Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Pundita posted a provocative essay on modern democratic revolutions of the kind seen in Georgia, Ukraine and, to a limited extent, underway in Lebanon. Sort of a political cry of Caveat Emptor !

"The stage-managed Orange Revolution in Ukraine was a product of what could be called the Democracy Stage Show Kit. The kit comes complete with instructions on how to stage civil disobedience, how to use the media, and coaching on how to line up your talking points. The basic kit is not new. It's as old as big money buying mobs. In the modern era the kit was refined by Western governments and used to peel some former Soviet regions from the Kremlin's influence....

...On paper, that's not such a bad idea--provided foreign government influence can be kept out of the confrontation process. Yet there is an insidious drawback to the packaging of democratic revolution, which works greatly against real democracy.

That people in a democracy have the right to stage mass protests is not the same as saying that mass protests are a demonstration of democratic government. They're demonstrating a benefit of such government. Yet many people who use the Democracy Stage Show Kit are not clear on the fact that democratic government requires the rule of law, not the rule of a crowd.--and that democracy demands increased personal responsibility on the part of the self-governed.

These two concepts--rule of law and personal responsibility--are strikingly absent in the sales pitch for the Democracy Stage Show Kit. What you hear most in the pitch is "freedom." People are encouraged to seek more freedom. But freedom is not free. It's a tremendous responsibility, which imposes considerable discipline on the individual and takes up much time. "

Pundita's skepticism on establishing democratic rule is tempered by later acknowledging an important statistical reality with political implications:

" Humanity will work through the conundrum; we have no choice, given our current population and where the figure is headed. Democracy is not only the best form of government in terms of protecting human rights, it's also the only workable form of government in the era of huge human populations. We have simply passed the era when a small elite could be counted on to properly manage the problems of governing a populace. It takes large numbers of people to efficiently govern populations that run into the hundreds of millions. "

This point is not merely one of functionality but of political legitimacy. When an oligarchy or a dictator loses the confidence of the state bureaucracy, when the nomenklatura of terror has its will sapped by uncertainty, even an efficient police state will unravel with unnerving speed. Erich Honecker ruled East Germany for decades. His successor, Egon Krenz, lasted a month.

Democracy is a potent legitimizer of power because it is an affirmation of the consent of the governed. Other forms of government can be implicitly legitimate but democracy is explicitly so - being measured at regular and predictable intervals. The rulers of other kinds of regimes realize this which is why so few of them dare to ideologically challenge democracy head-on like the Fascists and Nazis once did. Instead they proffer sham elections to the world as if form could still be mistaken for content, usually to universal derision.

Democracy has reached the point of ubiquitous acceptance where, without recognizing the irony, the accidental, absolutist, King of Nepal is being chided by the world community for being anti-democratic ! Oriental despots are expected to be good democrats these days because without popular sanction they are just so much gangsters with an armed mob behind them. When al Qaida ideologist Ayman al-Zawahiri and beheading maniac Musab al-Zarqawi rant against democracy as sacreligious and illegitimate their videotaped tirade falls upon deaf ears - most likely with al-Zarqawi's contribution weakening whatever case al-Zawahiri might have.

The real question today is not democracy as an irresistable force meeting totalitarianism as an immovable object but of democracy irresistably meeting peoples previously seen as ungovernable except by force.
I always appreciate your comments and knowledge of world affairs. The chart you published in the online magazine Rule Set Reset helped me understand how the societies of the world function with their people and other societies of the world. It is with this new found knowledge that I am beginning to see, maybe not the answers, but important questions that need answering.
Wasn’t the Nazi’s challenge not to democracy as your quote states, “…which is why so few of them dare to ideologically challenge democracy head-on like the Fascists and Nazis once did”, but to the implicit laws of the Jewish people. Isn’t the vision of Thomas PM Barnett, author of Pentagon’s New Map, in trying to change the implicit laws of Islam the same? His admitted goal is to eliminate the Mullah’s influences by bringing them into the globalization process. Why doesn’t this sound like eliminating Islam, at least to the people of Islam?
While Democracy was the downfall of Nazi Germany, is it not a management style or form of government instead of a kind of society? We are still living in an individualistic society that is legitimized by Democracy. Much of the Middle East is a Communal society legitimized by an Authoritarian management style. Why can’t a communal society also build the beads and trinkets of globalization and still prosper as a legitimate society? Why can’t communal governments, like Denmark and the United Kingdom, show us how societies that use implicit laws for connectivity live with societies that connect with explicit laws? If they can’t show us will they not simply eliminate us like we did to Nazi Germany?
Hi Anon

Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Tom liked the chart too - I try to go the extra mile for RSR so my pieces there aren't simply a replication of what would go into my blog. We're shooting for scholarly quality thinking but in mass communication form.

To answer your questions:

On Connectivity and the Muslim world:

It's important to realize that the current movement called Islamism represents a radical innovation in interpretation of the Sharia - a reactionary one to be sure - but one that did not have currency before circa 1960, barely existed before 1920 and not at all before 1880.

Interpretation of the sharia and the hadith comes from the four schools of jurisprudence. The Islamists take the strictist school, Hanbali, then the most fundamental/literal reading from that school, Salafism, and proceed to cherry-pick and quote selectively from that to suit their political agenda.

Most religious Muslims do not follow the Hanbali school, much less this reified extremism. Sufi-influenced Muslim cultures or those that blend Islam with local traditions ( Indonesia, West Africa) have less trouble adapting to modernity.

Iran's shiite Mullahs too, are following a radical innovation, Khomeini's Rule of the Jurisprudent, which owes as much to Plato as to the Quran. Most grand Ayatollahs reject that system and I'm pretty sure it is going to go under within the next 5- 10 years in Iran. Khameini's oafishness is doing a good deal to discredit it among Iranians.

Democracy will have a Islamic face in Muslim countries and it is going to take time and require growing pains and compromises that westerners would not willingly want to make.

You might also check Juan Cole and Collounsbury for their input here, as they are the true experts on Islam. Col also understands macroecon very well to boot.

On the Nazis:

Hitler was quite a determined foe of " bourgeois democacy" and liberalism and was quite candid about it even when he was pusuing his " legalist" path to power.

Ian Kershaw was correct to label Hitler a radical Social Darwinist. His aim was to destroy the Germans " biological" rivals by physically eliminating the Jews and vastly reducing the Slavs in number to create a superstate of 450 million Aryans stretching to the Urals. Check the last chapter in Infiltrator by albert Speer on Hitler's ambitions for the East.

This is where Goldhagen, who takes a sound argument to ridiculous extremes, is correct. The Nazis were different from classical Christian anti-semites. The latter wanted to convert Jews to the Body of Christ, at which point they ceased to be Jewish. To the Nazis, Jewishness was " in the blood" and they intended racial liquidation seeing the Jews as a discrete " anti-race". Quite a terrible conception but with a evil logic to it.
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