Saturday, May 31, 2008

Liberty versus Democracy


I for one believe that a serious problem exists in a discussion of today's issues especially as they relate to liberty. All too many of those opining on the subject of governments (or national security) appear to equate liberty with "democracy" when no such equation is valid. For example, the United Kingdom is classified as a "democracy" simply due to its form of government being a parliamentary system having universal suffrage and more or less "fair" elections. Its form of government qualifies it to be characterized as a "democracy" but to what extent is an individual's liberty valued when he can be prosecuted for publicly expressing opinions which conflict with those of the ruling elite or are deemed "insulting" by this or that protected group or is denied the natural right of self defense? Here in the US the population has become inured to hearing the political system referred to as a "democracy" simply due to the widespread use of the suffrage to select government officials.

Even though the founding document of the nation provides for a ponderous and convoluted process for its amendment the unelected federal judiciary have circumvented the process to such an extent that in its present form our political system bears virtually no resemblance to the intent of its authors. In point of fact the bulk of legislation as well as the regulatory ukases enacted since 1913 have no justification in the original Constitution or its 27 ratified amendments except through the tortured interpretation by life tenured judges.

During the recent ongoing and apparently permanent national political campaign all of the remaining contenders for the presidency have endorsed not only the need to enact sweeping and disastrous economic regulations to avert the non catastrophe of so called "global warming" but also the establishment of another supra national organization of the world's "democracies" due to frustration with the corruption and inertia of the United Nations.

"Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at Carnegie, said "the world has no appetite for a U.S.-led league and many countries do not want the U.S. going around the U.N."

In fact, Carothers said, the United States cooperates often with non-democracies in its foreign policy. China's help in trying to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program is just one example, he said.

President Bush's Iraq war policy was bitterly opposed by two leading democracies, France and Germany, among others. But Bush went ahead despite their strong objections.

"It is wishful thinking" that a league of democracies would any more readily approve U.S. military intervention in support of another U.S. president, Carothers said."


Carothers has a valid point. Furthermore, how does a nation qualify objectively as a "democracy" and who exactly dictates the criteria? I somehow suspect that the politicians touting such a concept would characterize those nations supporting their favored foreign and domestic policies as "democracies".

It has been said that... "nations do not have friends; they have interests."

13 comments:

gary said...

Furthermore, how does a nation qualify objectively as a "democracy"

So you believe that because it's difficult to judge the degree to which a country is democratic, such a judgement shouldn't be attempted? I would say we have no choice but to make the effort. Otherwise the assumption is that dictatorship and democracy are equally valid forms of government. If that's your position, we obviously differ on a much more basic level.

And just for the record here's one attempt to define democracy...

http://www.demcoalition.org/pdf/CD_participation_criteria.pdf

What do you think? A good start?

...and who exactly dictates the criteria?

That's easy! The members of a democratic organization would decide democratically.

In fact, Carothers said, the United States cooperates often with non-democracies in its foreign policy.

I agree. And it goes a long way to explaining the mess we're in. Nuclear proliferation is unchecked, genocide in places like Darfur continues, the middle east is still a mess. The list of failures goes on and on. I'm thinking we can do better.

"It is wishful thinking" that a league of democracies would any more readily approve U.S. military intervention in support of another U.S. president, Carothers said."

Given US foreign policy of late, would this be considered an advantage? Besides...the objective shouldn't be to satisfy the US. The goal should be the spread of democracy.

gary

ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

The de facto validity of a form of government is its ability to maintain a monopoly on the use of force within a geographic area.

Gary: "...here's one attempt to define democracy...What do you think? A good start?"

The CD document resurrects the ghost of the UN declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It proceeds by building on the same hackneyed assumptions equating democracy with "freedom" (liberty). The only nation I am aware of that approaches the criteria given for participation is Costa Rica.

As always in any debate, a definition of terms is necessary. Since this is ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ' blog the term "liberty" will be defined as: "n The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing so long as another individual's similar rights are not infringed. For convenience, "democracy" will be defined as: "n a country in which the citizens choose their government by voting [Greek δεμοκρατια]"

An interesting treatment of this subject has been written by Hans-Hermann Hoppe entitled "Democracy: The God That Failed". A good synopsis is here.

gary said...

The de facto validity of a form of government is its ability to maintain a monopoly on the use of force within a geographic area.

This doesn't seem like a very helpful definition of validity. I would instead say validity equates to legitimacy in the eyes of it's citizens. Do they feel represented, do they feel ownership in the process? Do the citizens see their legal system as just? Your definition sounds more like "might makes right". By that definition North Korea is a valid government.

