Thursday, January 13, 2005

Democracy v Democracy+

Over at In the Agora, Paul Musgrave has a very thoughtful response to one of the standard 'Democracy only works with Christianity' stump speeches (this one from drooling representative Mark Souder of Indiana [ed: Indiana? Shocking!]. As he points out, these arguments are typically poorly thought out (if at all - there's a minor industry that just churns that pulp out), and demolishes the argument in summary fashion through empirical evidence to the country.

The correctly reached conclusion:

The perfectly plausible and--to millions of people for a very long
time--convincing arguments that slavery and, later, racial discrimination and a
denial of women's rights were Biblical in origin surely should weigh in Souder's
moral calculus....

So what does it mean when Souder expresses himself thusly? It means that
he is, bluntly, ignorant and a fool. Ignorant, in that he's unaware of the
democratic success of the non-Christian nations of Japan and India, as well as
the continuing survival of democracy in agnostic countries like the U.K. and
most of Western Europe. Foolish, in that he's unable to realize how Christianity
has accomodated itself to various forms of political organizations--monarchy,
feudalism, social democracy, even imperial Rome--and that other religions may be
able to do the same.

What would Soulder's response be to this? I'm sure it would be this: "But, you see, those weren't real Christians that supported slavery and racial discrimination.

To me, of course, the imagined response seems laughably arbitrary. I'm sure we could also define 'Christian' to mean all sorts of things, from the requirement of voting Republican (many have tried to stipulate that) to belief in inerrancy of the Bible (many have tried to stipulate that), yet these all seem bizarrely arbitrary.

The reason I bring this up, though, is to supplement Paul's criticism. In his speech, Souder said, "Does democracy in Iraq mean the majority Shia, upon winning, can deny rights to women and to religious minorities, not to mention exact revenge upon the Sunni? Why not do these things if the only standard is democracy?"

Implicit in this "Democracy+" approach (meaning procedural democracy + substantive liberty), though, is a deeply conservative critique of bringing procedural democracy to Iraq. If, as Souder suggests, "Democracy +" is only available to Christian nations, then why have we spent all this money? Souder should've been a loud opponent of the war, or at least of the attempt at democratization. His political stance, in other words, severely undercuts his theoretical position.

For what it's worth, I remain deeply skeptical of the approach (championed most prominently by President Bush) that Democracy will inexorably lead to Democracy+. Since there doesn't seem to be any internal or logical nexus between the two, a discussion is long overdue of the relative merits of an enlightened despot that guarantees substantive liberty versus a procedural democracy in which substantive liberty is severely curtailed. Of course, by Souder's lights, in which there is a nexus if and only if the country is Christian (whatever that means), then the whole project is bust from the start. In other words, Souder is still a fool.