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Future-of-Freedom-Zakaria About ten years ago Fareed Zakaria wrote The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. Zakaria has been dismissed as many things, in particular being a sort of middlebrow establishmentarian voice who can be relied upon to package the latest safest conventional wisdom in stylish erudition, and still remain palatable to a non-scholarly audience. But he does deserve credit for putting the concept of “illiberal democracy” in front of the reading American public. Those with any sort of historical perspective won’t be surprised by the basic definition of illiberal democracy, because it is an ancient idea which simply been given a catchy name. Tyrannical majoritarianism manipulated by demagogues is one of the reasons that Greek democracy generally had a bad reputation until the past few centuries. The republican form of government enacted by Rome differed starkly from the populist direct democracy of Athens, integrating aspects of representation of the majority over time, at least symbolically*, balanced with customary protections of the individual liberty of citizens, in particular those of high standing.** American representative democracy in its populist guise itself is not something which characterized the founding, but crystallized as the conclusion of decades of faction during the “Age of Jackson” in the 1830s. Though in practice periods of populism have alternated with domination by elites since that era, the rhetoric remained explicitly democratic. Legitimacy only comes from the will of the people, broadly understood.

But even this evolution is somewhat more complex. With the dropping of property qualifications to vote across the states in the 1830s, some jurisdictions which did not previously impose a racial criterion upon citizenship did so. The ideology of a populist democracy went hand in hand to a great extent with the reformulation of the United States explicitly as a white man’s republic. The liberties which were granted to white men were in fact curtailed in the case of free black men. Even after the de jure granting of equal rights to black males after the Civil War we know that de facto those rights were constrained. In other words, illiberal democracy is a part of the history of the United States itself. Though most Americans have the facts at hand from their basic education to understand this, it is not at the surface of their minds because of the primacy of what I have termed “democralotry”; the concept of democracy über alles. The problem plagues the mainstream of American politics, from Right to Left. It seems that George W. Bush sincerely believed that his invasion of Iraq could result in the rise of democracy from the ashes of decades of Baathist autocracy. Though many on the Left critiqued the execution and casus belli, few adhered without flinching to a realist implication that it was unlikely that Iraq would become a liberal democracy because of the nature of Iraqi society. Americans have an idea of what the world ought to be like, liberal (in a broad sense) and democratic, and are reluctant to acknowledge that it seems unlikely that sheer will alone can produce that as the state of a given society over a short period of time. On the American Right there is an ahistorical myth of American liberal democracy emerging fully formed like Athena from the tyranny of the British.*** The long and complex centuries long evolution into the society which we have today is denied as liberal revisionism. On the American Left there is a strong discomfort with making observations about the differences between societies, in particular when those observations might reflect poorly on non-Western cultures when judged in light of liberal Western values, which are nevertheless implicitly assumed to be universal. In addition, while the Right deifies the founders and attempts to reinterpret the past so as to align it with modern values, much of the Left is suspicious of the long history of injustice of this nation, to the point of throwing all of American history into one vast bucket of iniquity with marginal redeeming qualities.**** The moral complexity of the past is uncomfortable, and so it is easier not to engage with it. Rather, paint a caricature which provides easy answers.

But this issue is not one of history alone, it confronts us today. By turning our faces away from the messy reality of how Americans came to arrive at their liberal democracy, what they believe ought to be practiced in the world today, we misjudge how easy that practice can be imposed on other societies. In 2003 the Bush administration was incredibly naive about how easy it would be to foster the development of a genuine nation-state in Iraq. And yet consider that just a few years ago the United States was instrumental in the overthrow of an autocrat in Libya, in the hopes that he might be replaced by a better form of government. Today both Libya an Iraq are in chaos. Have we learned nothing? This situation is unfortunate, but all too predictable. Similarly, I have long said that though I am skeptical of the prospects for a robust democracy in much of the Middle East, the conditions are most optimal in Tunisia. And sure enough it is in Tunisia where the likelihood of a genuine nation-state built around liberal democratic ideals still seems most possible, despite social tensions and Islamist violence. Similarly, I think it is important to note that of the former “Eastern Bloc” states there was a separation in historical-cultural terms between those which were oriented toward the West (e.g., the Czech Republic) and those which had not been part of the West before joining the European Union (e.g., Bulgaria). Though this does not mean that liberal democracy is impossible in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic is more likely to produce fewer impediments to this form of political organization since it has endogenously arrived in earlier periods to this form of politics.

