Friday, August 29, 2008

Democracy is not a Panacea

Over the course of the 20th Century and leading into the 21st Century there has been a goal in mind over much of the world to expand democracy, to spread democracy, to make the world safe for democracy.

This is done because it is imagined that if more countries were democratic, more countries would be like the Western Democracies.

The point that is being missed is that form is not function. Just because a country is a democracy does not mean that the country is a liberal democracy. Take, for example Iraq. There are three religious/ethnic groups in Iraq, the largest being the Shiites in southern Iraq. The Shiites are a majority.

It has been predicted by some that if actual democracy were instituted in Iraq, the Shiites would vote to violate the rights of the Sunni and the Kurds, because they are a majority. This would be a "sectarian democracy", and not a liberal democracy. This may not necessarily be the case, but it is a possibility founded on the basic demographics of the country in question. It is the reason why some call for a partitioning of Iraq, to guarantee each population group the ability to not be dominated by the others.

People seem to think that "democracy" automatically means "liberal democracy". They forget that "democracy" is the form, and that "liberal" is the function. It is the "liberal" in "liberal democracy" that provides the restrained government instituted to protect the rights of the people.

In terms of respecting the rights of the people, what is the effective difference between a liberal democracy and a liberal monarchy? One could argue that democracy gives people checks on the government should the government decide to move in an illiberal direction, whereas there are no checks if the king should decide so. The problem is what would be the check if the public decided to move the democratic government in an illiberal direction? Proponents of democracy do not have an answer for that.

It should be remembered that it was a democracy that martyred Socrates. The majority did not care for what he taught, and as a result he was tried, convicted, and executed. This was all done according to the proper democratic procedures.

Instead of spreading democracy, what should be spread are the liberal values that are often associated with democracy. This cannot be done at the point of a gun.

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