Iraq: The Folly of Deifying Democracy
2007 Selwyn Duke
hear lots of criticism of the Iraq venture from the left, right and center.
There is everything from silly notions about presidential prevarication
to how “it is only about oil” to one-world government conspiracy theories.
Yet, while military action can rise from policy objectives, it’s often ignored
that policy objectives tend to rise from the time’s prevailing philosophy.
And the truth is that insofar as the war in Iraq has been misguided, the
blame can be laid at the feet of the spirit our age.
speak of a political correctness that would prescribe Western-world solutions to
Third World problems.
problem in Iraq has not been winning the war, but winning the peace.
Toppling Saddam Hussein was easy enough, but toppling the medieval
attitudes of a fractious and often ferocious people is a different matter.
And what do we prescribe as a remedy for this malaise?
A dalliance with democracy.
Bush has said that democracies don’t go to war with one another.
This much reminds me of the quaint naiveté of a century ago that dubbed
WWI “The War to End All Wars.”
we have the political system to end all wars.
not that our desire to democratize Afghanistan and Iraq grew from pure fantasy.
After WWII, we installed democracies in the Axis powers and watched
Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Italy, develop vibrant economies and
stable governments. Moreover, it’s
also true that democratic forms of government provide checks and balances that
temper the caprice of a ruler; a president’s desire to launch an imprudent
military campaign will often be countered by cooler heads in bodies that share
power. Thus, one could certainly
conclude that democracies don’t go to war with one another.
Yet, it occurs to me that a truer statement may be that democracies have
not yet gone to war with one another; then, an even truer statement may
be that democracies don’t always remain democracies: They descend into
they may go to war with one another.
left scratching their heads have not learned from history, only pep talks.
While we often view democracy as the terminus of governmental evolution,
the stable end of political pursuits, the truth is that civilizations have
tended to transition not from tyranny to democracy, but democracy to tyranny
(e.g., the ancient Romans). As for
recent history, we may be witnessing this pattern with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela;
while elected democratically, he increasingly stifles opposition and
consolidates power. Would anyone bet
the house that democracy in Venezuela will be extant 10 years hence?
Then we have the de facto dictatorships, such as Zimbabwe, where rigged
elections ensure that the leader will be “democratically chosen” until power
no longer intrigues him or he tastes cold steel.
Thomas Jefferson understood this gravitation toward tyranny well, for
when asked what kind of government had been created when he emerged from the
constitutional convention, he said, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
brings us to the crux of the matter: Even if we can successfully install
democratic republics in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, what makes us
think they can keep them?
correctness does. To average
westerners, all groups are essentially the same, despite profound religious and
cultural differences. Why, if a
civilization – be it Moslem or Christian, Occidental or Oriental – suffers
under the yoke of tyranny, it is only due to a twist of fate that has bestowed
the wrong system of government upon it. Change
that system and voila!, all live happily ever after.
What eludes these Pollyannas is that politics doesn’t emerge in a
vacuum but is a reflection of a far deeper realm, the spiritual/moral.
Alluding to this, Ben Franklin observed,
a moral and virtuous people are capable of freedom; the more corrupt and vicious
a society becomes, the more it has need of masters.”
wisdom wasn’t unusual before we were beset by our collective naiveté.
In 1901, while opining that the Cubans of the day were incapable of
stable self-government, Senator Orville H. Platt wrote, “In many respects they
are like children.”
Maybe. A justification for
imperialism? In certain cases
perhaps, but it doesn’t matter. A
truth doesn’t cease to be a truth simply because it’s placed in the service
of deceit. Just as people vary
individually in terms of spiritual and moral development, so do they
collectively. The ancient Aztecs
were not the ancient Athenians, the Carthaginians were not the Romans, and the
Iraqis are not us. Besides,
paternalism is far safer than political correctness.
of the latter, President Bush has said that all people want freedom.
That’s nice. How
idealistic. Technically, though,
Bush is correct: All people do want freedom.
