When Voters Do Bad Things

Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Since the referendum vote last Saturday in Iraq, I've been thinking more about the possible results of Iraq's experiment in democracy, and I keep asking myself if I'm really ready to accept the outcome, whatever it may be.

Listening to NPR as I awoke this morning, I heard a report on how the recent elections in Afghanistan had resulted in the rise to power, by democratic means, of a number of "warlords," even people regarded as possible "war criminals" (in my quotes because no trial has occurred), and there could be little doubt that the reporter felt this outcome cast rather a pall on the US effort to bring democracy to the Afghans.

Bret Stephens has a marvellous essay on the relationship of diaspora Jews to the state of Israel, which deconstructs arguments in Tony Judt's famous, or perhaps notorious, essay on the subject of Israel as a possible "binational" state. Well into his argument, Stephens writes:

Curiously, although it is Judt’s ostensible concern for democracy that animates his advocacy of a binational, one-man, one-vote state, he seems to have no regard at all for the democracy that currently operates in Israel. The reason, apparently, is that this is a democracy that has produced unacceptable outcomes: a free-market economy; continued occupation of territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; excessive religious interference in political life; a destabilizing regional political presence. And so on.

Yet it seems obvious that if one supports a democracy on the condition that it must produce agreeable results, one does not support democracy at all. The purpose of democracy is not to guarantee outcomes but to set process above outcomes – to respect the wishes of the people whatever those wishes may be. This can often be a bitter pill to swallow, as those wishes may be radically at variance with one’s personal conception of the good. Currently, for instance, Israel’s democratic wish is to withdraw its settlements from the Gaza Strip, an outcome Judt no doubt favors but which the God-fearing irredentist wing of Israel is not at all happy with. And yet on one thing, Judt and even the most extreme right-wing elements of Israel’s body politic agree: The will of the majority must not prevail.


While I am tempted to feel superior to Mr. Judt (I certainly disagree vehemently with his views on Israel), I am not yet sure I am going to stick by my guns if, or when, Iraq's democracy turns in a direction I don't like. I hope I am a better democrat (small d) than that, but time will tell.

14 comments:

terrye said...

Look at Germany.

A democracy is to a great extent the reflection of the culture and considering the fact that the only structure the Afghanis have had in their culture has been that dominated by war lords it is not surprising that many of the new leaders would come from that class.

We had our own robber barons.

I think we will have to wait and see what comes of it in the long run. As for NPR they will be unhappy if the place is not like Europe, which it will never be.

After all there was a time when the men ruling Great Britain were called war lords as well.

David Thomson said...

“The purpose of democracy is not to guarantee outcomes but to set process above outcomes – to respect the wishes of the people whatever those wishes may be.”

Whoa, we don’t have to do any such thing. There are limits to what we have to accept. Just because an Adolph Hitler enticed a democratic nation to back his nefarious ideological goals does not require that we are obligated to “respect the wishes of the people whatever those wishes may be.” Iraqis seem to have approved their constitution. We have every right to demand that its citizens live up to its wording.

flenser said...

Jamie


"The “alternative” of the article’s title was a “binational state” – a state for all the people, Arabs and Jews, living west of the river Jordan. Such a state, he[Judt] argued, was the only decent outcome where the other possibilities were either a nondemocratic Jewish state that lorded over a Palestinian underclass, or a much smaller Israel, returned to its 1967 borders by a Berlin Wall-like security fence that confirmed “the moral and institutional bankruptcy of the regime it is intended to protect.”

Those do seem to be the three available possibilities. Do you see additional options, or do you think that a different one of the three would be preferable?

flenser said...

As for Iraq and Afghanistan, I agree, naturally, with terrye.

These countries are unlikely to suddenly turn into Western style democracies, where people argue over such arcane matters as "natural law". Our only expectation for them in the short term should be that they no longer support terrorism. That would be a major step forward.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Terrye is right.

The origins of Western democracy were a council of warlords, called peers, who each got a vote. Later the vote was extended to a few more people, and then to a few more, till finally everybody got it. It takes time. It's utterly ridiculous to expect Afghanistan to turn into Germany overnight. I'm still waiting for Germany to turn into Germany.

