Political Values, Here and There

by Jay Nordlinger

This is an era of strange political happenings. A lot of the Right, for example, has embraced Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. And the Left is suddenly savvy about the Kremlin. Who could have known?

Maybe strangest of all is that I should be at odds with David French, my beloved colleague. I regard him the way a typical Clevelander regards LeBron. As far as I’m concerned, David should be president. But I want to make a few points taking issue with his piece on the West and universalism.

I agree with much of it, of course. But that’s dog-bites-man. I will be the man who bites the dog a little bit.

David begins by quoting Obama and George W. Bush. They will be the bad guys of the piece. They are talking about universal values. David could have quoted Reagan too, though he makes an undesirable bad guy, in our circles.

“… although we Americans became a new people, we also remain an ancient one, for we’re guided by ancient and universal values …”

“We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.”

Blah blah blah. Reagan was always going on like this. Cuck City.

Something remarkable happened in Korea earlier this year. The president was impeached and then left. Ho-hum, you say? Not really.

In a democratic election, Koreans had voted this woman in — yes, a woman. That’s not ho-hum either. They also democratically elected a congress. Which impeached her. That impeachment was upheld by a constitutional court — a bona fide one. And the lady left, nice as you please.

That is something rare under the sun, and in history. Nixon flying off to San Clemente is not normal. It’s wonderful, though.

I have said “Koreans.” These are Koreans who live in the southern part of the peninsula. The Koreans who live in the north have the same language, the same ancestry, the same food — to the extent they can eat. What’s the difference between the two regions?

Well, the Koreans in the north are under the boot of a vicious dictatorship. They live in darkness — literally, where electricity is concerned — and their southern brethren live in light. Would Koreans in the north like to enjoy what Koreans in the south do?

The CCP — the Chinese Communist Party — hates, hates, hates Taiwan, this damnable island to the southeast. Taiwan rose from dictatorship to become a democracy. Last year, the Taiwanese held yet another free election: and chose a woman to be president.

Why does the CCP hate Taiwan so much? Because the Taiwanese set a bad example: They show that democracy is compatible with Chinese people and Chinese culture. The masses on the mainland might get the wrong idea.

In Tiananmen Square, back in ’89, a lot of them showed that they already had the wrong idea. And the Party mowed them down.

Chinese tourists, when they visit Taiwan, often stay in their hotel room to watch TV. The reason: The freewheeling political debates are astounding to them.

For years, people said that liberal democracy was a Western prerogative, unsuitable to the East, which had its own values: “Asian values.” Who said this? Westerners who thought they were wise. And Asians who had an interest in the status quo, and were loath to see democracy take root. (Some Westerners had an interest in the status quo, too: Dictatorships can be a lot easier to do business with than democracies, with their messiness.)

Once upon a time, people said that southern Europeans weren’t fit for democracy, or desirous of it. Democracy and liberalism were Anglo-American hang-ups. Take the Spaniards: They worshipped Throne and Altar. They had their own traditions, their own values.

And yet …

(Readers may be interested in reviewing the painful split between William F. Buckley Jr. and his friend and brother-in-law Brent Bozell, who went off to found Triumph magazine.)

For a while, Spain was looking like a very unlikely candidate for democracy. Now I guess we can just lump them in with the West and whistle on.

The Middle East is a region famous, or infamous, for tribalism. Also, I don’t think there is a region more dispiriting (and I have been studying it for a long time). The soil seems most unfertile for democracy, or even liberalization. You won’t go broke betting against the Middle East.

And yet, I would not be too dismissive of the Arab Spring. Nor would I denigrate the dead — the many, many dead — in those protests. Nor would I denigrate their motives. Some were power-seekers, no doubt. Many were seekers after a better, freer, more just way of life for all.

I have met many participants in the Arab Spring. They know more, and care more, about democracy and freedom than a great many Americans, I assure you.

Protests in Syria began in March 2011. There was a singer, Ibrahim Kashush. He entertained and inspired the crowds with his protest songs. “Come on, Bashar, get lost. Take your brother Maher and take off. Get lost, get lost. Freedom is very near.”

(Maher Assad is Bashar’s chief goon.)

Well, state agents slit the singer’s throat. Then they cut out his vocal cords. Then they threw his corpse into the river. Ibrahim Kashush wouldn’t sing anymore.

That’s what they do, these dictatorial types. They kill people who threaten their power or propose a new way of life. It was this way in the West, for ages. (By the way, is Cuba in the West? Was Nazi Germany?)

A lot of us like to snort at the Arab Spring. “Arab Spring! What a crock!” But I ask open-minded readers to consider one thing: the name. Where did “Arab Spring” come from? The Prague Spring, right? Was that a success? The Prague Spring, back in ’68?

Are you kidding? They were crushed, those people, by the tanks of dictatorship. Their “spring,” in that sense, was a miserable failure. (Garry Kasparov was making this point recently.) We would have laughed our asses off. “Prague Spring, Prague Spring! What a joke!”

Indeed they were crushed, like so many Arabs in 2011 and 2012, and like those Chinese in 1989. But 20 years later … a brighter picture.

Anyway, life is long, as this post has become. I am not innocent of the challenges that democracy and liberalism face. In fact — may I say this? — I am less innocent than most, given the work I have done. Furthermore, it’s hard to out-West me. Me likey the West, mucho. Its art, its literature, the whole nine yards. Have you ever read J. M. Roberts’s Triumph of the West? Treat yourself.

And yet, I thought the above points worth making, and I reiterate that, for me, David A. French is LeBron, with a dash of Curry thrown in. I am offering not so much a different viewpoint from David’s as different emphases. Often, what we call “argument” is a matter of emphasis.

One more thing: In 2009, we righties blasted President Obama for what seemed his indifference to the democracy movement in Iran. “These Iranians are an annoyance to him,” we said. “He obviously prefers to deal with the known and entrenched regime. The protesters are like an impediment, a distraction.”

Were we wrong to blast him that way? Should we have congratulated him on his “realism”? I don’t think so.

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