One From Column A and One From Column B

This article on democracy and Islamism raises some interesting and vexing questions we’ve talked about before.

Nevertheless, recent books like Noah Feldman’s After Jihad and Graham Fuller’s The Future of Political Islam suggest that the Islamist movement may indeed be compatible with democracy. They find that while there are holdouts like Osama Bin Laden dead set against anything like democracy, there are many, perhaps even a majority of Islamists who favor free elections. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the Islamists go when it comes to democracy. Free elections are OK, since they see that they would do very well in polling places across the region. However, it’s not at all clear that the Islamists have any interest in the broad array of liberties—like freedom of speech and equal rights—that most people, certainly most citizens of liberal democracies, associate with democracy.

Yes, but that’s just it. At least so it seems to me. Citizens of liberal democracies may (and do) associate a broad array of liberties with democracy, but that’s their mistake, surely. They are not the same thing, and the one does not entail the other. It’s kind of important to keep that in mind! Otherwise one will go around doing ‘regime change’ all over the place and keep being gobsmacked when the newly empowered people elect leaders with no interest whatsoever in any broad array of liberties. How many times do we have to learn this before it sinks in, one wonders.

Does the name ‘Hitler’ ring any bells for instance? Austrian guy, painter, little moustache, kind of a tough nut? He was elected. Various hard men in the Balkans were elected and then evinced a certain lack of respect for broad arrays of liberties. The demographics and history of Rwanda might be enough to give one pause about the inevitability of any link between democracy and liberties, such as the liberty not to be slaughtered by one’s neighbours.

The fact is, this whole mistake looks like one of those confusions of correlation with causation. Those of us who have grown up in the Western democracies are used to seeing various liberties and protection for minority rights along with democracy, so we assume, rather fatuously, that they are inextricably linked. But unfortunately they’re not. They can be made to be inextricably linked, by constitutions, Supreme Courts, Houses of Lords, Senates, various other institutions; but they’re not linked that way of necessity or by nature. The majority is not always right, minorities are not invariably wrong, The People are capable of voting for gross injustices. Life is like that.

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