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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Liberty vs. Democracy?

A quick Sunday post before I go back to being the servant of Hartza, who is having trouble adjusting to his new home--he won't eat, and insists on urinating at 3 am only.

I was never a big Pat Buchanan fan. He is smart, witty, a great debater, and often on point, but I was turned off by his barely concealed anti-semitism and racism. Yes, I consider him a lightly airbrushed anti-semite and a racist--I see Ron Paul as one, as well; Rand Paul is different. Unfair? Folks will let me know. As a libertarian (with an asterisk) I don't believe in racism. Race doesn't tell much at all about a person; culture, however, can tell much more. Socially conservative white middle class Americans, for example, are closer in temperament, values, and outlook on life to black middle class Barbadians, than they are to white "progressive" Scandinavians. All that, however, is a discussion for another day.

Years ago, Buchanan made an observation which I failed to incorporate into my thinking and acting. He took exception to American foreign policy's obsession with promoting democracy overseas; he pointed out that the statue in New York harbor (OK, OK, it's actually in New Jersey) is the Statue of Liberty, not the Statue of Democracy. He argued that if we sought to promote anything it should be liberty, not democracy.

I don't want to get into a huge pompous discussion On The Nature of Liberty, with lots of citations of erudite philosophers, but I have come around to Buchanan's view. Our obsession with democracy keeps getting us into trouble all over the world, and it ties our hands when trouble hits. At the risk of sounding like a neo-Marxist or a neo-Darwinist, I would argue that democracy might be the highest form of liberty, but that over time time, democracy can become a threat to liberty--a Jupiter chopping up his father Saturn sort of affair.

England, the birthplace of modern democracy, became one (yes, yes, officially a monarchy, but let's not get pedantic) after liberty became well established, e.g., limitations on the political reach of government as exemplified in the Magna Carta, the development of an economy in which that government could have only a limited "taste," to use some Sopranos language, and of a society with many centers of influence and power quite apart and independent from the state. In more modern times, we have seen liberty lead to democracy in Pinochet's Chile. Under the old and, as it turns out to the chagrin of leftists everywhere, enlightened dictator, a deliberate economic policy was set in motion that created a vibrant capitalist economy that led to today's amazing Chile--a country from which we have much to learn. We saw a similar process take place in Spain. Whether by design or "just because" the Franco regime fomented or at least allowed the emergence of a society with considerable liberty. Spaniards could get a passport with little trouble, set up businesses, buy and sell property, invest in stocks, bonds, etc., and rely on a fairly honest legal system to protect their property rights.

In places such as Egypt, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Honduras, all over Africa, we tie ourselves up in knots, often times huge complicated legal knots with lots of lawyers tugging on the ends of the twine over whether a regime is democratic, whether a particular act is in "keeping with democratic principles," or, believe it or not, whether some act by a government in another nation is in accord with that other nation's constitution. You don't know how many absurd meetings I attended while wise men debated whether the manner in which leftist pro-Chavez plutocrat Mel Zelaya had been removed from power in Honduras was in keeping with article this and paragraph that of the Honduran constitution. There we were, lots of highly paid American bureaucrats, crammed into an office at the NSC, arguing over the Honduran constitution--ignoring, of course, that the Honduran Supreme Court had ruled Zelaya's removal constitutional. We now see similar arguments over whether the removal of the repellant and tyrannical anti-Western jihadist Morsi in Egypt is or is not a coup, and whether we should or should not cut off assistance to the pro-Western and moderate Egyptian military.

We should, of course, be focused primarily on our real interests in the region and secondly on whether the new regime, be it in Tegucigalpa or Cairo, will benefit liberty more than the old one. In Cairo, I think there can be no doubt that whatever the flaws of the Egyptian military, a government under the control of that organization is better for the West, and better for the Egyptian people as it is better for liberty.

Now, of course, our advocacy for liberty overseas would be considerably stronger if we stopped destroying it at home first.

Just some thoughts on a Sunday.

40 comments:

  1. Very good point. Democracy is not liberty; it can be at cross purposes with individual freedom from government harassment. Per Robert A. Heinlein, "Democracy can survive anything except Democrats."

    What's in a name? Thinking of my sojourn in the former German Democratic Republic puts me in mind of Humpty Dumpty.

    'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

    'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

    'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

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    1. Your comment reminded me that Heinlein suggested a democracy that only provided sufferage to military veterans in starship troopers. An idea, that is starting to look better in the age of Obama.

