Thursday, December 28, 2006

Democracy and Islam

In earlier posts, I have risked looking foolish by venturing an opinion or two on international issues. In one post I suggested that the Iraqi quagmire has its roots in the Bush administration's overly generous but anthropologically flawed perpetuation of Enlightenment liberalism's naive underestimation of the role of Christianity is laying the groundwork for the success of both democratic institutions and the market economy. Though the economic market might fair better in a culture religiously rooted in Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist traditions than might the democratic marketplace of ideas, neither democratic institutions nor market economies are likely to produce the fruits that they produced when laid on the moral foundations provided by Christianity.

Apropos of this, in a recent exploration of what he calls the incompatibility of Islam and democracy, the Norwegian journalist, Fjordman, concluded with this:
U.S. President George W. Bush said he would accept it if Iraqis voted to create an Islamic fundamentalist government in democratic elections. "I will be disappointed, but democracy is democracy."

Is it really equivalent, Mr. Bush?

This brings us back to Plato's criticism of democracy as just an advanced form of mob rule. And without any constraints, checks and balances, that definition is correct. Benjamin Franklin said that "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!" This is why he and the other Founding Fathers wanted the USA to be a constitutional Republic, not a pure democracy.

It is strange that the United States wanted to export to Iraq a naïve concept of democracy, one that provided too few rights and guarantees for individuals and minorities, one that their own Founding Fathers had specifically rejected for precisely that reason. And this did not even include an assessment of Islam, in which harassing and persecuting minorities and suppressing individual liberty is a matter of principle.
Those of us who enjoy the unmerited privilege of living in a society shaped by the Judeo-Christian tradition commit the error that apparently Marie Antoinette never actually committed. We espouse a breezy "let them eat cake" attitude toward those who aspire to the social and material benefits we enjoy, blissfully unaware of the religious underpinnings without which democracy reverts to mob rule and the market to vulgar pandering.

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