A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.
~ Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler
In several recent speeches, President Bush has declared that it is the policy of his administration to export "democracy" to all the nations and cultures of the world. There are plenty of reasons for this development to be viewed with skepticism, and even disdain, by concerned Americans.
As has been noted by numerous authors, America was not founded as a "democracy" and, in fact, most of our Founders had nothing but contempt for it as a form of government. Our nation was founded as a republic. A democracy is rule by the majority; a republic is the rule of law. This is a very critical distinction.
Democracy is merely a process by which decisions are made, and it carries no guarantees as to what the moral stature of those decisions will be. It is far more critical, in my opinion, that people should harbor allegiance to an actual set of outcomes rather than to a mere process. The proper government should enshrine individual rights, including the right to a jury trial, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, private property rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. The system should also guarantee accused criminals the right to legal representation and habeas corpus.
An electoral majority is every bit as capable of violating these principles as is a dictator. In fact, if one examines the actual performance of democracies historically, they generally come up short in protecting individual rights and for promoting policies of sound fiscal management.
For those who doubt this point, I would urge them to examine the state of individual liberty in 19th Century Europe vs. contemporary Western democracies. While recently reading a wonderful history of pre-WW I Europe by David Fromkin (Europe’s Last Summer), I came across this gem:
The author quotes historian A.J.P. Taylor:
“u2018until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state’. You could live anywhere you liked and go as you liked. You could go to practically anywhere in the world without anyone’s permission. For the most part, you needed no passports, and many had none. The French geographer Andre Siegfried traveled all around the world with no identification other than his visiting card: not even a business card, but a personal one."
"You could bring anything you liked into Britain or send anything out. You could take any amount of currency with you when you traveled, or send (or bring back) any amount of currency; your bank did not report it to the government, as it does today. And if you decided to invest any amount of money in almost any country abroad, there was nobody whose permission had to be asked, nor was permission needed to withdraw that investment and any profits earned when you wanted to do so."
While Britain did have an elected House of Commons at that time, it also had a powerful monarch and a powerful and unelected House of Lords.
A quick examination of individual liberty in pre-Revolution America shows that the colonialists living under King George III had substantially more personal and economic freedom than the current American citizenry living under Emperor George II. The colonial tax burden, which touched off an armed rebellion, was a mere scintilla of that which our "democracy" has burdened us with today.
More specifically, Bush’s advocacy of "democracy" brings up three salient issues.
First, our political class is fine-tuning a peculiar modus operandi in its "democracy-spreading" operations abroad. What do these methods say about this class’s opinion of the American people?
In countries as diverse as Georgia, the Ukraine, and Lebanon, we are seeing an eerily similar pattern develop. Mysterious "political consultants" and "media advisors" appear. They recruit local "activists" who begin agitating in the streets for "democracy." They stage made-for-TV rallies, complete with porta-potties and medic stations. They use modern techniques of propaganda and marketing to create the idea that they represent the "inevitable tide of history." The western mainstream media, either through uncritical acceptance of Washington’s line or out of actual collaboration, reports the whole thing not as if it is orchestrated, but rather as though it represents a genuine groundswell of popular opinion.
This whole affair should sound mighty familiar to Americans, because this is how the political class here manufactures consent in our own political system. Our elites have carefully cultivated a process in America that divorces elections from the actual formulation of policy. No candidate or party truly challenging the elites’ status quo in America would ever have a chance of getting elected (For those who doubt this point, I would ask you what happened to those Republican congressional freshmen of the 1994 electoral rebellion? As you may recall, they were going to turn Washington upside down and eliminate dozens of bureaucracies and entire cabinet departments. What was the eventual outcome of this "revolution"? They were either driven from Washington or castrated and herded back onto the elite-dominated political reservation.)
Essentially, our political class has fine-tuned a system whereby it controls the actual outcome of the political process, yet simultaneously grants the masses the illusion of self-government. Voting is the opiate of the masses. And since this system has been so successful here (for them), they’ve decided to take it on the road.
Just as our elites would never allow the rise of a government that would dismantle the military-industrial complex or radically downsize government largess to inside dealers, our government is not promoting democracy abroad because it wants these governments to genuinely express the will of their people. We are exporting this system to these nations so that they can be manipulated and controlled by our elites via the same corrupt processes they use here.
The only thing that I wonder about is whether these "revolutions" are being carried out directly by the CIA, or are they being outsourced to private contractors? Does Halliburton have a "campaign consultant" subsidiary?
Inquiring minds want to know.
The second salient issue brought up by these pre-fab "revolutions" concerns the citizens of the target nations. What does the overt manipulation of their political systems reveal about our elites’ opinion of them?
Imagine if you will, turning on your TV set during an election season and seeing swarms of agents from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army actively running campaign events in Times Square. Envision Chinese intelligence officers posing as "observers" at your local polling station. Imagine candidates accepting huge under-the-table bribes from them. Imagine rallies directed by Chinese "consultants," complete with porta-potties and Chinese TV media consultants.
What would be the average patriotic Americans’ reaction to this state of affairs?
Would it not be reasonable to be angered and humiliated by the overt manipulation of our political system by agents of outside influence?
The fact that the Bush crowd is so blatant about it makes it all the more galling.
Clearly, the instigators of this policy think that these foreign citizens are incredibly stupid…or perhaps our political class is so immersed in hubris that they really don’t care what the natives think. Either way, none of this is going to do our reputation with the rest of the world any good.
Lastly, is the issue of throwing stones while living in glass houses.
If Bush contends that we have a holy obligation to rig the political systems of foreign nations for their own good, then it stands to reason that he believes that everything here is fabulous. After all, one wouldn’t normally go off preaching to other nations about freedom and democracy if things were falling apart in your own backyard.
But what is the status of freedom in America today?
By any objective measure, it is not good…and it is getting worse by the day.
Wouldn’t we be better served if Bush concentrated on repairing our own increasingly authoritarian political system right here in the USA? Why not bring back Habeas Corpus? Why not rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all criminal defendants have legal representation? How about reaffirming the Geneva Conventions and disavowing torture as a means of extracting information from prisoners? How about restoring private property rights by culling intrusive federal regulations (especially those from the odious EPA)? What about eliminating federal data bases used to collect information on American citizens and restoring the Constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure? How about eliminating arbitrary property seizures under the guise of "civil forfeiture" laws?
I could go on and on…but the general idea is clear.
George W. Bush is accelerating the destruction of genuine individual liberty here at home even as he imperiously interferes in the internal affairs of other sovereign nations in the name of "spreading democracy."
I’m not sure where this will end, but I certainly don’t like where it is headed.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.