Posts tagged with: democracy

I am presently reading Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (New York: Penguin Press, 2006), by Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas E. Ricks. Any one who knows of a critical review of this best-selling book would help me by suggesting where I can find said review. The book is, to my mind at this moment, a powerful and fair-minded critique of much that has gone wrong in our Iraq military adventure. According to Ricks blame for our multiple failures, if we are to assign primary blame, lies with the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. This begins with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has called most of the shots in this war, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-con genius who has been a principal architect of the philosophical thinking that led us into this conflict.

The question I would like to pose about the philosophy that is behind this war is quite simple. President Bush and his advisors have consistently argued (since 9/11) that democracy is an inherent desire that lies in the heart of people. By this argument the Iraqi people deeply desire to live under some form of democracy and we are there to build a nation that allows this desire to be expressed politically. This argument is based upon several intellectual arguments that have been presented by influential thinkers in and out of this administration.

My question: Is the desire for political freedom a value or an instinct? Bush and his advisors argue that it is an instinct. (And on this basis they are seeking to build a democratic nation in Iraq that will become a beacon of hope to other peoples in the Middle East.) I think the desire for political freedom is clearly a value. And it is a value that took us centuries to develop. We value democracy in the West only because of the influences that have come into our way of thinking through both Christian social thought and Enlightenment insights, neither of which is an influence on Iraq at all. Even in the West it took us a long time to come to our present understanding and commitment to democratic values; e.g., we fought a Civil War to define these values less than a hundred and fifty years ago. I do not see a biblical or philosophical basis for arguing that a desire for democracy is instinctive to the human heart. If this is true then how do you explain the people of God under the Old Covenant? And how do you explain the ancients who settled, except for a limited experiment in Greece, for something less? And what about the Middle Ages? There just seems to be little evidence for this argument thus I think it should be challenged in the court of public debate. This challenge does not constitute a capitulation to the far left. Many social and political conservatives have made it before me.

Let it be noted that I personally believe in democracy. I believe it is the best system of government that we know for a people like ourselves, a people with our values and influences. What I question here is the assumption that it is the right, or best, system for all other people. I also seriously question how a Muslim country can truly understand and embrace democracy. Certainly the democracy that we have already introduced is extremely limited given the religious expressions in the Iraqi Constitution.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

Here’s an abstract of some recent NBER research:

“Why Does Democracy Need Education?,” by Edward Glaeser, Giacomo Ponzetto, Andrei Shleifer

“Across countries, education and democracy are highly correlated. We motivate empirically and then model a causal mechanism explaining this correlation. In our model, schooling teaches people to interact with others and raises the benefits of civic participation, including voting and organizing. In the battle between democracy and dictatorship, democracy has a wide potential base of support but offers weak incentives to its defenders. Dictatorship provides stronger incentives to a narrower base. As education raises the benefits of civic participation, it raises the support for more democratic regimes relative to dictatorships. This increases the likelihood of democratic revolutions against dictatorships, and reduces that of successful anti-democratic coups.”

But here’s a follow-up question: Does a top-down, dictatorial model of eduation undermine education’s tendency to support democracy? If so, then it seems the best model for education in a democracy would be the vigorous and free schooling provided by the private sector.

A past commentary of mine was featured in a recent book, Democracy: Opposing Viewpoints, published earlier this year by Greenhaven Press, an imprint of Thomson Gale.

My contribution appears as part of Chapter 2: What Should Be the Relationship Between Religion and Democracy? Following a pair of items by Clark Moeller and Bill O’Reilly arguing that democracy is based on secular and religious foundations respectively, I take the affirmative side of my issue in a section titled, “Politicians Should Voice Their Religious Convictions.” The text is based on an earlier Acton Commentary, “Private Faith and Public Politics.”

I argue that “moral considerations of some sort come into play in every policy decision,” and politicians should be up front about their religious views which validate and underlie their moral reasoning.

Taking the negative side, “Politicians Should Not Voice Their Religious Convictions,” Cathy Young, a columnist for the Boston Globe, writes in part, “The idea that politicians should keep their religious faith private may seem outrageously intolerant. But is it not equally outrageous that, on today’s political scene, a secularist figure cannot express his views honestly without committing career suicide?” Her contribution is from an article in Reason magazine.