I am entering into this morass of complexity mostly to suggest that our American understanding of “good guys” and “bad guys” only makes sense when we simplify our own history into a fiction, and the history of others, and narrow the range of possibilities of human existence into what we believe ought to be. As of this writing a radical Sunni fundamentalist army is reshaping the Middle East, and explicitly putting before us the specter of sectarian conflict on a grand scale. Arrayed against this is a state which Americans have played an essential role in creating and propping up, moderately democratic, but sectarian and illiberal in its impulses. And, this state has had a long standing relationship in positive terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Americans, unable to grapple with our histories, are simply not equipped to enter into this game of sects played out against the most ancient of civilizational backgrounds. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys.”

Our inability to grapple with this reality frankly is partly a function of the fact that we (well, at least most Americans, and rhetorically all politicians) have not confronted that the American state has forwarded interests which are explicitly in contradiction with our liberal democratic values. Judged in a vacuum it seems clear to me that the Islamic Republic of Iran is closer to a liberal democracy that the state run by the House of Saud. And yet Saudi Arabia has been an American ally for decades, despite its illiberal values. This is not a deep dark secret, but the implications of how closely we hew to our values in foreign lands is often not frankly addressed in public. Our support of pro-American autocrats has a long history, and continues to this day.

This is all to set up my conclusion that no matter what establishment voices assert intervention in foreign lands in a ham-handed fashion to prop up our American values is bound to lead us down a path of tears. As Shadi Hamid states the future of democracy in the Middle East is going to be illiberal. This may be inevitable. We don’t need to avert our eyes from it, and we need to acknowledge that so we were, so they will be. It took the Thirty Years war to finally purge the enthusiasm of sectarianism from the cultural DNA of Europeans (and even then, religious minorities were second class citizens for centuries). There will be no calm reasoning with Iraqis of any stripe because the march of history continues, and only sadness can convince all parties that moderation is necessary for the existence of modern nation-states. Intervention in some fashion may be inevitable in the world, but our goal should be to prevent hell, not to create heaven on earth. The former is possible, the latter is not.

* Since the weight of the votes of urban tribes was low, in effect the republic did not reflect the will of the people.

** The Roman conquest of Greece resulted in the abolition of the democracies and their enforcement of redistribution of resources from the elites to the masses through public liturgies.

*** Not only was America not a liberal democracy fully formed, but Britain was not tyrannical, nor were British rationales for taxation entirely without merit.

**** With the exception of individuals such as Frederick Douglass or Susan B. Anthony.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy 
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  1. Yeah, I’ve also had the experience of getting really down on Fareed and then remembering The Future of Freedom, which was a great book.

  2. Are there any true common denominators amongst countries that have made the switch to a liberal democracy? What is the key(s)? (As usual, Wikipedia is *too* democratic with its explanation as it lists over a dozen reasons. That’s not helpful!!)

  3. Wonderful post. Really thoughtful and well-stated.

  4. This kind of post is why I read this blog. Nothing here is surface. Great post.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    This seems like a well reasoned position. It is also one that I feel is shared by many people interested in American history but outside the main group to benefit in the first hundred years of the republic. Ok day this as an African* American with a deeper historic heritage than many “real Americans” from the right.

    Maybe if our actions abroad were more informed by the cynical self interest hated by the left there would be a little less chaos spread with our blood and treasure?

  6. Razib, do you believe that liberal democracy is a stable equilibrium, or can it degenerate into illiberal democracy or even autocracy under the right (or wrong) conditions? I can’t think of any examples; Germany descended to totalitarianism under the Third Reich, but it was arguably an illiberal democracy from 1848 through to the Weimar Republic. And there seem to have not been any really liberal democracies outside the Anglosphere before 1945, so we don’t have many data points.

  7. Cultural factors are important in the evolution of democracy toward more liberal forms, but I myself would play up the demographic-structural angle.