What’s overlooked is that wanting and being able to acquire are very
“common human desire for freedom” does not suffice to perpetuate democracy.
After all, humans have lots of common desires.
Everyone desires health, but many still smoke, gorge themselves on
unhealthy foods, and drink too much. Virtually
everyone desires money, but many aren’t willing to put their noses to the
grindstone. Almost all desire good
families, but many still play the human monkey wrench as they make their loved
ones’ lives miserable.
is common for humans to have desires. It
is human nature to desire many things that are good.
It is also human nature to be ridden with frailty that renders one
unwilling or unable to do what's necessary to attain them.
we’ve put the cart before the horse. Many
years ago we understood that civilization was a prerequisite for healthy
government. Thus, we didn’t take a
diamond in the rough and assume the problem was that it didn’t sit in a fancy
gold ring. No, we sent missionaries
and Christianized and educated the darker regions of the world.
Sure, being human, Western motivations weren’t always pure, but the
wisest among us knew that Western-type institutions were fruits that naturally
grew on the tree of civilization.
it’s considered uncivilized to call people uncivilized, and even if we still
had faith – attended by the understanding that spiritual health must precede
the political variety – the planting of crosses in the Moslem world is
received no better than the planting of bombs.
The fact remains, however, that people are different and cultures can be
cultivated or callow. It may be
uncomfortable for many to contemplate this truth, but all the wishing in the
world doesn’t change reality. Democracy
isn’t a deity, government isn’t God. In
a morally corrupt society, the only difference between democracy and
dictatorship is the rate at which the dark cloud of tyranny descends upon the
I seem a tad culturally chauvinistic, I plead guilty.
But if it assuages any feelings, know that I don’t ascribe a sanctified
state to any culture, including my own. Perspective
informs that most people throughout the ages have been incapable of maintaining
freedom, which is why man has most often lived in tyranny.
In fact, I know that the moral decay of Western civilization ensures
regression to authoritarianism; this, mind you, is already evident in burgeoning
laws that squelch freedom and governments that become ever more intrusive.
is our ignorance of this phenomenon that contributes to our deification of
democracy. It’s easy to view
democracy as a mountaintop from which descent is impossible when one is
oblivious to how his republic is even now being lost.
Sure, a democratic republic can be the most stable of governments, but
often forgotten is that it rests on a foundation composed of the moral fiber of
the people. When that foundation
deteriorates sufficiently, the edifice collapses.
part of what blinds us to this Truth is moral relativism (which lies at the
heart of our moral decay). It’s
easy for us to fancy that a people’s character has no bearing on government,
as relativism states that no character can be better than another.
This prevents us from grasping both why we will not be able to “keep”
our republic and why one like it cannot be perpetuated in certain rough-hewn
lands. How can we possibly
understand how lacking character will breed tyranny when we perceive the lack as
merely the embrace of a different but equal “value system”?
perhaps one could characterize the problem as a failure of the increasingly
childish to understand how to govern children.
And if you don’t think creeping juvenility bedevils us, consider that
although we’re beset by traitors within and barbarians without, we’re ever
more concerned with indulging frivolity and extolling deviancy.
So many nowadays are not instilled with the discipline and moral compass
that would enable them to govern themselves, nor do they know much about our
constitution or system of government. But
they do know how to pierce and paint their bodies, put prophylactics on bananas,
and, by golly, they sure do care about fighting global warming so that Adam and
Steve won’t have to honeymoon at the North Pole.
priorities such as these, I suspect we will learn firsthand how democracy is no
savior. It is an apparatus of
civilization, not the author of it. In
the meantime, we will stumble about engaging in “nation-building,” oblivious
to the nature of the foundation on which we toil.
The only thing missing is a cry to take up the democratic man’s burden.
course, all cultures could be equally capable of sustaining democracy; that is,
if they all were morally equal. But
that, my friends, is something only a child could believe.
Selwyn Duke is a freelance writer out or Larchmont, NY. He has written for various publications including: IntellectualConservative.com, AmericanThinker.com and is a regular columnist for RenewAmerica.us.