The Corner


Against the Slide

Victims of Communism Memorial (Goddess of Democracy), Washington, D.C. (Estonian Foreign Ministry / Flickr)

On the homepage today, I have a Mexico City journal. It offers personalities, issues, and observations (political, cultural, and otherwise). It also offers photos, for no extra charge at all.

Here on the Corner, I would like to emphasize a couple of things. I often hear criticism of democracy — but, oddly enough, only from people who live in a democracy. From people who live under dictatorship, or in other “non-consensual societies,” as Robert Conquest would say, I hear mainly cries for democracy.

Maybe the critics and the criers can trade places, for a week or so?

In my journal, I quote Javier El-Hage, an old friend of mine (as the late, but never forgotten, Conquest was). El-Hage is a Bolivian lawyer who works at the Human Rights Foundation. At a session of the Oslo Freedom Forum in Mexico City, he said that supporters of liberal democracy are allies, or should be. Whether they are left, right, or center, they are allied on the fundamental thing: liberal democracy. The rule of law, separation of powers, a free press, an open economy, and all the rest of it.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

(An Israeli friend of mine recently quoted an Egyptian, who at some conference cackled at the fate of the United States. “We Egyptians are connected by blood,” he said. “They are connected by a piece of paper.” I presume he meant the Constitution, but maybe he meant the Declaration, too. In any case, will it work? Will this experiment of ours work out? It is always just that: an experiment, not guaranteed to succeed — and constantly harassed.)

Needless to say, supporters of liberal democracy fight over all sorts of issues, often bitterly. This is natural in a free society. But they are united on the society they want, and, indeed, have a right to.

I thought of all this when reading an article last night. It is the kind of article you increasingly read out of Europe. “Things are going the wrong way,” a wise, experienced European friend of mine said recently. “Everything old is new again. What had been buried is now reemerging.”

The article I’ve mentioned begins as follows: “Participants in a street celebration in the Belgian city of Aalst paraded giant puppets of Orthodox Jews and a rat atop money bags.” Read the rest, if you can stomach it, here. The picture says almost as much as the article.

If I had my way, supporters of liberal democracy, whatever their particular stripe, would band together against the illiberals, whatever their particular stripe. The survival of the system, of the way of life, is more important than the disputes within that system.

I think of what George Will says: Everyone decries gridlock in Washington. But gridlock is a sign of democratic health. It means that interests and opinions are competing, and are stalemated. In a dictatorship, there isn’t any gridlock. The ruling party gets its way, period. And, usually, that way is bad.

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