    Imagine that Turkey still contained huge minorities of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians, and how totally unworkable a democracy would be in such a hypothetical Turkey of today. Lebanon of the 1950s-80s might be a plausible comparison. The actually existing Turkey has had trouble enough in making democracy compatible with secularism and with Kurdish ethnic nationalism, and now with Islamism.

    Then I wonder what would have happened, had the Israelis not lucked out with what the Arabs call Nakba — the disaster in which three-quarters of a million Palestinian Arab refugees fled from within what became Israel’s pre-1967 frontiers. Imagine that exodus/dispossesion hadn’t happened but Israel still took the Arab-designated portions of mandatory Palestine in the 1948 war. Almost certainly in such an event Israel could not have become both a Jewish state in any meaningful sense and a liberal-democratic one. With an Arab minority of ~20% Israel could earn a reasonably justified reputation for liberal democracy, at least within Israel proper excluding the occupied territories.

    Conversely, one might speculate about whether Afrikaaners would have felt the need to impose apartheid — which in its full-fledged package was legislated only in 1948 — if they were not a demographic minority. (Their relative poverty to the English also mattered to apartheid, it was not just about blacks.)

    In the France of the 1950s, the original moderate proposal for a solution to the Algerian War was to annexe Algeria, grant full citizenship status to the indigenes, and turn the territory into an integral part of the French Republic — just like Martinique, Guyana or Tahiti are today. (They all vote in French elections.) Someone was sensible enough to realise that that “solution” was about as untenable and injurious to France in the long run, as what the pieds noir wanted — to keep the territory forever French but maintain the kind of apartheid lite for the Muslim majority that they’d always known.

    So we get to the postwar US south. Blacks were an absolute majority in three confederate states, above 40% in four others, and 1/4 to 1/3 in the remainder. Wasn’t sure I could post an image so I simply refer to the bar chart here http://pseudoerasmus.com/?attachment_id=973

    Now, given the nature of the Anglo-American first-past-the-post electoral system, mere 25-35% can be enough to dominate the political scene — especially in coalition with a political party representing a minority of whites, in this case, southern Republicans. As we know, when the south was readmitted to the union there were many blacks in Congress from the south. So you can readily see in the demographics the obvious motivations behind southern whites’ wish to disenfranchise the black majority / plurality.

    I’m not trying to be a demographic determinist but I wonder if the southern states most opposed to civil rights in the 1950s-60s were the ones that had been least affected by the Great Black Migration ?

  8. “…do you believe that liberal democracy is a stable equilibrium, or can it degenerate into illiberal democracy or even autocracy under the right (or wrong) conditions?”

    No amount of clever structural design can maintain democracy as an equilibrium, if the people underlying the system lack the deep cultural, ideological or genetic predisposition to comply by the rules.

    Nonetheless, mechanics and structural design matter. You mention Weimar. That was plagued by proportional representation, which does not fare well usually in very divided populations. After the war the Germans set up a bizarre but functional two-roster system of proportional representation and first-past-the-post. But I think it also helped that eastern Länder were simply not part of the Federal Republic formed in 1949. The eastern Länder (which included parts now found in Poland) had persistently voted for more illiberal parties under Weimar, but with them gone the CDU could be refounded / rebranded as a non-sectarian Christian Democratic party.

    The Anglosphere uses first-past-the-post, or some variation thereof, which permits victories by non-majorities. I don’t think a single government in the UK has received an outright majority of the popular vote since Clement Attlee. I have to check that, but definitely in the last four decades British governments were, if not “minoritarian”, then “pluritarian”. The Tories under Thatcher never got more than 43% of the vote. Likewise, in the 2000 election election, George Bush got less of the popular vote than his opponent. Yet this does not create political instability, and such “pluralitarian” governments can implement their programme in face of the majority of who don’t vote for them, because the social cohesion of the Anglosphere requires the acquiescence to the political rules of the game.

    But I imagine given the greater heterogeneity of the Anglosphere that political cohesion would be more tested if it adopted proportional representation. Because PR frequently results in too many small parties getting elected — it is the nature of the mechanism — it also frequently results in political instability. So in a way the Anglosphere has optimised its political institutions according to its natural social competencies.