I understand your focus is in definitions, but I would be curious as to how effective you think the US is in addressing global issues. Do you see what we have now as sufficient? Or do you see the need for change, even if not in the form of the the league proposal?

gary

ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

Gary: "...By that definition North Korea is a valid government."

Correct. As are Cuba, Zimbabwe and Iran. That is not to say they are in any way admirable or worthy of emulation. Those regimes simply fulfill the objective criteria and must be dealt with until they no longer do so.

"...I would be curious as to how effective you think the US is in addressing global issues."

To the extent that the US proceeds in rationally pursuing its national interests, its performance must be evaluated on a case by case basis. For example, the intervention in the former Yugoslavia was a clear "F" as there were no vital US interests at issue. Likewise for Somalia in 1992-3. A rational case can be made for the intervention in Grenada as it was not in the national interest of the US to allow a surrogate of the USSR to gain a further military foothold in the Eastern Caribbean. These are just a few examples. Any "league" will of necessity consist of nations whose national interests will often diverge and any government who surrenders its sovereignty to such an entity does so to its own disadvantage. Furthermore, these organizations whose administrative personnel consist of human beings are subject to the dangers of corruption.

gary said...

Sorry, on that second question of mine I meant to say the "UN", not the "US". So the point of my question was to ask if you felt the UN did a good job in addressing the obvious global issues of nuclear proliferation, genocide, and such.

So you see North Korea as a valid government? I still do not. But obviously this comes back to your definition of valid versus mine. Let's focus on North Korea. Would you like to see more governments like North Korea? Or less? (This way the question doesn't fail due to semantics.)

gary

ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

"...[ Does ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ believe the UN has done] a good job in addressing the obvious global issues of nuclear proliferation, genocide, and such."

In a word: NO! A collective security arrangement is only successful when all members have an identity of interests. The WW II alliance broke down immediately upon the elimination of the threat for which it was formed.

"Would you like to see more governments like North Korea? Or less [sic]?"

You probably meant to write "fewer". How about: NONE!

gary said...

I agree on both accounts. So how would you like to see the UN reformed (or replaced)?

gary

Howlsatmoon said...

"reformed"..."replaced"....how about abolished?

The U.N. was another utopian theoretical, failed because people and by extension Countries are flawed.

We, the United States should deal with those countries in whom we have a vested interest, whether it be for economic or security reasons.

We should not be dictated to by any other country, let alone the likes of Myannmar...

Get US out

gary said...

You mentioned Myanmar. Suppose we have reliable evidence that a dictator is slaughtering it's own people. Would you be for the United States getting involved to prevent it?

If "yes" to the above, shouldn't we coordinate with other like minded democracies such that our men in black ninja outfits don't shoot each other?

If "yes", then presumably you agree that democracies sometimes need to talk. So why not formalize the group with a spiffy name like "United Democratic Nations"? If my arguments have made it this far with you, then it seems to me like we're back to semantics again.

btw, I think Myanmar has only one 'n'.

gary

ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

"You mentioned Myanmar. Suppose we have reliable evidence that a dictator is slaughtering it's own people. Would you be for the United States getting involved to prevent it?"

No. If the dictator is threatening US vital interests he is fair game. Until then his actions are a domestic issue (see North Korea, "Burma", Iran and our "friends" the Saudis.

"...democracies sometimes need to talk."

Agreed. Talk is the cheapest commodity in any market and does not require a ponderous bureaucracy, whereas actions can be very dear in blood and treasure.

gary said...

So if your neighbor's house is on fire, would you go to their aid even if it's not threatening your house? And would you have aided europe when Hitler was slaughtering the jews?

gary

ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

I have had "neighbors " whose houses I would cheerfully watch burn. On the other hand most neighbors could expect my assistance. Your analogy is however a non sequitur. What applies to individuals does not necessarily apply to collectives such as nations.

The National Socialists of Germany did not begin an earnest pursuit of the "final solution" until 1942, well into WW II. Germany was a threat to the status quo powers including the US by attempting to establish military and economic hegemony in Europe. That was a valid reason to wage war against them. The "moral" arguments to whip up justification and support for war were/are secondary and often unwise.

gary said...

What applies to individuals does not necessarily apply to collectives such as nations.

This is a slippery slope. What about a group of girl scouts in the next town? What about a house on fire in Myanmar? I don't think it's really about nations. It's about your fellow human beings. If we are able to help people being slaughtered in Darfur, I personally see it as a moral prerogative that we do so, even if they aren’t what you call a “nation”.

So if you didn’t feel that Hitler threatened the US, you would have bypassed the headlines and went straight for the sports section?

gary