Friday, September 21, 2007

Democracy for Dummies

The World Forum on the Future of Democracy at Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary, the subject of extensive commentary by this site’s host (“Colonial Williamsburg’s Summit of Scrambled Egg-Heads,” September 5), ended on September 18 on a flat note. Only one session of the three-day event was open to the public. The other sessions were “private” events at Colonial Williamsburg’s Williamsburg Lodge, so it cannot be determined if these secret deliberations ended on a high note. Perhaps The New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of the Forum participants, will wax poetic on those private sessions in the near future and let the world know what transpired in them.

The Forum, the signature event of “Jamestown 2007” to mark the founding of Jamestown in Virginia in 1607, was more like a quasi-religious synod of high-minded altruists, globalists, collectivists and pragmatists to discuss in hush-hush huddles how they propose to reform, manage and save the world through “democracy.” As Mr. Provenzo pointed out in his “Scrambled Egg-Heads” commentary, “democracy” had little or nothing to do with the founding of either Jamestown or the United States. All the delegates and participants of the Forum, however, seemed to think it had everything to do with it. This fallacy or untruth neither they, nor the Forum’s publicists, nor the press cared to scrutinize, nor, for that matter, demonstrated any awareness of it. Contradictions cause them no consternation.

It is likely that not one of the 3,000 local residents, students and guests who attended the public session at the College had the presence of mind to challenge any of the panelists with the question: “But, wasn’t this country founded as a republic, and its representative government established to preserve and protect individual rights?” See “Scrambled Egg-Heads” for why individual rights could not be a concern to any of the Forum’s 600 delegates and speakers. Such a question would have left any one of the panelists blinking in momentary speechlessness until he could compose some reassuring but bilious blather.

For example, individual rights were not mentioned by Ali Ansari, panelist and director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, in answer to a question put to him during the public session. According to the September 18 Daily Press (Newport News, VA) article, “Democracy is no cure-all, Iran expert warns,” he said that democracy “is a process that requires a lot of work. It’s a means and not an end.”

The article reports that “One student asked if democracy and theocracy are mutually exclusive.

“’I think they probably are,’ Ansari said. But he added that religion and democracy aren’t incompatible. He also said in response to an earlier question that theocracy is ‘undoubtedly compatible’ with that form of government.”

Which can be taken to mean that, in the evolution of a theocratic state, democracy is compatible if everyone votes the straight Islam-Sharia law ticket. Then democracy, the “means,” can be discarded because a totalitarian theocratic state, the “end,” will be established – permanently. This is probably what Ansari meant when he said the two forms are “probably” and ultimately mutually exclusive.

Dissension from that “consensus” can result in a charge of apostasy or heresy and relegation to a state of dhimmitude of anyone who protests, or worse. The consequences of opposing Islamic theocracy, elected or not, are remarkably similar to those suffered by dissenters under totalitarian communism and Nazism.

The intellectual roots of Ansari’s brand of vacuous doublethink are strictly Western; see Immanuel Kant, Hegel, Comte, Marx and other anti-Western theorists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Islam’s own leading theorists studied them well in Western universities in the early and mid-20th century in search of a credible system which would both sanction Islam’s irrationality and allow it to gather strength with which to first, resist the inroads of the West, and then emasculate and ultimately subdue it. Not for them and their contemporary heirs and practitioners to see Islam suffer the fate of the Catholic Church, when reason in the Renaissance and Enlightenment contributed to that institution’s diminished role as a political force.

If Islam is enjoying a resurgence, it is only because the West has abandoned reason as the primary means of combating and defeating any species of irrationalism. Ansari and his other Muslim Forum participants could have pointed out (but certainly didn’t) that Islam is as much a political system as it is a religious one. Its fundamentalist purists and moderates make no distinction between God and government. They are one and the same, which is what Christian conservatives are asserting more aggressively today in the U.S.

It is doubtful that Ansari offered Iran as an exemplar of “deliberative” democracy. After all, Iranians voted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into power, and now they are stuck with a copycat Hitler who is running the country ragged in his pursuit of Iranian hegemony in the Mideast. Ansari’s glib answer was so vacillating that he might feel it is safe enough to return to Tehran. He must have suspected that his remarks were being closely monitored from far away by Ahmadinejad’s thought police. It is certain they gave his performance high marks.

It is also doubtful that he cited Iraq or Afghanistan as models of democracy in action, countries whose citizens promptly voted in theocratic regimes.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put in a surprise appearance at the Forum – the Bush administration having a special interest in “democracy” – and gave a talk titled “Promoting Democracy Abroad: A Realist’s View.” His presence was written up in a companion Daily Press article of the same date, “Gates: Leaving Iraq a setback for freedom.”

The article reports him as saying that the United States “has made its share of mistakes.”

“From time to time, we have strayed from our ideals and have been arrogant enough in dealing with others. Yet what has brought us together with our democratic allies is a shared belief that the future of democracy and its spread is worth our enduring labors and sacrifices – reflecting both our interests and our ideals.”

Without implying admiration for him, Woodrow Wilson said it better. Gates’s statement is just an echo of Wilson’s imperative in his April 1917 address to Congress that “the world must be made safe for democracy,” and is simply a reiteration of President Bush’s exhortations on the same “duty” to pursue the same selfless goal.

