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Democracy Needs Democrats

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I don't know why people are surprised by Hezbollah's victory in the Lebanese elections.

Did you really think that the U.S. and Israel would be popular in the Middle East? Any Arab politician identified with either would be like someone tainted with Communist sympathies in 1950's America: dead, dead, dead.

The reason that Neocons and Libertarians are so confused by the course of events in Lebanon, Iraq, etc., is that they think that democracies are the natural forms of government. All you have to do is set up the right kind of constitution, and everything will work fine. Which is of course a load of crap. It's the worst kind of formal structuralism. On paper, the Roman Empire was still a Republic. Like beauty, democracy is more than skin deep.

Democracy is both a process and a substance. The process is one of simple majority rule, the substance is one that respects individual rights and autonomy. One of the essential preconditions of any popular government is that there are enough people who are willing to accept the substance of democracy. Without this sort of citizenry, democracy is meaningless. You can't just put in place the formal structure of a democracy (elections, etc.) without a population that is willing to accept the spirit of democracy. You can't have democracy without democrats (and these days in America, Democrats).

This is why every time a developing nation without a middle class, a tradition of law-abidingness, or a culture that tolerates dissent tries to set up a liberal constitution the result is a total mess. Because the country is simply not ready for democracy. You can't have a liberal democracy in a poor, socially stratified, religiously factious nation. It just isn't possible. In short, you can only have a democracy is the people there want one. Otherwise elections are simply a method for ratifying majority tyranny. They pass a bunch of laws institutionalizing their domination, the minority gets fed up and rebels, and you're right back to the civil war/tyranny cycle.

What's most amusing about all this is that the very people who are such legalists abroad have done so much to pervert the spirit of the Constitution here at home. They invest unrealistic faith in the socializing power of formal institutions, even while they dump the filibuster, neuter the courts, impose a radical cultural agenda and wipe out the middle class. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:29 AM
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