May 19, 2006

Vee haf VAYS of teaching you to bicycle...

You must read--you've probably already read--Amir Taheri's assessment of Iraq. this is one interesting point (out of many)...

....Their critique can be summarized in the aphorism that democracy cannot be imposed by force. It is a view that can be found among the more sophisticated elements on the Left and, increasingly, among dissenters on the Right, from Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to the ex-neoconservative Francis Fukuyama. As Senator Hagel puts it, You cannot in my opinion just impose a democratic form of government on a country with no history and no culture and no tradition of democracy.

I would tend to agree. But is Iraq such a place? In point of fact, before the 1958 pro-Soviet military coup detat that established a leftist dictatorship, Iraq did have its modest but nevertheless significant share of democratic history, culture, and tradition. The country came into being through a popular referendum held in 1921. A constitutional monarchy modeled on the United Kingdom, it had a bicameral parliament, several political parties (including the Ba'ath and the Communists), and periodic elections that led to changes of policy and government. At the time, Iraq also enjoyed the freest press in the Arab world, plus the widest space for debate and dissent in the Muslim Middle East.

To be sure, Baghdad in those days was no Westminster, and, as the 1958 coup proved, Iraqi democracy was fragile. But every serious student of contemporary Iraq knows that substantial segments of the population, from all ethnic and religious communities, had more than a taste of the modern world's democratic aspirations. As evidence, one need only consult the immense literary and artistic production of Iraqis both before and after the 1958 coup. Under successor dictatorial regimes, it is true, the conviction took hold that democratic principles had no future in Iraq, a conviction that was responsible in large part for driving almost five million Iraqis, a quarter of the population, into exile between 1958 and 2003, just as the opposite conviction is attracting so many of them and their children back to Iraq today...

Actually, I think the argument "democracy cannot be imposed by force" is fallacious. It's an example of a "strawman argument." Nobody is, in fact, imposing democracy by force--it's always invitational. The voters can always stay home, or vote for the most anti-democratic party. But they never do.

Not only is this a strawman, but the truism is itself, I think, false. All humans "get" democracy; it's part of our natures. We can all do it. The argument is like saying "you can't impose bicycle-riding by force." In fact, you could, and if you did, almost all able-bodied people would learn to ride bicycles. What you can't do by force is keep people from falling down while learning.

Posted by John Weidner at May 19, 2006 11:29 AM
Weblog by John Weidner