- Condoleezza Rice wants to bring democracy to the Middle
East. Ms. Rice, an expert on what is now an obsolete subject, the Soviet
Union, believes this can be done the way the United States brought democracy
to Chile or Iran or Afghanistan - that is, by violently overthrowing governments.
- Does democracy come from the full belly of a B-52 and
the murderous aftermath of coups?
- Apparently not. Virtually none of the countries that
America's freedom-loving army of enlightenment has bombed and shot-up over
the last sixty years is today a democracy.
- One is reminded of the claims of Napoleonic France that
it was spreading revolutionary principles by conquest. The conquest part
was vigorously pursued, but the liberté, egalitié, et fraternité
part left a little something to be desired.
- Ms. Rice displays little understanding of the history
of democracy or of the circumstances which make it possible. She is not
alone in this. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's efforts on
"democracy initiatives" displayed a similar lack of understanding,
although it must be said in Ms. Albright's favor, she was less inclined
than the ever-hysterical Ms. Rice to classify unprovoked attack by a great
power as an initiative for democracy.
- Democracy is simply a natural development of a healthy,
growing society. Over the long term, it requires no revolution, no coup,
and no sacred writ. It grows and blooms as automatically as flower seeds
tossed in a good patch of earth, although it is a plant whose maturity
is measured in human lifetimes rather than seasons.
- The early United States after its revolution was no more
a democracy than was the Mother Country. The authority of Britain's monarchy
had long been limited by the growing authority of Parliaments. Even that
mighty ruler, Elizabeth I, more than a century and a half before George
III and the American Revolution, felt the limits of Parliament closing
in on her.
- George III, despite later American myths, was very much
a constitutionally-limited monarch. For some time, up to and during the
Revolution, there were many prominent American colonists who felt that
the machinations of the British Parliament were thwarting the intentions
of the king and endangering the health of the empire. Even at that early
time, people understood that elected government was just as capable of
bad policy as a royal one or an aristocratic one. Indeed, the genius of
the British (unwritten) constitution was seen by most thoughtful American
colonists as being in the way it combined the three forms of government
to offset each other, the direct origin of the American concept of "checks
and balances" by branches of government.
- While the British franchise was then highly restricted,
it was no less so in the early United States. It is estimated that maybe
1% of the population could vote in early Virginia with all the restrictions
of age, sex, race, and ownership of property. That's actually roughly comparable
to the percentage of people making decisions in contemporary Communist
China where about 60 million party members hold sway over about 1.2 billion
- The American Revolution did not produce anything resembling
a democracy. Nor did the later Constitutional Convention. It took about
two hundred years of growth and change in the United States for that to
happen. The powerful Senate, able to block the elected President's appointments
and treaties, only changed from being an appointed body to an elected one
in 1913. The Senate to this day uses undemocratic operating rules and bizarre
election patterns to shield it against public opinion.
- The popular vote for President did not matter originally.
Apart from the fact that only a small number of males meeting property
requirements could vote, the members of the Electoral College, drawn from
political elites, were the ones whose votes actually counted. This absurdly
out-of-date and anti-democratic institution still exists, and it can cause
serious problems as we saw in the election of 2000.
- Women only got the vote in 1920. Blacks in the American
South only received an effective franchise a few decades ago. In some places,
like parts of Florida, recent elections suggest that methods may still
operate to limit the franchise of black citizens.
- America has two parties sharing a quasi-monopoly on political
power, and they produce much the same effects in the body politic that
quasi-monopolies produce in the market place. The two quasi-monopoly parties
are financed through a corrupt system of private donations. America herself
still has a considerable way to go along the path to democracy.
- Yet Americans generally believe that their Revolution
and Constitutional Convention created a full-blown democracy and near-perfect
system of government right from the start. Perhaps this explains the blind
faith of people like Ms. Rice in thinking that if you just have a big war
or coup somewhere, you can create a democracy.
- Democracy comes gradually because it represents a massive
social change that affects all relationships in society. The chief driving
force towards democracy is the emergence of a strong middle class whose
members have too much at stake to leave decisions to a king or group of
aristocrats. The size of the middle class expands by steady economic growth.
In the West, this process of change has proceeded steadily since the Renaissance
and the rise of science and applied technology, with variations in the
pattern of individual countries reflecting adjustments to peculiarities
of local culture, invasions, civil wars, and varying rates of economic
- Many of the societies America looks askance at in the
world today make no progress towards democracy because they make little
progress of any kind, especially economic progress. Static societies with
little or no economic growth are ones where ancient customs and social
relationships do not change, where kings or warlords rule just as they
did thousands of years ago in early societies.
- Economic growth is like a magical solvent that begins
to erode old relationships. And given enough of it, over a considerable
period of time, it erodes old ways of governing completely. This process
is observable even within regions of a country. The American South was
remarkably backward and static for a good part of the 20th century. But
the shift of business and middle-class populations to the sunbelt during
the middle of the century brought some rapid change - ergo, the phenomenon
known as the New South.
- It has been said that if, in the wake of 9/11, the United
States truly had wanted to battle for democracy and human rights, it would
have dropped dollar bills rather than bombs on Afghanistan. That, of course,
is an exaggeration, but it contains important truth.
- The United States could make a genuine contribution to
the spread of democracy were it to focus attention on the economies of
the world's more backward places. It might start with some generosity in
foreign aid. The United States is the stingiest of all advanced countries
in giving economic assistance to poor countries, giving at an annual rate
of 1/10 of one percent of its GDP.
- Reducing or doing away with American agricultural subsidies
that impoverish third-world farmers would also be a great help. So, too,
the tariff and non-tariff barriers that the U.S. uses against many products
from these struggling countries.
- Paying its dues to the United Nations and ending its
childish carping about that important institution would help, since U.N.
agencies perform many valuable services for the world's children, its refugees,
and international cooperation and understanding.
- In general, concern for democracy calls for the U.S.
to start behaving more like a responsible neighbor in the international
community and rather less like an 18th century French aristocrat who barely
notices as his carriage thumps over the body of whoever happened to be
in its path.