The democracy and religion chapter concludes with items arguing whether Islam and democracy are compatible, by Fawaz A. Gerges and Amir Taheri respectively. In the periodical bibliography for further reading on this chapter, the book also highlights a piece by George Cardinal Pell, “Is There Only Secular Democracy?” The text of the commentary is extracted from Pell’s 2004 Acton Annual Dinner address, and a longer form with footnotes is published in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

The Opposing Viewpoints series has “more than 90 volumes covering nearly every controversial contemporary topic,” and “is the leading source for libraries and classrooms in need of current-issue materials.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 27, 2006

A number of bloggers have expressed grave concerns over Google’s decision to accomodate the demands of the communist government in its web search offerings in China.

David Mills at Mere Comments writes that Google is “serving a brutal government and helping it oppress its people, even if its service will prove only partially effective.” He complains that Google’s motives are purely pecuniary, and that the company is only acceding to the government’s wishes because “If it didn’t help the Chinese government oppress its people, it wouldn’t make much money in China.” Mills notes that Google is following Microsoft and Yahoo search engines in making these concessions

It seems a pretty easy judgment to make: Google is selling out. My first instinct is to agree and throw my lot in with those condemning Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Google executives have described it as a “difficult decision.” But Mills writes, “There is no ethical dilemma, because they do not have to do business in China at all.”

But this is the point at which such judgments themselves are rather simplistic and superficial. First of all, Google does have a responsibility to its shareholders to seek out new areas of profitability, and the most populous nation on the planet can hardly be overlooked.

The fact is that the people of mainland China are living under a repressive regime. The lack of such fundamental rights as free expression and speech are completely alien to us in the West, and so we react strongly when we hear about censorship and denial of human rights abroad.

But the question then becomes, “What is the best way to move China toward economic, political, and religious freedom?” It has long been assumed by proponents of liberal democracies that these three aspects of freedom are inextricably linked. If you truly have one, then you truly have all three. That position is being put to the test in China and other countries, which are seeking to liberalize elements of the economic and business sectors without substantially altering their hold on religious and political freedoms.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 17, 2006

After decades of civil unrest, the African nation of Liberia has elected the first female head of state in the history of the continent. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist and veteran of international affairs, was sworn in yesterday in the capital city of Monrovia. Founded in 1822, Liberia is Africa’s oldest republic, and the result of the work of the “American Colonization Society to settle freed American slaves in West Africa. The society contended that the immigration of blacks to Africa was an answer to the problem of slavery as well as to what it felt was the incompatibility of the races.”

Liberia’s recent history has been dominated by civil strife and regional conflict. But US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has hailed the election of Johnson-Sirleaf, nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” as signs of reform and progress in the West African nation. When asked about the prospects for debt relief, Rice responded: “The first key to debt relief is to have sound economic policies in place, policies that show that there will be budget discipline, that money will be well spent. We have a great deal of confidence in your new President, who understands these economic matters very well, who has dealt with the world community, the World Bank; and I’m sure that she will embark on an economic reform program and all Liberians should support that economic reform program.” Rice continued, “It won’t be easy at the beginning. No economic reform is easy. But Liberia has resources. Liberia has people who can be well educated. And I’m quite sure that if the right economic policies are followed, that the world will look at debt relief, will look at further assistance, because everybody wants Liberia to succeed.”

“Everybody” apparently includes mainland China, which pledged greater positive engagement with Liberia following the inauguration. Economic ties with other global nations will be key for Liberia’s future development. As Secretary Rice indicated, Liberia’s natural resources and human capital can be a valuable component of the world market.

Kofi Annan also noted the UN’s approval of the election of Johnson-Sirleaf, especially as it was the result of free and fair elections. Annan congratulated the Liberian people, who, he said “through a peaceful and transparent electoral process, have given Johnson Sirleaf an historic mandate to lead the nation towards a future of lasting peace and stability.”

A huge part of Johnson-Sirleaf’s platform was an emphasis on the elmination of government corruption, which blossomed under the previously-elected Charles Taylor, and a return to the rule of law. In a speech before the African Development Forum in 2004, Johnson-Sirleaf said, “The respect for and promotion of human rights as one of the principles of good governance can be defined simply as the promotion of human dignity through the exercise of basic human freedoms. In other words, respect for human rights requires respect for the sanctity of life; respect for the right to speak freely with responsibility; respect for the right to choose one’s religion and one’s friends; respect and confidence in the assurance that the rule of law protects an individual from the violation of their rights, particularly by the state.”

Roughly 40% of Liberia’s population of nearly 3.5 million people are identified as Christian, and we can hope and pray that the new administration ushers in an era of peace and prosperity for all of Liberia’s citizens.