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  2. Sad, ain't it? Chile and Honduras and even Franco's Spain appear to be less intrusive, less authoritarian and a hell of a lot brighter than our worshiping cult for Teleprompter Stalin .

    I do not blame Dear Leader nearly as much as the shit eaters who voted for him, who brook no criticisms of their Lord and Savior . The utterly Sovietized News Media to the willfully ignorant sluggernauts who can't wait to ride off on their Trojan Unicorns ,all are the true murderers of our precious liberty. Obama is merely the face of this self inflicted travesty

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    1. Like being mocked by a rodeo clown at a Missouri state event?
      Yeah - you know who rules you by whom you may not criticize.

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    2. Thanks Celia, I've yet to get to the end of this thread yet - fortunately I didn't see "low-informed" yet - .... willfully ignorant sluggernauts, "Trojan Unicorns" - "Utterly Sovietized" being the "True Murderers" --- I've to get past yet.

      My best guess is ... they've yet to read Federalist #59 or the 3rd through 5th Amendments. But I suppose one can hope.

      Arkie

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  3. Democracy, like aristocracy, is simply a means for deciding who the next ruler will be. Neither contains any guarantee that the ruler will be good, nor that the people will have liberty. It is liberty that is important, not the scheme by which rulers are selected.

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  4. Sounds like Hartza has you well trained. :)

    To the list of countries where liberty preceded democracy, I wonder if we can add Korea and Taiwan? They went through long periods of authoritarian, but not totalitarian' rule (to use Kirkpatrick's distinction), but the economic policies helped create the "attitudes and habits" of democracy, eventually enabling genuine democratic governance, as opposed to the farcical imitations we see in much of the Arab world.

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    1. Those are two excellent examples of what I meant.

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    2. Taiwan is a country towards which I have the fondest feelings (my wife is from there). I never served at AIT, but lived there as a private citizen working as a teacher, supply preacher, and translation editor. I got to see it pretty much from ground level rather than in the rarified atmosphere of [maybe not] government-to-government diplomacy.

      However, my fingers are crossed about its democracy. The food and fist fights in the Legislative Yuan (立法院) bode ill. While all my Hakka-speaking kin support the Guomindang, I often wonder if the corruption charges against Chen Shui-bian weren't trumped up, partly with the connivance of the Guomindang-owned and Mainland-bought-into media. In some ways, life under the soft authoritarianism of Chiang Ching-kuo (RIP, alov hasholom) was better.

      BTW, as a college student, my wife and some friends were arrested and questioned by the Military Police for trespassing on Chiang Kai-shek's private beach near Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung in Wade-Giles romanization). It took little time for the MP's to figure they were just hunting for a picnic spot and release them. This incident did not hurt either their educational or professional careers.

      Also, I feel very strongly that a lot of people in my generation were exposed to very misleading, misinformed, and unfair reporting on Taiwan back in the 1960's and '70's. While I can be critical of how they run things there, I learned to like its people and gain a sympathetic understanding of its problems as a state. And, now that I am no longer a diplomat, I will take the opportunity to declare that I think Taiwan deserves international recognition, whether it calls itself the rump of Dr. Sun's Republic of China, Taiwan, Great Liuqiu, Dongning, or even Bob.


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    3. I feel like having a legislator consume the physical text of a law in order to marginally delay its passage shows that country is really on track for respecting the processes of governance and the rule of law in general.
      When I read about that happening in Taiwan, it was clear to me that our legislators are failing in their imagination.

      -reader #1482

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  5. "We will therefore conclude with the perhaps unforeseen result, that democracy, when crowned with power, seeks rather what it consders the well-being of the community than the liberty of the individual." (The Ethics of Democracy by F.J. Stimson. Scribner's Magazine (1887))

    Sadly, this lesson was lost. Or perhaps suppressed. The well-being of the community is the tyrant's siren call. It's oddly the call of the Progs as well.

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  6. Way back in the fourth century B.C., the great Greek Aristotle said that a government by the many which works for the good of the public is a _politeia_, while one in which the majority uses its political power to rob the minority is a _demokrateia_. Hence, "democracy" was for him a bad word.

    I'm also of the mind that liberty and dependable rule of law (of the right kind: I believe in Lex Divina et Naturae rather than positivism) are more important than widespread suffrage and elections (especially of the one-man-one-vote-one-time variety). I did my Ph.D. in political science writing about rule of law as a theological concept in Scottish Calvinism (contrary to what you were told in High School and by Eric Voegelin, the Calvinists were NOT believers in clerical dictatorship), and see that much of what we enjoy in the North Atlantic world is a cultural artifact that depended on certain "habits of the heart" (after Robert Bellah) that might not be present in other parts of the world.

