Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Democracy is the Answer – Now What’s the Question?

One of the key axioms of the Bushistas is that democracy will be the cure-all for what is wrong with the world, particularly the Middle East. So far, it’s not going so well. Between the mess in Iraq, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the democracy solution has pretty much blown up in our faces.
The problem with the theory is that a democracy, a government selected by the people, is only restrained by the people, not by underlying principles. If the people want to elect, as they have, Hitler, Peron, or that loony in Iran, then they will get the resulting laws and government that those people will put in effect. Our rights and freedoms are not guaranteed by our democracy, they are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and an independent judiciary which interprets and enforces them. We have freedom of the press, free speech, rights to assembly, and all the other rights we take as given not because we elected people, but because the Founding Fathers gave us the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Now this administration is not happy about either the Bill of Rights or the independent judiciary, but they can’t just get rid of them. The Founding Fathers weren’t all that thrilled with democracy, to a great extent because of the fear of a temporary majority dominating the minority. Of course, even with those Constituional safeguards, the people didn’t vote for the President directly, the Senate was selected by state legislators, and only white men, mostly property owners, could vote for anything.
Every time someone talks about how “majority rules” is at the heart of our democracy, they are demonstrating a stunning ignorance. The heart of our democracy is minority rights. Individual rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, not the power of the majority. Majorities change, but rights cannot come and go. Freedom is not subject to electoral whim.
The problem is that in the Middle East, the Bill of Rights doesn’t exist. Nor, for that matter, does the mindset which created it. Without the hard limits on governmental power over the individual, elections are not just a way to express the desires of the people, but a route to power and dominance by a majority. Is there any wonder that things have gone so badly in Iraq? The religious and ethnic minorities know there is nothing to protect them from the majority. Women fear the fundamentalists will take away all their rights. Non-Muslims will fare even worse. The rush to make sure there was an elected government may prove as dumb as everything else done in that country. You need a civil society first, then the people can choose a government without resorting to the most basic tribal or religious groupings. The only institutions that work in Iraq are the religious ones, so all politics are built around religion. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield failure to understand this concept is not surprising, but it doesn’t make it any less tragic.


Post a Comment

<< Home