The Corner

Re: Re: Freedom Isn’t Free

Michael, as always, it’s a pleasure to discuss these points with someone who’s given them as much thought as you have.  Staying with the three points, I’d say this:

(a) Freedom is the universal desire of all mankind.  Since this is one of those philosophical matters that defies ontological certitude, it’s probably worth preliminarily observing that I am not claiming to have apodictic knowledge on this point, while the president does not merely claim to have it but is staking the national security of the United States on his view.

In any event, there are at least three other points worth making.  First is history.  The idea of freedom and self-determination as the animating imperatives of society is fairly recent in human history.  There have been many fewer free societies than non-free ones.  If freedom is such a universal desire, one would certainly expect to have seen more instances of it.

Second, and more parochially, the evidence is all around you.  People are constantly choosing security over freedom when given the choice.  And this involves not only their physical security, but their economic choices, their healthcare choices, and a whole range of other options.  Mark Steyn’s brilliant book is, IMHO, particularly good on this point.  If the “proof” of a universal desire for freedom is based on some kind of historical imperative, the fact is that our country is less free than it used to be (try building an extension on your house if you live within 60 feet of a Connecticut wetland, for example), and Europe is becoming much less free as it becomes more centralized and more Islamic.  At the time of her death, Oriana Fallaci was under indictment, in Italy of all places, for speaking her mind.

Third — and I think this is important to both the point about freedom as a universal desire and about the prospect that Muslim societies are apt to choose democracy (point (b) in our discussion) — the principal fault I find with the president’s premise is its lack of regard for the pull of jihadist strains of Islam (whether Sunni or Shiite) on the Muslim world.  I respectfully think his view is both wrong and counterproductive because it’s implicitly insulting. 

In our culture, we can’t wrap our brains around what Ms. Iannone referred to as the Islamic culture of “submission.”  So we blithely assume that if Muslims could only see freedom in action (i.e., Western style) they’d adopt it.  In point of fact, however:  (1) what we politely call “radical” Islam is really not so radical at all; its aims (though not the terrorists’ methods of obtaining them) are sought by a substantial percentage (if not a numerical majority) of the Muslim world; and (2) for tens of millions of Muslims, submission to Islam is a free choice.  (It should be obvious by now that the younger generation of Muslims in Europe is more radical than their parents who first came to Europe.  They are choosing fundamentalist Islam and all the lack of freedom and equality that, for us, radical Islam implies.

(b) Islamic countries are apt to choose democracy.  Just to finish this point, you say, “There needs to be a balance of both ‘choice’ and construction of the template for ‘choice.’”  I may be misunderstanding what you mean by this.  If by ”construction of the template for ‘choice,’” you are implying something like what Secretary Rice does when she says we can’t expect all “democracies” to “look like ours,” I think that’s a cop-out.  We are all well aware that all democracies need not be exactly alike to be democracies.  Ours looks different from the Brits’, and both look different from, say, France … or, as you mention, South Korea.  We needn’t contort the definition of democracy beyond recognition in order to fit them all under the tent.

When Secretary Rice says that what she generously refers to as the emerging “democracies” of the Muslim world will not look like ours, she is talking about something quite different.  She is saying that these countries should still be considered democracies despite the absence of some elements we would regard as basic to democracy (no established religion, separation of the religious and the political, equality of all persons, freedom of choice in basic matters like whether to convert to another faith, freedom to enact laws that conflict with a religious code, etc.).  That is not democracy that any of us would recognize as such.

(c) Elections plus constitutions equals democracy.  We seem to be in essential agreement on this one, but allow me to pursue one point:  The administration’s propensity to regard Middle East countries (or territories, like the Palestinian Authority) as “democracies” once they’ve had a national election or two is not just wrong; it’s dangerous. 

Elections are about popular choice, not necessarily democracy.  (The third grade has elections for class president.)  More importantly, they may just be means to very un-democratic ends.  In Iraq, the Shiites want to run the country and the availability of popular elections allowed that to happen (in theory at least) because they are a sizable majority.  But that doesn’t mean they all want the country to be democratic.  Many of them want a theocracy.  (I understand Iraqi Shiites are not a monolithic group, but the three most important parties — Dawa, SCIRI and Sadr’s group — are Islamist.)  In Lebanon, Hezbollah participates in the electoral process, but they don’t want the country to be democratic.  Ditto Hamas in the PA (and, for that matter, Fatah — Arafat certainly did not seek to preside over a democracy when he was popularly elected).

It is simply ridiculous to regard a country as a democracy just because it has popular elections.  And, to agree with your observation about implementation, it is even more absurd to allow “parties” to participate in the “democratic” process if they are anti-democratic in nature.  There has to be a price of admission to participation if there is ever to be any hope of democratizing this part of the world.  You can’t let Hezbollah participate if their charter is telling you they are anti-democratic (and they insist on maintaining their weapons).

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