said...


Finally I will post something. First I think we should support democracy but should we support the outcome of this democracy? What happens if, like in the Weimer Republic, a "Nazi" party will rise in Iraq? Or a Muslim fundamentalist group, or a communist group? In our nation's history we rejected attempts by the Vietnamese to institute democracy purely because we dreaded the outcome. So far, we have been able to control the political agents in Iraq, but how about if a Hamas group wins in the future? I think the problem with this vote and "democracy" rallying our support is the belief that a vote can solve the underlying problems - the economic and social issues that may manipulate democracies. How come we support Pakistan's military junta or Saudi Arabia's monarchy because we believe democracy unleased there may actually create an outcome we detest and believe that democracy will survive in Iraq on our terms without changing anything else? Also remember India, a world democracy, created WMDs equally! Anyways, just my thoughts. What do you think?


1/31/2005 06:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the concerns you raise are valid and lend all the more force to Judge Hand's stern reprimand that liberty can never be too sure of itself. Democracy gave rise to Hitler, and we never know what it might bring in the future.

Nonetheless, we should continue to support democracy as much as we can. Our record of backing dictatorships is disgraceful, and have often come with disastrous results, mostly because we supported them for expedient reasons that failed to take long-term considerations into account (we once supported Saddam Hussein). Democracy seems the safer route over the long run because as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, while the democratic impulse may be prone to mistakes, over the long run, the democratic spirit will tend to overwhelm such whims over the long run. The presence of dissent further encourages this process of self-revision. In contrast, dictatorships can last decades and the stifling of dissidents makes it even less likely that dictators will change course.

1/31/2005 07:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Four words: "ich bin ein berliner." Fah on democracy!!!

2/01/2005 12:41:00 AM  
Blogger bum said...

I think you just justified the invasion of Iraq without meaning to. You discuss the turmoil of the region and that a democracy could help show neighboring countries a better way of doing things. I am not so sure I would agree with that.

1. I think when a country adopts a new form of government it should actually be the country that decides what that new form of government should be. Otherwise, to the countrymen and the surrounding countries it may not seem like a legitimate goverment as it was installed by outsiders.

2. I don't think a democracy is always the best way to go. Democracy, like any other form of government, is built on ideals; ideals goverment rarely meet. But if a country could reach those ideals, I don't see why socialism or even a monarchy couldn't work. I think the commitment of the people to work unselfishly to help their country aspire to whatever goals that they envision is more important (or at least an important addon) to the form of government the country chooses to adopt.

Random comment: I think they should have allowed anyone, whether they support the US or not run for office in Iraq. Who can truely say that the resulting Congress (I believe thats what they voted for this past Sunday) won't be anothr puppet goverment of the United States?

2/01/2005 04:37:00 PM  
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