Is Plain Democracy So Important?
Tibor R. Machan
by Tibor R. Machan
since Iraq was invaded, those who championed the policy have been
issuing calls for democracy there. Indeed, both Afghanistan and
Iraq are supposed to be moved toward democracy now.
democracy crusade is not new, of course. Woodrow Wilson was the
president who made such a great deal about America "making
the world safe for democracy." This was a big turning point
in how the American government saw itself in the world.
earlier ideal, laid out in President George Washington’s farewell
address, was for the country not to get entangled in foreign affairs.
And that really follows the principles of the Founders who saw government
as established so as to secure the rights of the citizens being
served by it, not as a crusading force either at home or abroad.
If we do have the rights listed in the Declaration and referred
to in the Constitution, these are liberty rights, meaning, they
signify what we are free to do. The purpose of the law then would
be to protect our liberty, to defend us from aggression, not to
embark upon various crusades even for the best of ideas.
isn’t all that clear, anyway, that democracy is an idea that is
all that great, in and of itself. As Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek
International, argues in his book, The
Future of Freedom, democracy without a constitution of liberty
is often just as tyrannical as are dictatorships or theocracies.
"Illiberal democracies," as Zakaria calls them, have the
rather unsurprising danger of simply becoming regimes of mob rule.
And they can last for just a very short time, as it was made so
tragically obvious when Hitler was elected democratically to become
somehow the call for democracy keeps ringing in American diplomatic
circles, as well as on the Op Ed and editorial pages of many newspapers,
without any mention that an unrestricted democracy is a very oppressive
system. If all that characterizes a country is that its citizens
have the right to vote, and to vote on any subject matter whatever,
it is clear enough that any majority and that usually means the
majority of those who are politically involved can subdue the
rest of the society, use it for its ends, deprive it of freedom
of speech, religion, trade and anything else.
for example, in Iraq a mere democracy isn’t going to be of much
help in ridding that country of some of its worst elements under
Saddam Hussein. Sure, there may be a shift of power the majority
Shiites may take over from the minority Sunnis and, later perhaps,
vice versa. As Dan
Murphy of The Christian Science Monitor reported online,
"Hussein worked assiduously to divide Sunni, the national minority
who benefited most from his rule, and Shiites, the majority sect
who were ruthlessly suppressed during his reign." Now, it turns
out, the two sides have many leaders who do not like the Americans
being in that country. One may wonder why they agree so much on
one reason is that if Americans have much to say about how Iraq
will shape up as a legal order, neither the Sunnis nor the Shiites
will have a chance to be in full charge. So, naturally, both sides
agree that the American’s must leave ASAP. But not because the Americans
are some oppressive, brutal occupying power but because the Americans,
if they had it their way, would probably exert their influence to
make Iraq religiously tolerant, for example.
that there might not be other reasons why the American government
wants to have a strong say in how Iraq emerges from the current
chaos, for better or for worse. But this feature of the American
influence is especially unwelcome to those whose idea of democracy
is to bring about the overpowering of some other group.
is one more reason to be very skeptical about America’s foreign
excursions. Although constitutional democracy understood in its
liberal fashion, namely, a constitutional system of individual rights
for everyone, including all women and members of all faiths can
be a good idea, the kind of "blank check" democracy that
nearly everyone is talking about (with the unqualified use of the
term) is worse than useless. It can give people the false impression
that something good is being done by the US government (since most
take democracy to mean the American limited version), thus making
it appear that there is something really wonderful about "making
the world safe for democracy." It’s a dangerous illusion.
him mail] holds
the Freedom Communications Professorship of Free Enterprise and
Business Ethics at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman
University, CA. A Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford
University, he is author of 20+ books, most recently, The
Passion for Liberty
(Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).
Copyright © 2004 Tibor Machan