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Works and Days

Democracy’s Dog Days

August 26th, 2013 - 6:34 pm

We all want democracy to thrive and flourish, but can it?

The Obama administration was quite pleased that the anti-democratic Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood had come to power through a single plebiscite. That confidence required a great deal of moral blindness, both of the present and past.

Like other once-elected authoritarians who believe that democracy is similar to a bus route — in the words of Mr. Erdogan of Turkey, once you get to your stop, you get off — Morsi had no intention of fostering the sort of consensual institutions so necessary for republican government. Almost immediately he gave a de facto green light to cleanse the government of his opponents, to Islamicize a once largely secular society, and to persecute religious minorities.

Like a Hitler, Mussolini, Mugabe, or Hugo Chavez, Morsi was counting on the legitimacy from a once-in-a-lifetime largely free election, and then the use of state power, if not terror, to institutionalize his authoritarian rule. Morsi’s legacy is that he was both a beneficiary of the Arab Spring in Egypt and almost singlehandedly ended it.

Unfortunately, there seem to be no signs of democracy’s revival elsewhere in the Arab world or, for that matter, all that many recent vibrant examples in the world at large these days.

In contrast, after the end of the Cold War there was a giddy “end of history” moment. By the new millennium, “democratic” government and free market capitalism were accepted as the natural — indeed, the foreordained — final stage in civilization’s evolution. And why not? The Soviet Union was in shambles. Eastern Europe was democratizing. Latin American democracies were starting to crowd out both communist and right-wing dictatorships. The European Union was ushering in the euro to self-congratulatory proclamations of a new social democratic heaven on Earth. The betting was when, not if, a newly capitalist China democratized. Bill Clinton, under duress, had moved America to the democratic center, and was helping to balance budgets.

Only the Islamic Middle East resisted the supposedly inevitable democratic urge. As the world’s regional holdout, the region was seen as well overdue for its turn at majority rule. Democratization, we Americans argued, might force the Muslim world to emulate those consensual systems with far better records of stable governance and widespread prosperity. With freedom and affluence, the age-old Middle East pathologies — misogyny, religious intolerance, tribalism, fundamentalism, anti-Semitism, and statism — would fade along with terrorist-driven violence. Or so it was thought.

Now, in the second decade of the new millennium, democracy is not just having a rough time, but failing in a way that its harsh critics so often predicted, from Plato to Nietzsche and Spengler.

Often the recent world confused plebiscites with democracy, as if the two were synonymous.

But does anyone think the once-elected Mr. Morsi in Egypt was a true democrat? Are the Iranian elections reflections of a free society? Were the austerity packages imposed on southern Europe part of a constitutional process? Is a Germany or Netherlands encouraged to hold elections about the fate of their participation in the EU? Does a Mr. Erdogan or Mr. Ortega — or did the late Hugo Chavez — operate within transparent and lawful protocols?

Instead, southern Europe is reeling, the result of the proverbial people voting themselves entitlements and perks that the state could not pay for. In the fashion of the fourth century Athenian dêmos, pensioners, the subsidized, and public employees blame almost everyone and everything else for their own self-inflicted miseries.

The European Union avoids national referenda in fear that democratic and open elections would lead the EU to unravel. Instead, the EU in large part is reduced to appealing to German war guilt, to German mercantile self-interest, and to German philanthropy to subsidize much of a failed Mediterranean Europe.

Westernized democratic societies — Europe in particular — are shrinking. The bounty of free market capitalism, the emancipation of women, technological advances, and the non-judgmentalism of egalitarian democracy have all emphasized enjoying the good life rather than the sacrifices of child-raising. The result is a demographic time bomb of a dwindling and aging population.

Here in the United States, we are engaged in a great struggle to save constitutional democracy as we once knew it. President Obama seems intent — by ignoring enforcement of existing statutes, by piling up record debt, by vastly enlarging the size of the federal government, by expanding the money supply, by enabling unprecedented numbers of Americans to enroll in food stamp, disability, unemployment, and various entitlement programs, and by politicizing federal institutions from the Justice Department to the IRS — on creating an “equality of result” society. The aim of making everyone about the same is seen as justifying the illiberal means necessary to achieve them.

“Liberty” is now a word that earns an IRS audit. “Fairness” is proof of one’s patriotism. It is as if the failed and violent French Revolution, not the successful American alternative, is now the inspirational model.

