July 4, 2014


The American Crisis (Thomas Paine, 1776)

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

Iraq's Fourth of July: Democracy won't come easy--but then, it never has anywhere else. (DANIEL HENNINGER, July 2, 2004, Wall Street Journal)
Most of those stating their doubts in public about democracy in Mesopotamia are conservatives who supported the war itself but have come to believe that Middle Eastern history, culture, religion and an unseemly fascination with explosives and blood feuds makes self-government unlikely. Most liberals, meanwhile, concluded before the war that Iraqi democracy was a neoconservative plot and so are pretty much sitting out this turn in history. In his realpolitik phase a while back, John Kerry announced that notions like democracy and even human rights (a crown jewel of the modern Democratic Party) should be back-burnered.

Iraq: The Visionaries (Charles Rousseaux Published 07/02/2004, Tech Central Station)
[P]resident Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have been castigated for the casualties that have come for their dream of a democratic Iraq. Many more may die, despite the recent transfer of sovereignty. Their critics will continue to insist that a watchful status quo would have been far preferable to the troublesome, toilsome bloody road Messers Bush and Blair took. [...]

Messers Bush and Blair have delightful dreams of the good that democracy might do in the entire region. The liberated citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan could serve as shining examples to their neighbors and become a bulwark against terror. Free states established in the heart of the region could slash at terrorists' bases of support and show potential recruits that ballots are better (or at least healthier) than bullets and suicide bombers.

The disease of democracy could be catching (heaven help the country that gets Florida-itis). In June, Jordan's King Abudullah said that although Mr. Bush's push towards freedom in the Middle East, "frightened people" it also changed the debate in a fundamental way, and "started a process you can't turn back." As The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl noted, King Abdullah is quietly making many reforms in his own country. According to Mr. Diehl, even Europeans and Democrats (can anyone tell the difference? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?) support Mr. Bush's democratic ends even if they deplore his direct means.

It's quite fitting, actually, that the only ones left believing that the Iraqi experiment in liberty will work are the Iraqis themselves and American theocons, the last tenders of the flame of the Founders.

So we have the rather unedifying spectacle of neocons bailing out on their own core beliefs, just because the transition hasn't happened overnight, as in the following:Shattered illusions (Francis Fukuyama, 29jun04, The Australian)

OF all of the different views that have now come to be associated with neo-conservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence that the US could transform Iraq into a Western-style democracy and go on from there to democratise the broader Middle East.

It struck me as strange precisely because these same neo-conservatives had spent much of the past generation warning about the dangers of ambitious social engineering and how social planners could never control behaviour or deal with unanticipated consequences.

If the US cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, DC, how in the world does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti-American to boot?

Several neo-conservatives, such as Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, have noted how wrong people were after World War II in asserting that Japan could not democratise. Krauthammer asks: "Where
is it written that Arabs are incapable of democracy?" He is echoing an argument made most forthrightly by the eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who has at several junctures suggested that pessimism about the prospects for a democratic Iraq betrays lack of respect for Arabs.

It is, of course, nowhere written that Arabs are incapable of democracy,
and it is certainly foolish for cynical Europeans to assert with great confidence that democracy is impossible in the Middle East. We have, indeed, been fooled before, not just in Japan but in Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism.

But possibility is not probability, and good policy is not made by staking everything on a throw of the dice. Culture is not destiny, but culture plays an important role in making possible certain kinds of institutions - something that is usually taken to be a conservative insight.

Though I, more than most people, am associated with the idea that history's arrow points to democracy, I have never believed that democracies can be created anywhere and everywhere through simple political will.

Here is what Mr. Fukuyama wrote in The End of History:
What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

Apparently "universal" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.

But it is, of course, not Mr. Fukuyama who is most closely associated with the truth that time's arrow points towards democracy, but the Founders and, in the modern world, George W. Bush. So, where Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The God Who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time." Mr. Bush has said:

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.

We Americans have faith in ourselves, but not in ourselves alone. We do not know -- we do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history.

The difference here--the reason that Mr. Fukuyama has waffled, while Mr. Bush has kept the faith--is that for the Founders and for the religious today the eventual triumph of liberty is not merely an intellectual conjecture but a fulfillment of God's Creation. The denial of human freedom, no matter how persistent or seemingly intractable, can never be more than temporary, because freedom is God's gift to Man.

It's all well and good to be dubious about Iraq's immediate prospects, but to question its long term prospects, or those of the rest of the Islamic world for that matter, is in the precise sense unAmerican. It requires the disavowal of our Foundational premises:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The problem is that those on the far Right don't believe all men to be equal--especially not the brown ones--while the Left and the secular Right (most Libertarians, neocons, etc.) don't believe man was Created. We're left then with a situation where it's pretty much only conservative Jews and Christians who still believe in the truths that America represents.

Fortunately, at the present time, their number happens to include the President.

[originally posted: 2004-07-04]

Posted by at July 4, 2014 1:15 AM


Posted by: Uncle Bill at July 4, 2004 8:48 AM

Mr. Fukuyama is the Faith Popcorn of foreign policy analysits, running from one supposedly ahead-of-the-curve-yet-trendy idea to another. Meanwhile, the left's faith in the ability of foreign nations to instill democracy is inversly proportional to the conservatism of the American president who supports the idea. That's why they won't back Bush on Iraq and still refuse to admit Reagan was the driving force behind the fall of the Soviet Union and the freeing of its satellite nations. To them, Bill Clinton's work in Serbia and Bosnia is the only instance of a U.S. president helping free a nation from dictatorship in the past half century.

Posted by: John at July 4, 2004 10:46 AM

Orrin, I think you are right about how only conservative Jews and Christians still believe in the truths that America represents. I believe that the ideological battle of the 21st Century will not be between conservatives and liberals but rather conservatives and libertarians.

Posted by: Vince at July 4, 2004 4:28 PM

Vince, considering that libertarians have never battled for anything anywhere, I think it's a bit presumptuous to say that they will be a major force in the 21th century.

Posted by: M�rk� at July 4, 2006 9:55 AM
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