    France under both the Third and Fourth Republics also used PR and was also subject to political instability. When I think about the political culture of those periods one must conclude the French can get quite hysterical. In the 1950s there were huge divisions over the Algerian War — this is before the 1960s and the counterculture — and these were far more destabilising than the divisions of the Vietnam War in the United States. The PR system was just not suited to France. But the French take themselves far more seriously than the Italians for whom a government forming or falling hardly matters. Thus De Gaulle and the 5th Republic superimposed an absolute-majoritarian presidential model on the underlying PR parliamentary system. (Under previous republics, the presidents were ceremonial.) This has worked quite well and has been tested by “cohabitation” periods when the president and the pm have come from opposing parties.

    I’ve always wondered whether, in their imitation of Western political models, some non-Western countries failed to consider what might have been more appropriate for their national temperament. Take the aforementioned Turkey. The amazing thing about the rise of the AKP (the Islamist party) is that it was permitted by the odd combination of proportional representation and the 10% rule. But for some reason many countries don’t think of abandoning PR as the solution, but decide to put a stupid fix on it. So Turkey imposed a 10% rule — any party must win 10% of the vote to get into parliament — which is a very high threshold. I believe most countries have got 5%. Yet without this gross distortion the AKP wouldn’t have been able to form a government. When the AKP won power in 2002, they received only ~34% of the national vote !!! Too many opponent parties were excluded by the 10% rule and never made it to Parliament. Amazing, really.

    Then there was the rise of Salvador Allende in Chile. Leftists frequently believe he was “elected”, but he was also the plurality winner of the presidential election. But unlike the French 2-round absolute majority system of presidential voting the Chilean system allowed the chamber of deputies to choose the president when the popular election failed to produce a >50% winner. What a mistake ! In a country as divided and polarised as Chile, where a Marxist-Leninist party could get more than 1/3 of the vote, to allow wheeling & dealing in the parliamentary system to decide the winner !

  9. Sorry Razib if those were too long, I got carried away.

  10. My strong impression was that George W Bush sought detailed advice from those who knew about the rise of democracy in India, several British and American Indologists. So he was not simply relying on his ‘american naivette’ as you suggest Razib. Did you realise that Stanley Kurtz began as a very fine Indologist?

    Forget the US, Razib. What about Indian democracy? Why would it not work eventually in Iraq? Don’t tell me India is not tribal, or I’ll say you are a typical Bengali who has little experience of the intensely tribal and middle-east like Northern plains – Uttar Pradesh etc, where most were feuding nomad clans till quite recently. ‘Gypsies’. Yet that is the most democratic part of India too – caste underpins democracy, not undermines!

    As my Chicago U-trained mentor asserts – Indian centralised democracy succeeds when people have more to gain by working and competing together with each other through parliament in Delhi than in local separatism or clan fights. If there had been an economic influx to Iraq the terrorists would have been pushed down. Too many weapons, not enough business is the problem.

  11. PS I get into a polemical groove but I very much appreciate your all your writing Razib. So I mean the above in a collegial truth-seeking spirit. My children of part (North and South!) Indian descent make your work more than of merely academic interest for me!

  12. @Pseudoerasmus, cool, thanks a lot for the thorough response.

  13. My strong impression was that George W Bush sought detailed advice from those who knew about the rise of democracy in India, several British and American Indologists. So he was not simply relying on his ‘american naivette’ as you suggest Razib. Did you realise that Stanley Kurtz began as a very fine Indologist?

    yes, to kurtz.

    Forget the US, Razib. What about Indian democracy? Why would it not work eventually in Iraq?

    because the british trained a unified british educated elite which had legs for several generations. congress was a catchall party, not a sectarian one.

    I get into a polemical groove but I very much appreciate your all your writing Razib

    you should have written in more detail. not too impressed by chicago trained economists when it comes to speculation on macrohistory.

  14. ps and of course indian democracy has been an exception to all sorts of rules in relation to the flourishing of democracy. e.g., democracy before development.

  15. Razib, do you believe that liberal democracy is a stable equilibrium

    over centuries? probably not. i think technology, etc., going to make representative democracy less viable as a long term proposition. we’re going both toward viability of direct democracy, combined with greater technocratic aspects of governance. but the experiment hasn’t run too long….