Jamie Irons said...

flenser,

I think Ariel Sharon has been struggling toward an Israel that remains a Jewish state, but can be at peace with its neighbors, and can have defensible borders.

One can of course argue with his means, and with how successful he has been, or can be.

Anonymous said...

...there could be little doubt that the reporter felt this outcome cast rather a pall on the US effort to bring democracy to the Afghans.

Where is multiculturalism now? Blacks are only blacks if they believe the right stuff, democracies are only democracies if they elect the right people, yada, yada, yada. The problem with the left is that democracy is only a wedge issue. What they really want is enforced adherance to "right" behaviour. Same old, same old.

chuck

terrye said...

I read that the Afghanis have gotten rid of about a third of their poppies. They could use a fungacide and get rid of them all overnight, but then what happens? People have to live. But of course the poppies lead to more money for the wrong people. I do have a question however, if it is wrong for them to grow the poppies is it wrong for Europeans to make drugs legal?

There are so many things that effect the situation and most of them will take many years to change. These people still farm like they did a thousand years ago.

As for Israel, I wish them luck. They live day in and day out year in and year out with such a difficult and intractable dilemna that it is quite beyond me what the answer is.

I say they just keep building that wall.

Jamie Irons said...

terrye,

As for Israel, I wish them luck. They live day in and day out year in and year out with such a difficult and intractable dilemna that it is quite beyond me what the answer is.

I say they just keep building that wall.

Terrye, as usual you are (in my view) right.

truepeers said...

The origins of Western democracy were a council of warlords, called peers

-and ye all now and true are peers of this realm.

-but the question remains, could a binational state work? Why hasn't there been a lot of talk about it in the Arab world? Why do many of both Arabs and Jews assume a two-state solution (if the Palis were capable of building a stable state) is the preferred outcome?

Because you will never find any significant Arab body of opinion imagining a world in which a federation of Jews and Arabs - in which Jews necessarily had some role, however limited, in governing Arabs - could exist. The idea of Jew ruling Muslim in any way is anathema at present. And until that changes, Jews have to assume that the Arab project is to push the Jews into the sea.

There of course already is a sizeable Arab population in Israel, with more democratic rights than elsewhere in the ME. Ironically, this depends on Israel being and remaining a Jewish state. So if you believe in "the Palestinians" constituting a national community, they had better grow some decent leaders and be given their own state, because a binational state is a pipe dream given the pervasive antisemitism in the arab world.

What the Judts of this world don't want to remember is that the very form of nationhood is a sacred gift and assumes the existence of particular and peculiar peoples in this world, not multiculti nihilism; what's more, nation states and the international order they constitute remain the political unit most suited to democracy, freedom, and global security, as the progress of the EU increasingly suggests.

As the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor puts it, nationalism is like whiskey: taken diluted it makes you mellow; taken neat it knocks you out.

Jamie Irons said...

truepeers,

Great post. Thanks.

Syl said...

NPR is wrong as usual. Individual warlords got seats, but the vote didn't bring in their slates of followers....which would have been, well, not desireable.

Independent candidates and their followers won about 75% of the seats!

http://www.anklebitingpundits.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2500&mode=nested&order=0&thold=0

Rick Ballard said...

Syl,

"Wrong" is such a strong word and it carries some very ugly and prejudicial connotations. We are writing of NPR, so wouldn't it more informative to say that there were certain elements of the story that were better left unmentioned in order to facilitate more rapid comprehension of the 'nature' of the story on the part of listeners? After all, the use of 'wrong' presupposes the existence of 'right' as 'false' presupposes 'true'. Who among us can claim to hold some key to a verifiable 'truth'. 'Truth' is totally dependent upon our position within the faux societal hierarchy imposed by unseen paternalistic forces which control all power with the express purpose of maintaining dominance.

It's all very clear once one has been properly instructed. You will find that true peace comes from nodding your head in thoughtful agreement whenever you listen to NPR.

Syl said...

Heh :)

'Got it wrong' is a phrase, like 'Got it right', that only gives name, rank, and serial number. One has to be tortured for more specific info. ;)

All Things Considered, that is.