    Again, I note that for the O (not complementary in Hakka), it's democratic election of a president that counts (viz. his support of Zelaya and Morsi), not protection of the laws and institutions that might guarantee peaceful transitions in the long run.

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  7. While we're at it, I share your assessment of Pat Buchanan. I also note, as a Presbyterian, that while he bears the name of the second moderator of the Reformed Kirk who was also one of the shapers of our ideology of government by compact, consent, and law, he abandoned the good old cause to support the religion of "James, half a bigot and more of a knave", the last, best, and (thank God) unsuccessful hope of royal absolutism in the Anglosphere.

    Since Mr. Amselem mentioned Buchanan's anti-Semitism (which I note as well),I couldn't resist being a caricature of my old-school conservative Presbyterian self.

    Still, I'm for a less activist foreign policy, although I also think we won't be able to avoid some foreign issues, and still need to have a foreign policy of some kind.

    Again, our obsession with democracy also got us into very embarrassing situations. In the post-WWII era, democratization often when hand-in-hand with Communization. Now, in the "Arab Spring", it sweeps radical Islamicists into power. Both are movements highly inimical to liberty.

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    1. Me 'n you Kepha, indeed Dip, remain in agreement (prettymuch anyway)?

      I don't much care what Pat thinks/thought where the Popeguy - that Pat gives a *uhmm* about Western Civ is all I want to hear.

      Forgive me Diplomad Sir please?

      I avoid using identifiers/names.

      SCREW-YOU who don't matter - he did - I didn't/won't, "the better to blow your house down." That I happen to be Arkie ...

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  8. Who could forget that shining example of democracy the Soviet Union! Fantastic voter participation 90+ percentile. Constitution filled with more rights than you could shake a stick at. Who could not be moved by the sight of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of desperate people climbing walls topped with broken glass, crossing minefields, dodging machine guns to get into the USSR to live the dream of democracy. Alas with all that they had no liberty.

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    1. Yes, true that. I spent some time there in the nineties, watching the truly desperate and hair-raising spectacle of a country in which civil society had been well and truly stamped out, which had no functioning legal system and no property rights, trying to switch to a market economy and self government overnight. I hope some kinds of liberty are becoming reestablished in Russia and that in time a more enlightened form of government will develop there. I hope the same for us, and am currently reading, with great interest, Mark Levin's "The Liberty Amendments."

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  9. "Retired" is tough Dip.

    Takes one out on the one hand but on the other, gives freedom to say/"do" as one is inclined.

    One will never find oneself "retired" dismayed to say, (and "dismayed" I figure you're soon to "appreciate" given you're getting notice) ...

    'course you've more Google results than me - which personally ...

    then again, different stuff, and neither of us has a thing over to do with that. Just the way it works out. You'll be okay.

    Except we've the common problem - one of my kids [can't recall which indeed, never knew who "sang" it did 'I think' "Highway To Hell" - but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Pat Buchanan, Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes (NAS Memphis 70s) - on Memphis' Overton Square.

    These days ... not a safe place for Missouri (or "any"body else wearing a ..... jeebers ..... "rubber doggone mask" ) or anyone other than maybe "Okra" to go - and I doubt Okra's gonna calf-rope much less bulldog.

    Dear Lord, I wonder what's become of us.

    & worse. I've Grandkids.

    Arkie

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  10. The masses are hard-wired for socialism. We, sir, are mutants. Very, very lonely mutants.

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  11. Franklin said we had a republic, if we could keep it. Not a democracy, which the founders believed would eventually self destruct as the majority voted themselves the wealth of the minority. We are there, finally, and unfortunately.

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  12. While Democracy is often explained as 2 wolves and a sheep voting on the dinner menu; The act of trying to bring Democracy to a culture that is not ready for the responsibility that goes with that authority may be described as the West throwing a sheep into a Wolves Den then trying to figure out what went wrong.

    The Middle East is a 9th Century Culture. They need a 9th Century Government (and Ruler) to maintain stability. Yep, sucks to be a woman born in that system...but ultimately it isn't our Culture, Country, or Constitution in THEIR Nation.

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  13. "Race doesn't tell much at all about a person; culture, however, can tell much more."