  16. “Don’t tell me India is not tribal, or I’ll say you are a typical Bengali who has little experience of the intensely tribal and middle-east like Northern plains – Uttar Pradesh etc, where most were feuding nomad clans till quite recently. “

    You make UP sound more like…the Hejaz than the site of numerous kingdoms living off its intensively cultivated agriculture that it had been for a long time well before British rule. Could nomadism support the cities of Lucknow, Faizabad and Allahabad ? Most of the northern plains were nomad clans until recently ? It’s fairer to say most nomadism in India occurred in the north, but most of the north was not nomadic. The lands in India that are conducive to pastoralism and transhumance are generally in the North. But this was a small part of the population. You mention Stanley Kurtz and tribalism. Surely he would have been aware of Emmanuel Todd who classified north India as an “exogamous community family”, because north Indians typically married within caste but not between cousins. And to the extent you did have cousin marriage in north India, it would have been amongst Muslims ; and amongst scheduled tribes and so on it would have been matrilineal cousin marriage, which is different from the predominant Arab type of patrilineal parallel-cousin marriage. Not sure whether that distinction makes any difference to politics, but cousin marriages in India are a southern phenomenon in general.

  17. AG says:

    1. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys.”

    Only people with higher cognitive ability (higher IQ) can see the world as it is without simple judgment with black-white answer. This explains non-judgementalism of elite people which often misjudged by underclass as `wussy’. For simple people, they can not see the world in gray or complicated ways which only confuse them further. At pyramid of self-actualization, lack of prejudice is the same thing as not passing judgements with simple rules. Only 10% Americans achieve actualization which seems in line with cognitive ability.

    2. Tyrannical majoritarianism manipulated by demagogues

    Elites understand there is really no good guys and bad guys. But they have to manipulate the mass to do their deeds. The mass only understand `good’ and `evil’. So politics is about manipulation of mass to achieve goals of elites struggle among themself. This explained historically any peasants uprising always hijacked by Elites at end. Even looking at Communism revolution, their leadership always came from elites backgrounds. It is poor underclass who has been manipulated into hating each other as bad guys to become cannon folders. The foot-soldiers for left and right are all from poor people. In old days, it was religion that was used as tool to call your enemy `evil’. Young Bush way of politics with simple `good guys’ and `bad guys’ is much appealling to general mass than his dad’s more intellectual way.

  18. It’s fairer to say most nomadism in India occurred in the north, but most of the north was not nomadic.

    perhaps pure nomadism. but pastoralism has a long history in the deccan. but is anyone in india a ‘pure nomad’ (like the mongals) as opposed to the sort of population which exists in symbiosis with agriculturalists? though north indians practice gotra exogamy if you believe reich lab work long history of caste/jati endogamy means there are elevated levels of runs of homozogysity.

  19. razib : Well I did mention pastoralism and transhumance but Bruce said “Northern plains – Uttar Pradesh etc, where most were feuding nomad clans till quite recently”. I don’t think that’s possible given UP’s agricultural production, topography, population density, etc.. Perhaps this can be settled by the records of the Zamindari Abolition Commitee ?

    though north indians practice gotra exogamy if you believe reich lab work long history of caste/jati endogamy means there are elevated levels of runs of homozogysity.

    How much of that do you reckon due to the likelihood that if you kept marrying exogamously but within one’s (sub)caste and within a narrow locality, you are more likely to marry relatives than otherwise ?

  20. How much of that do you reckon due to the likelihood that if you kept marrying exogamously but within one’s (sub)caste and within a narrow locality, you are more likely to marry relatives than otherwise

    well, they *become* your relatives. even if your path’s of relationship are many steps, if you keep having paths back to common ancestors because of narrowing of the gene pool (reduced effec pop) you’re going to show elevated homozyg

    http://www.genetic-genealogy.co.uk/Toc115570144.html

    basically gotra exogamous north indian hindus may still be reduced their effective population size a lot because of endogamous.