The Daily Press article reported that “Gates emphasized that it takes time to develop democratic governments, referring to efforts within the last 60 years in Germany, Japan, South Korea and other countries, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The article did not mention if Gates dwelt on the nature of those efforts, which in Germany meant a program of ruthless denazification, and in Japan of stripping the Emperor of his deity status and extinguishing every bit of militarism from the culture. It is doubtful that Gates discussed these efforts, or that he even knows much, if anything, about that chapter of successful U.S. foreign policy.

But, can we imagine Gates or Bush Junior or Condoleezza Rice approving a program of “de-Islamizing” Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan? No. Such a program would be “arrogant” and “un-democratic.” To propose and impose a separation of mosque and state and a system of objective law would be “offensive” to a “great religion.”

“Gates said that for the U.S. ‘to leave Iraq and the Middle East in chaos would betray and demoralize our allies there and in the region, while emboldening our most dangerous adversaries.’ He urged staying the course in Afghanistan, which he called ‘a litmus test of whether an alliance of advanced democracies can still make sacrifices and meet commitments to advance democracy.’”

Translation: If the U.S. withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan because of the incalculable expense of blood and treasure, it would mean an admission that the policy of altruistic sacrifice to promote democracy, any time, anywhere, is at least futile and impractical, if not immoral. It would be a concession that a failure to act in the U.S.’s self-defense and security has only emboldened our adversaries, chiefly Iran, all of whom correctly treat the U.S.’s policy of selflessness and willingness to “talk things out” as a weakness to be exploited.

Another surprise participant on the public Forum panel was the doppelganger of former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, a left-over from Bush Senior’s administration.

The has-been Secretary of State, however, the Daily Press reports, “drew one of the night’s biggest bursts of applause by saying the United States no longer can take out leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, though it’s done things like that in the past. He said leaders like Chavez could get themselves into trouble on their own and then get replaced.”

Like Osama bin Laden, whom President Bill Clinton had a chance to “take out” but passed up? Or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe? Or Fidel Castro of Cuba? Or Omar Qadaffi of Libya? Or Vladimir Putin of Russia? Or Ahmadinejad of Iran? Instead of being replaced, these “leaders” have demonstrated remarkable staying power, a power they derive largely from the pragmatic, compromising moral relevance policies of the West and particularly those of the U.S.

Eagleburger expressed an odd opinion, given the venue:

“We should never expect that we can take American democracy into somebody’s country and expect it to work.”

While his statement contradicted the theme and purpose of the Forum, this contrarian assertion apparently passed unnoted and unchallenged. It is as much a reflection on Eagleburger’s chaotic philosophical and moral premises, as on the audience’s.

The Daily Press article also reported that Eagleburger “provided a feisty response to a student’s question on whether increased government surveillance will lead to a Big Brother-style regime.

“’I’m not going to apologize for getting tougher when there are problems within this country that have to be dealt with,’ Eagleburger said. He said the nation must take terrorism seriously and do things it hasn’t done before, within limits.”

“Within limits”? O’Brien, the villain of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, would not agree that there are “limits” to such power, once it is acquired, and he is much more persuasive on that matter than Eagleburger could ever be. As for the “problems within this country,” anyone can go onto Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project site and see how extensive those problems are by studying the map of the U.S. that pinpoints the dozens of Al Qada, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other “Islamic extremist” cells that exist in this country. One can’t gauge how “tough” the authorities are being with them.

And concerning taking “terrorism seriously,” the best “serious” policy would be to deal militarily with states that sponsor terrorism and that fund all those cells. If that happened, all those cells would perish, or they would show their hand only to have it lopped off by the authorities. Then there would be no more need for Big Brother-style surveillance.

But statists need an on-going crisis, real or imaginary (whether it is terrorism, obesity, health care, smoking, global warming, interest rates, etc.), as a rationale for acquiring and retaining extra-legal powers. It usually takes mass civil disobedience, an uprising, or a revolution to force a government to relinquish them.

Also on the public session panel was retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She may have had more to say about democracy, but the Daily Press article chose to merely report her Jay Leno-style “Man in the Street” observation that “a recent poll found that more young people are able to name the Three Stooges than the nation’s three branches of government.

“She said, ‘If young people can’t name the three branches, then we might be in a little bit of trouble.’”

She might have added that if older people, such as the Forum’s speakers and participants, can’t or won’t distinguish between the concepts of democratic and republican forms of government, then we are in more than just “a little bit of trouble.” After all, it is her own and her successor generations of teachers and thinkers who are largely responsible for the general ignorance of young people today.

And that was the congress of knaves, cads, and illusionists, who assembled from around the world to test (liberally paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson in his last letter) the new chains of “monkish ignorance and superstition” about democracy. They came, “booted and spurred,” to persuade men that they were indeed born with “saddles on their backs” to be ridden legitimately by the select few of the Forum, by the tripartite graces of collectivism, unreason, and power.

It was democracy for dummies. Will the dummies ever open their eyes and acquire some smarts before it is too late?

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