    And just who creates a "culture" or does it just pop out of a can at random?

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    1. And just who creates a "culture" or does it just pop out of a can at random?

      Ironic I realize but given 'pop out of a can" maybe you should ask Bloomberg - however, his 'n Ray Kelly's "Stop & Frisk" all my NYC friends support.

      16 oz soda pops I don't give a shit about - but then, it's all about what works. The NYPD (in my opinion) is the best PD on the planet Earth.

      Arkie

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    2. Ah, culture. There are tomes about culture. Culture is formed over many generations and is a result of the blending of many different influences. I think might be among the least important of those influences except to the extent that it subjects the members of that rave to different treatment by others--that, of course, can have an impact on culture.

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    3. Culture: N. Member of the fungus family, usually seen in glass dishes or in front of camera lens. Dangerous mostly through uncontrolled and thoughtless contact. No known cure, but can be controlled by large doses of common sense.

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  14. I suggest that the entire point of "democracy" is to ensure some form of government accountability. Democracy may not be the only way to provide for this, although historical examples may be lacking. Perhaps the role of a monarchy, accepted as legitimate, provides analogous accountability. In this case, that is via a sense of duty or honor. The UK is an obvious example, so also are the Netherlands and consider the role King Juan Carlos had in bringing Spain out of the era of Franco.

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  15. Very well timed post. In the last couple of weeks I've been seriously rethinking some of my more blind support for 'democracy everywhere'. I have previously given 'democracy' far too much credit for the success of the American experiment. Going to 'capitalist democracy' seems a step better, and 'capitalist republic' seem more worthy of credit.
    As a newly devout Christian, I feel that a good governing system is that which allows people the freedom to live in obedience to their neighborly religious principles. Not terribly libertarian of me, I know, as that "end goal" leaves little clear cut protection for the various liberties we now enjoy as individuals.

    I used to drone on about how X or Y really needed democratic reform, and how that would solve a nation's problems, even if it took them decades to get there. But democracy isn't an end unto itself in my book anymore. It's one possible step in a path.

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  17. Speaking of Manuel Zelaya, If you have previous articles pertaining to that first foreign affairs debacle of the Obama Administration I would appreciate reading them on one of the days you are suffering from writers block due to Hartza's lack of cooperation.

    Also, I count more than 7 loyal readers, I would bet you are at least in the double digits by now

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  18. We are friends of Liberty everywhere, but guardians only of our own.

    Thomas Jefferson--

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  19. Excellent post in times such as these. First, I don't find that urinating at 3 am is so unusual at all. Rather, it is an art. "Now, of course, our advocacy for liberty overseas would be considerably stronger if we stopped destroying it at home first". A thunderous concluding statement.

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    1. Yes, I guess I need to heed the advice of those Fox channel adverts for enlarged prostate.

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  20. What would you prefer? Living in Singapore where you have little in the way of political rights, but your life and property are protected under rule of law.

    Or would you prefer to be a resident of Argentina where the mob voted in a government that voted to seize (steal)the retirement savings of the better off private citizens.

    I know which one I would choose.

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  21. If you keep making this much sense we may need to change your nom-de-blog to "Doctor Sanity". Oh? Already taken? Sorry.

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    1. I will try to refrain from making sense. It won't be hard.

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    2. How you survived a career in the State Department with the ability think and express yourself logically, coherently and with genuine American values is indeed a marvel. Please say others like you are still employed there. Please.

      - Augustus

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    3. Many thanks and yes, there are some very good people at State. The system, however, forces silence on dissent and there is a corporate culture that does not reward people who speak up.

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    4. A classic culture of bureaucratic timidity?

      Consular Cone Cephas (there: from Anglicized Aramaic to Anglicized Hellenized Aramaic! Whew!)

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  22. 'ere we advocate liberty for Honduras (a country which managed to avoid a bloody insurrection during the period running from 1960 to 1996 and has had an elected government without interruption since 1981), we might assist them in building and maintaining basic public order. The country currently has a homicide rate in excess of 90 per 100,000 (Detroit's has averaged 41 per 100,000 the last 15 years). Building prisons for them and training police might be a worthy project if you could gin up a bureaucratic agency with a sustained focus. Another problem identified in the past is the country's haphazard land registry. We might assist with cleaning that up as well.

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  23. You might be interested to read some Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. Perhaps "Liberty or Equality".

    -- ChevalierdeJohnstone

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  24. Preessent on Russia's moves in Syria.

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