In short, democracy’s culture worldwide is in crisis. It cannot pay its bills. It chafes at constitutional protections of individual rights and expression. It seems to encourage rather than to mitigate racial and class tensions. It offers more entitlements to a growing aging cohort and less opportunity for a shrinking younger population to pay for them. It appears unable to offer non-democratic societies moral and ethical models.

Most cannot decide whether the democracies are plagued with a particularly poor generation of demagogic leaders, or whether we are suffering the inevitable wages of rule by plebiscite that eats away at constitutional law and prefers executive fiat. What Jefferson and Tocqueville thought might save us from the mob-rule of ancient Athens — the independent agrarian and small autonomous businessperson anchoring checks and balances to 51% majority rule and demagogues — is no longer our ideal.

I offer a modest suggestion amidst our current angst. Let us put a moratorium on the use of the word “democracy” altogether in our lectures about the Arab Spring and promoting Western values. Cease using it, given that the word has lost all currency and has regressed to its root Hellenic demagogic meaning of “people power.”

Most people simply do not appreciate the complex constitutional system that democracy’s modern incarnation is supposed to represent, and prefer to equate democracy with what on any given day the majority is said to want — which is almost always a state-mandated equality and a redistribution of wealth — or a way to implement authoritarianism. In the Middle East, an election without a ratified constitution and the rule of law is a prescription for tyranny.

Instead, let us speak of “consensual government” or “constitutional government,” and emphasize “republicanism.” Our goal, to the degree we wish to offer advice abroad to reformers abroad, would be to encourage illiberal states to form “representative” or “constitutional republics,” where the will of the people is expressed through representatives who themselves are subject to constitutional law.

Limited or consensual government should be our sloganeering overseas and at home. The great lesson of the Obama administration is that the abuses of democratic plebiscites abroad are not contrasted, but amplified by the increasingly lawless American model, when it uses the IRS and the Justice Department to go after political opponents, allows senior officials to lie under oath to the Congress, and fails to execute faithfully those laws passed by the legislative branch. If we are to offer America as a model, then there must be some honesty and transparency about the Benghazi, Associated Press, IRS, and NSA scandals.

In the latter 20th century, we got our wish and saw much of the world adopt Western democratic trajectories. It is now our challenge in the early 21st century to ensure that they were not given a bill of goods.

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Top Rated Comments   
My dear cyberfriend, respect and admiration for you knows no bounds.

However, if we think that the ultimate goal of leftism is the same as the "compassionate liberal twit"...or useful idiots, if you prefer...we do ourselves a world of harm in that misread.

The hard core leftist, this administration is not only replete with them...but is LEAD BY THEM....does not give a Tinker's Dam about "equality of result".

Do we think for one minute that they would like "equality of result" for the Tea Party? For Fox News? For Christian evangelicals? For the Koch Brothers?

Hard leftism is identity politics with steel-toed boots that is more than happy to goosestep all over the trampled "enemy"...albeit, only saying THAT aloud in Spanish. That "enemy" needs to be "punished"...not given an "equal result".

And, we do not need to scan the globe for the loss of democracy. We can much closer to home, where our rights are being stripped on a daily basis.

We do violence to our own resistance efforts when we continue to confuse the mask with the masquerader. They are NOT "compassionate liberals". They are not "liberal" in any sense of the word. And, they are most certainly not compassionate.

They don't want to "level the playing field"...they want to level the arena...with us in it.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What few people realize these days (as opposed to the time of our founding fathers) is that *both* representative government (note the non-use of the word democracy) and the rule of law are means to an end, not ends in themselves.

The true end is the protection of each individual citizen's rights to life (not being killed), property (keeping the results of your work) and liberty (not having your behavior coerced by threats to your life or property). That is what defines a free country.

The purpose of representative government is to prevent the government from enacting laws that infringe the rights of the population. The idea being that any such infringement would benefit few at the expense of many and thus be impractical to sustain electorally. Of course some clever totalitarians learned to hack the system, by buying off large portions of the electorate with loot extracted from smaller parts of the electorate.

The Constitution was intended to prevent such abuse, and would have if it had been followed. I doubt any of the abusive powers the government has today would have made it through the constitutional amendment process. But some clever totalitarians hacked the Constitution, and "interpreted" it not to mean what it says.

Finally, the rule of law is only virtuous when the law protects individual rights. When the law becomes immoral, strict adherence to the law ceases to be a virtue. This is why rules following cultures (say, Germany) turn to unspeakable evil when their government is taken over by evil, while non rules following cultures (say, Brazil) are amazingly robust to bad government and immoral law.

