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Democracy as Spinach


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William F. Buckley Jr.

So . . . Democracy rides again.

What disconcerts so is the obstinacy of the democratists in believing that good heavy doses of democracy will bring eudaemonia and peace everlasting.

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The most that can be said with confidence about democracy is that certain satisfactions are given to those who practice it. If three-quarters of your gang voted for this kind of government, then you live with this kind of government. If the citizens are mad at other governments, they have the option of going to war against them, which non-democratic governments often do. But if there is self-rule, they have only themselves to blame, and relief is in their own hands at the next election.

What happens between yesterday, when the Palestinians voted in Hamas, and the day after tomorrow, when Hamas is voted out, is the question before the house. We will, everyone hopes, struggle through, but it’s worth remembering that democracy got us into this mess. Not because democracy is to be doctrinally rejected, but because democracy simply cannot be trusted always to do the right thing, in Palestine, in Bolivia, in Venezuela, in Weimar Germany, or in Iraq.

There are three alternative roads ahead. Up against reality, Hamas leaders can temporize. But David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post warns us: “Some may seek comfort in the belief that an ascent to government could prompt a greater sense of responsibility, a move to moderation. But Hamas’s intolerance is based on a perceived religious imperative. No believing Muslim, in the Hamas conception, can be reconciled to Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East. To deny that, for Hamas, is blasphemy. And that is the ideology to which the Palestinian people, for whatever reason and by their own free hand, have just tied their fate. That is the guiding ideology with which Israel and the West will now have to grapple.”

So what is to be done if doctrinal orthodoxy continues to guide Hamas?

In words of one syllable, a fight to the death. We would need to stimulate latent forces of moderation, and there are some, notably in Egypt, who do not desire such orthodoxy as would appeal to the Muslim Brotherhood in their own country. Saudi Arabia and Jordan would not want a situation in Palestine such as the Hezbollah brought on in Lebanon. And it is always reassuring for the Israelis to know that, at least for the immediate future, they are invulnerable.

A second road would be an imaginative and resourceful Israeli response to the election events. General Sharon put his program for disengaging from the PLO deep in his pocket, and that program continues to reside in the pocket of a prime minister dispossessed of mind and authority. Sharon thought with mailed fist to encourage settlements, and then, with mailed fist, to disassemble some of them, leaving Gaza at liberty to claw its way back to independence–under the leadership of a Hamas government. And he constructed that wall, which winds in and out of Palestine, blocking some Palestinians who are terrorists, and reminding many Palestinians who are not terrorist-minded of life on the impotent side of a wall. It is entirely justified to wonder whether Hamas would have carried the day so decisively on Thursday if the wall had not been there.

A third way would spring from Hamas’s recognition that, having power, it may be necessary to reject the use of it. Hamas is left without the alternative of a Fatah government to blame for every national inconvenience or blow to the pride. It is one thing flatly to reject Oslo and the roadmap and progressive measures towards a Palestinian state. But Hamas in power, as distinguished from Hamas in the parliamentary wings, has to settle for realistic progress, or else turn back to war every day, with an enemy that is brighter, better trained, better armed, and with access to definitive U.S. support. These are alternatives that require more exertions then waving green flags out the windows and on the streets.

It’s wrong to assume that the mere creation of democracy will bring reasonable conduct. But it is always correct that the burden of ruling imposes restraints.



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