Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The fire of the spirit inevitably causes some burns

I think one of the great difficulties of advocating democracies is living with the consequences. Perhaps one of Bush's great failings in his advocacy for democracy, he is never able to accept when things did not end up as he expected. Hamas is the greatest example of this. He immediately isolated it without trying to work out a livable agreement. Now for a general rule this would be forgivable, but Bush was supposed to be the champion of democracy, and an elected government at least deserves a chance if you believe that elections are a right. But perhaps I'm being too harsh, at the time I was only ambivalent about the sanctions, I see now that they were a mistake, but then...

The truth is that democracy is an unstable gamble. Even in success stories like the Estonia, where democracy has taken root and led to stability and growth, there have been some harsh consequences like the terrible treatment and subsequent radicalization of the Russian minority population. Even in the best of circumstances, democratization has been tough, and usually violent. We forget that even ours was pretty violent and had some bad consequences. The Revolutionary War was not a cake-walk and there were plenty of casualties but perhaps even worse was the treatment of loyalists after the war. By some estimates 1/3 of the British loyalists in the US fled the country after the war (that was actually an important factor in the populating of Canada). Afterward the revolution things weren't easy either. We had the several years under the Articles of Confederation where the United States was in a perpetual state of barely organized chaos. Revolt broke out (Shay's rebellion), foreign affairs was a mess (our treaties with the British had several matters unresolved, and our treaties with the Native American nations, many of whom at that time posed a serious threat to the US, were also a mess), in fact just like Iraq there were serious dangers of foreign influence (Spain had serious influence on the Mississippi region and there was danger of it being turned into their zone of influence). We forget all that, because it doesn't fit with the nice image of an organic democracy rising easily and naturally out of our society. That illusion was a great comfort for us and allowed us to justify our fears of other people's democratizing troubles, and justified our intervention to squash their attempts at democracy. It also gave us a false confidence that we need not fear for the health of our democracy, a very dangerous false confidence.

In fact, although without a doubt, non-violent democratizing efforts are generally better than violent ones (Freedom House, an organization dedicated to the ideals of democracy, has done a study showing that nonviolent democratizing makes for more enduring democracies (a great example of this is India's anti-colonial movement, the fact that it was founded on the ideals of nonviolence helped to breed a generation of nonviolent protesters who helped to keep India democratic (for example, many of them helped bring down Indria Gandhi's Emergency, the most dangerous period for India's democracy)), most of the older democracies in the world were founded on violence (the newer ones tend to have learned a little from the past). Take Europe for example, France's stumbling, off-and-on progression to democracy included the brutal reign of terror. Democracy was imported via costly war to Eastern Europe and Germany. Italy's democratizing is such a confusing process that I'm not going to get into it, but it involved some terrible violence including the institution of Fascism and its fall. Greece had to deal with a civil war. Spain and Portugal, eventually became democratic through non-violence, but they are relatively new democracies (1976 and 1974) and their record includes several spectacularly failed and spectacularly violent (especially in the case of Spain) previous tries at democracy. Ireland only got democracy after a long history of oppression and a combination of violent and non-violent efforts. Even England the big show case for gradual democracy only adopted gradual democracy after a Civil War so violent that it caused many philosophers like Hobbes to assume human nature was essentially violent (granted that Civil War led to a Restoration and it was actually only after that you had the Glorious Revolution and the beginnings of democratization, but that was a process started by the English Civil War).

So am I justifying violence here. Well, maybe in certain cases, but generally I think non-violent resistance is far superior, especially in these days when governments are powerful enough to quash most violent efforts, except guerilla efforts, which usually disintegrate into terror efforts against civilians and often fizzle out. What I am saying, in a very long fashion, is that we shouldn't be surprised that democratizing can have ill consequences or even violent ones. That doesn't mean, at least I believe it doesn't mean that people should stop trying for democracy. Democracy is a right. I don't like it when people talk about whether people should be given democracy or earn it, it is not something that is achieved or given, it is something people are born with. No, scratch that, they are not born with democracy, but rather something even more fundamental, something more essential and something that is rarely found without democracy, but is sometimes not found in a democracy, people are born with the right to be free. When people "earn" democracy they are simply taking back what is rightfully theirs.

Then what does it all mean? When I recite these things, I can say this is that and that is this, but what does it all mean? I suppose it means that even through violence people should press on. They should keep believing in freedom and strive to achieve it. I suppose this is a note of hope for the people of Iraq, but also the sad recognition that cases like Iraq, perhaps not as bad usually, but still violent and savage, will come in the future as other countries democratize. Yes, the violence can and should be avoided, primarily by using nonviolent protest techniques and avoiding alienating people by excessive nationalistic rhetoric, but still even in the best of cases, sometimes violence will happen, and we can try to prevent it, but it still might happen. Democracy is a crapshoot. Heck, life is a crapshoot. But we still press on.

So anyways, take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

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