On the other end, without the rule of law you can never really rise out of the banana republic stage.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not far from the US borders there is an entire continent where democracy is understood by many as an excuse to get to enjoy being an authoritarian ruler. Once the ruler gets elected he/she gets immediately busy neutralizing the opposition and seeking ways to perpetuating him/herself. That is followed by the usual task of destroying or nullifying what the previous ruler did lest the people may get fond of the previous administration and call them back to power. Latin American democracies differ from the democracy of the Founding Fathers as Washington and Bolivar. The US has finally voted a Bolivar with enough cronies to rig the system in his favor.

Without a moral base democracy has clay feet. If there is no individual restraint, solidarity, prudence, integrity, and all the list of things that we call republican virtues are lacking... the whole exercise is useless, democracy remains a monkey dressed in lace.

In a functional democracy once the system is taken over by immoral people hungry for unlimited power, and if those knaves manage to erode the civic virtues of the people: it's all over. The sovereign (the people) is drunk and the nation is lost.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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I thought this was a very good article, with lots of good comments too. However, I want to quibble with one thing.
This quote:
' by enabling unprecedented numbers of Americans to enroll in food stamp, disability, unemployment, and various entitlement programs..."
this thought is often said on the right, & it seems to be enough to say it, as so many already believe it. You don't have to prove it.

I know in what way Obama is responsible for a record number of applications to all these things. It's because nobody can find a job.

But has Obama done something to make more of these applications get accepted?

I'm familiar with the process of applying for disability as I went through it. Many on the right seem to believe Obama has done something to make more of these applications get accepted. Can somebody point to any evidence that he has?

I would really like to know.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Agree completely with the idea to ban the now meaningless word democracy. Bring it back only when the wagon is fixed.

As for the rest, statism isn't just a M-E pathology, and the intellectual confusion between plebiscites and democracy is largely confined to the faculty lounge and the state department.

Our miserable leaders sowed the wind, now we reap.
But we don't have to put up with it.
The prognosis? We all gotta guess, but Syria will not end well and there's no reason to shrug off yet another blundering mess. Right now, what VDH calls 'the great struggle to save constitutional democracy as we once knew it' is little more than toothless waffle and tub thumping, nothing great about it. The hope may be that we're at the point of mass rejection by the people, the equivalent of jury nullification on a national scale, when Joe the Plumber just shrugs and walks away from all demands from IRS goons and Obama's bureaucratic enforcers.

Gov't choices are very limited once the consent of the people is lost.You have far more power than you know. Personally, I shy away from passive behavior and prefer blood, to encourage the others. The unlovely barbarians in the M-E understand the power of violence, in many cases it's all they have left.

We still have choices though we have misplaced our backbones. The question is for how long. Meantime, we're shrinking fast, quite literally in the case of the EU (latest demographic whoopsi is Germany, with a vanishing birthrate of 1.43). Use it or lose it, in all senses.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Something that occurred to me while I was living in Eastern Europe in the early '90s, just after the fall of communism.
It's not the first free election that establishes consensual government - it's the first in which the party in power loses and concedes power to the winner.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What most people simply do not understand is that democracy, our republic & rule of law ended here in about 2010. We are the living dead in a failed State. Just waiting for someone or something to push us all off the cliff as we slink away into destruction...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Rule of Law" is another phrase, along with "Common Sense," that has been co-opted by the Left. Rule of Law no longer means what the Founders intended, as the Constitution being a limiting factor on government, but whatever serves the needs of a power hungry state personified in Obama. The Left is trying to give their man the powers of a king and using Rule of Law, something many older Americans were brought up respecting, to do it. It's only "Common Sense" to give in to the Most Wise Few who know better than everyone else. Just give up your guns, religion (well Christianity anyway), and property and they'll give you free stuff and let you party all day, until their real agenda comes to fruition.

Until people wake up are realize just what kind of politicians are making these laws, and more to the point the even worse unaccountable bureaucrats making "rules" unseen in the shadows, things will keep getting worse until the system just can't stand any longer. Some people say that will be great. It won't. It's just a pity it is human nature not to look past the hand offering free stuff to see the gun in the other.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hey, all you motherlovin' patriots and happy capitalistas! I've got some news for you. Yeah, you. Not the evil serfs to whom your hard-earned cash is being redistributed (those dudes are Bad!), not the Marxists and crypto-Islamists in the White House (yuck!), no. You.