  21. […] Yeah, it’s a bitch when divorce is impossible, especially when one party doesn’t see what’s possible and what is not, and Razib Khan explains that: […]

  22. Certainly, the predominant outcome of post-colonial efforts to establish Western style democratic capitalism with respect for human rights was failure. Overwhelmingly, these short lived post-colonial regimes were promptly replaced either with coups, or through corruption of the democratic process into one party systems or outright dictatorships or theocracies.

    Razib’s analysis of the factors that made India the exception in comment 13 is also spot on. You can’t have a Western style democratic capitalist system without a critical mass of people who share some unified elite identity and have the education and training to make this system work. You can’t run a Western style legal system in a country with tens of millions of people in a country with only hundreds of people trained to be Western style lawyers. You can’t have government run by a civilian parliament without hundreds of people with the skill sets necessary to be national legislators, including some in every little electoral district in the nation. You can’t have a functional modern government without many thousands of literate, reasonably non-corrupt public servants who know how to get things done in a huge, highly regulated bureaucracy.

    I am rather less pessimistic than Razib, however, about the possibility of progress. Unlike Saudi Arabia, countries like Iraq, Syria and Egypt during their long post-colonial sojourns as authoritarian regimes have developed substantial middle class educated populations, reasonably function civil service bureaucracies, much greater literacy levels than they had upon attaining independence. They also have mass populations who have a meaningful awareness of how people function in Western style democratic capitalist countries abroad from both media and from citizens who have gone abroad and returned, even though they haven’t lived in those systems.

    What is missing is a “bare essentials”, robust version of democratic capitalism that can be offered up as a model that is stable and functional enough to fend off alternatives like one party states, Islamist totalitarian states, dictatorships and Somolia style anarchy. Unfortunately, even professional political scientists have only a dim awareness of what parts of the complex Western style democratic capitalist system are genuinely essential, as opposed to those parts that are merely part of the democratic capitalist myth about what its own key elements are, which suffices when local conditions don’t force the question. No one has tried this as seriously as they should. We have let the best become the enemy of the good.

    The electoral process needs to be very simple and capable of quickly producing decisive results, even if they only roughly reflect the popular will (systems such as the American electoral college). You need a judicial system with simple rules and mostly oral proceedings, optimized to function quickly and decisively with a minimum of professional lawyers – large classes of cases need to be vested in traditional local justice forums or something like the justice of the peace courts run by locally elected people who aren’t legal professionals much like the early 1800s in the U.S. on the frontiers. You need strong local governments, with well defined responsibilities and only modest local policy discretion, that provide the core services of government and provide “minor league” training for future politicians in more important posts (most government functions that really distinguish developed countries from third world countries are carried on at the local government level in the first world). You need an executive branch strong enough to carry on decisively even when the legislative branch is temporarily dysfunctional. You need to be able to attract a critical mass of the best and brightest to form a core of effective senior civil servants. You need institutions that can cut through red tape to meet individual needs like Tammeny Hall style political machines or neighborhood level Communist party offices in revolutionary China. And, you need institutions to integrate elites, at least, culturally and symbolically around a national ideal.

  23. […] Khan writes on genetics. Which perhaps is why he takes a realist’s view of history. Tony Blair remains convinced that adequate intervention by the US and UK would straighten things […]

  24. “white man’s republic. The liberties which were granted to white men were in fact curtailed in the case of free black men.” Yes, but white WOMEN did not have them at all, and did not get them for generations. Going by the fact there has been a black president elected (to the vast surprise of many political scientists) before a female one; women are still lagging far behind.

    “In 2003 the Bush administration was incredibly naive about how easy it would be to foster the development of a genuine nation-state in Iraq”

    Bush was. The advisors knew . Justin Raimondo:”Bush’s Defense Policy Board in the summer of 2002. Among other seemingly fantastical propositions in his PowerPoint presentation, Murawiec projected the possibility of a US takeover of the Saudi oil fields, and – in a section devoted to “A Grandiose Strategy” – averred:

    •Iraq is the tactical pivot

    •Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot

    •Egypt the prize”

    Iran is the next Arab Humty Dumpty to be pushed over, and then, ‘Oh dear! We can’t put it back to being a strong state, and potential threat to Israel. Too bad’.