Read the below listed link to Kevin Drum's article in Mother Jones re the Future.
YOUR FUTURE, oh ye nattering nabobs of negativity. Your future, and your kids' futures, and their kids' as well. Yes, you'll have to hold your nose at the horrid prospect of reading an article from the obvious Pinko Sheet that is Mother Jones. Many of you will fail this trying nasal exercise.

But, those of you who succeed, those few, those happy few, will prosper. If you make the proper adjustments. Will you? Change is tough. Wait, wait, wait until the last minute, until it's too late. That's the ticket! Wait, and natter on about the evils of the dark-hued serfs, the commies in D.C., the naughty abusers of your much-cherished "freedoms." Or adjust. Adapt. And survive, as you join the ranks of the New Fittest.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This article is so not-helpful because it does not BLAME and BEMOAN enough. It is not nearly as gratifying to blame automation as it is to blame Obama!

As for democracy, we started out with landed white males (generally churched) being the only ones able to vote. Now it appears that anyone and everyone can vote, either with or without voter ID's. It is what it is. What do you want, a philosopher king? Only if his/her philosophy agrees with mine and his or her policies help my my social class/demographic more than yours.
Politics, governing, (and life) is an endlessly messy business and the main reason we need two political parties is to have someone to blame and ENJOY attacking. Every so often the old bums get thrown out, and new bums get their chance to stumble through.
Remind me exactly when it was that we had our golden age.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If by "golden age" you mean a time when everybody is happy and comfortable then there has never been and will never be a golden age.

If, however, you mean a time when prudent men, under protection of the law and as fortune allows, can have a chance to better themselves and pursue happiness regardless of the fate of the imprudent, then the first two centuries of this nation were as good as has been in history.

That it was less than perfect does not erase the fact that we are sacrificing freedom on the altar of equality.

"The finest opportunity ever given to the world was thrown away because the passion for equality made vain the hope for freedom." -Lord Acton
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Possibly a higher percentage could advance because there were still new frontiers and hard, grunt work, with moderate intelligence and decent judgment could move you forward. Right now, I would guess that you have to be 20% smarter, wilier, whatever to advance similarly. If you are only 15% smarter, you can take a government job and come out even better. ;-)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr Hanson,
I wish you would concentrate more on the period of the late Roman Republic where the power became more concentrated in the Caeser, but before law broke down completely. It is more relevant to what we are currently experiencing. I am not the Roman scholar you are but I know Cato probably had a lot to say that is still meaningful. Keep up the good and insightful columns.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think a good comparison is King James II and the resulting Glorious Revolution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1) The Leftist Media controls the information that citizens need to make informed decisions and deliberately and criminally distorts and slants it and

2) the Leftist Education System controls the means by which citizens process information and deliberately replaces critical thinking skills with indoctrination into leftist ideas then,

you have lost any semblance of self governance and are already a serf.

Hell, if I wanted to take down a country and had a couple of generations to do it, I couldn't think of a more masterful plan.
Now that I think of it...didn't Khrushchev predict something like this back, oh...a couple of generations ago?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yes he did but Nikita had no plan, he was simply running his mouth as usual. He was already presiding over a failed project. It just slumbered through until 1992 when Yeltsin climbed on to that tank waving the Russian flag with the Imperial colors.

INFORMATION will kill the beast. We have to be masters in delivering simple, clear ideas through to everyone. We have an advantage: there is more truth on our side than in theirs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yes, "without firing a single shot..."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Remember the coin Jesus held up with Caesar's head on it. Here in USA Ceasar's head may have new faces but it is still Ceasar's head.Two world wars were fought and this spirit of The King of Rome , This King of Babylon falls into the proverbial 7 years of becoming a beast of the barren field
but God restores this King of Babylon until the writing on the wall the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ the Lord
In the meantime Christians living in this Babylon understand how Babylon is used by God to turn them into worthy and saints.
Don't let yourself be jealous I have 13 heavens and 7 wives now on the earth and you have your spirit King Of Babylon . Have mercy on him because his 7 years can feel like eternal he rules over almost 7 billion people on the earth
Pray this beast condition heals
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
i yes i given a thousand years with my 7 wives and 13 heavens ask yourself where will you be in 10 to 50 years? On the other side see how things really work and meet the soul of your secular King God bless you with and remember how hell is only temporary even though it may feel eternal and God has the key and the key to purgatory and heaven
Dress up that King I see in the Lord of The Rings Return of The king and make him handsome but just remember you are dealing with spirits and old souls whereas I am dealing with the reality of the material being now bathed in heaven
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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