  25. “Only Sadness”

    And there’s the title of what should be a landmark novel set against the current Middle East turmoil. Sort of like Hugo’s The Poor. Only anybody who is sufficiently intimately acquainted with the full tragedy of the region and is poetically inclined enough to write such a book has probably already committed suicide in a fit of black despair.

  26. ” Today both Libya an Iraq are in chaos. Have we learned nothing?”

    I’m not a mind reader, but it’s hard to miss that the U.S.’s wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya are very much like its wars on its own people.

    They are only failures if one assumes that their stated goals were their actual goals. That assumption becomes increasingly implausible.

    Consider the U.S. government’s prosecution of the “drug war,” NSA spying, TSA groping, support for illegal immigration, affirmative action, politically correct blacklists, paranoid feminism, endless vilification of white heterosexual American males, elevation of abortion to a national rather than a state issue, and creation of special legal and economic rights for the privileged classes of society

    Those things have done nothing to promote their stated goals of safety, fairness, respect for human rights, economic prosperity, jobs, and the rule of law. They have usually done the opposite.

    However, they have “divided and conquered” a society that was relatively free and decentralized. They have accustomed Americans to being treated like slaves and subjects. They have set the people against each other to prevent any effective resistance to whatever the government does, no matter how unjust or un-American. Most importantly, they have directly contributed to the wealth, power, and legal immunities of the corrupt ruling elite.

    The United States has become what it opposed: Now that the USSR is gone, the U.S. is the new “evil empire.” The moral corruption and mindless rapacity of its ruling elites will probably destroy the country fairly soon. Then, the vultures will take their ill-gotten loot and move elsewhere, leaving the rest of us to survive in a wrecked land.

  27. I hate to quote Charles Maurras, a late 19th-century and early 20th-century French integral nationalist. But he said brilliantly, when you replace aristocracy you don’t get democracy, you get plutocracy.

  28. As was mentioned, Greek democracy was not considered good, as critiqued by many including Plato and Thucydides. The Romans, at least according to Livy (who was not especially reliable) and Plutarch, thought that a balanced polity was better. The Roman consititution did give the plebs something to say, but they had to resort to extraordinary means to get heard and in any case the Roman Republic became a plaything for the patricians. Caesarism was an attempt to prevent civil war but it also destroyed the Republic and substituted a monarchy which became increasingly orientalized and despotic.

    Ancient history teaches only that the best plans of philosophers, prophets, gods and generals amount in the end to very little.

    The Christian state, which came into being with Constantine, sounded like a good idea but it had all the flaws which flawed human nature can guarantee.

    There is no good system of government because men are sinners and will mess up no matter what.

  29. I think we should be careful when, talking about democracy in India, we say that India is an “exception”. Yes, if we think about countries, India is 1 country, then is easy to consider an “exception”; but if we think about persons, during the second half of 20th century perhaps the majority (or very close to that) of the persons living in democracies lived in India

    pseudoerasmus: “Nonetheless, mechanics and structural design matter. You mention Weimar. That was plagued by proportional representation, which does not fare well usually in very divided populations. After the war the Germans set up a bizarre but functional two-roster system of proportional representation and first-past-the-post. But I think it also helped that eastern Länder were simply not part of the Federal Republic formed in 1949. The eastern Länder (which included parts now found in Poland) had persistently voted for more illiberal parties under Weimar, but with them gone the CDU could be refounded / rebranded as a non-sectarian Christian Democratic party.”

    If anything, I think that is in very divided populations that PR makes more sense: if you have a majoritarian system in a very divided society (like Ulster before GFA?), the “losing”, without any share in power (like in PR systems) and without a sense of “common destiny” with the “winners” (like in “united” societies) will feel excluded from the system and will be prone to become “subversives”.

    More one point – the german combination of PR and FPTP produces exactly the sames results (in terms of party representation) as a pure closed-list PR system (the MPs elected in the FPTP local circles are subtracted from the MPs elected in the national circle); in other words, the german mixed system, by itself, does not make the system less fragmented than what it will be in a more conventional PR system (the 5% clause is probably more important for that)

  30. Thanks Razib for posts like this one. Might I suggest you recycle some of your old posts that are of similar quality.

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