September 11, 2006

Democracy, War, and a Surfeit of Ideas

I happend on a blog called Eunomia. Daniel Laurison, who runts it, is amazingly prolific and writes quite well. He has an idosyncratic kind of politics, hostile to Bush, to neoconservatism, indeed to the strong state and foreign adventures generally.

In this recent piece he pretty much demolishes the new saw that democracies don't make war on one another. He argues that "democratism" is an ideology, and like most ideologies, invents the world it wants to see:
In perfect certainty the democratist can declare that democracies do not fight each other, because no real democracies would ever do such a thing. If there are wars between two or more democratic governments (and modern history is fairly littered with them), the democratists’ escape will be found in some undemocratic element of one side or the other. Thus a democratist will say that the constitutional monarchy of King-in-Parliament was insufficiently democratic (they have a king!); he will say that the Confederacy wasn’t a “real” democracy because of slavery (Hanson’s supposed hatred of “aristocracy” comes in handy here); he will say that you must blame the imperialist wars of Britain on something, anything except the fully enfranchised mobs who cheered on the aggression against the Afrikaners; obviously the mass, universal suffrage of Germans and Austrians–like that of their counterparts in the Entente nations–cannot have had anything to do with whipping up the nationalist war fever in 1914. Because democratic peoples don’t want war, and people who want war aren’t democratic peoples–the faith in democracy is so blind, so completely mad, that no appeal to either history or logic will suffice to break it.

The democratist ideologue will focus on the imperfections of the far more developed, more successful and stable Wilhelmine political system of constitutional monarchy, but in the same breath will praise–apparently without irony–the rise of real democracy in Iraq. Pay no attention to the sectarian death squads behind the curtain in Iraq, but instead reiterate that WWI was fought against the forces of autocracy and absolutism. It will make you feel better–and one suspects that feeling better about the decidedly mixed record of democracy is essential for those who wish to inflict this type of regime on others.

As the doctrine of an ideological empire, democratism does not have to accord with reality, so long as it facilitates policy. If Hizbullah has both a political party that competes in democratic elections and an armed militia, the latter cancels out the democratic credentials of the former, while if SCIRI has an armed militia it remains a legitimate participant in democratic politics. This might seem inconsistent or the result of the application of a double standard, until you realise that the administration is the one that decides what constitutes real democracy–and real democracy does not exist anywhere except where it decides it exists. Thus, without any sense of contradiction, the democratist can tell you that some elected foreign leaders–such as, say, Ahmadinejad–are not really democratic leaders in any sense at all, because they espouse the wrong kinds of policies, but the sham democratic politics of Pakistan–a thin veneer covering up military rule–will be praised as robust and admirable.
As I've never been an admirer of Woodrow Wilson or our intervention in World War I, I share much of Laurison's views. To follow his viewpoint fully would mean a military retreat from the world.

After the Cold War, we could have done it--why preserve a NATO when the Russian threat was done, for example? The question is whether in militant Islam we have another global threat (convenient for the interventionists and reminiscent of the rotating wars of 1984), and if so, whether carrying on a struggle against it in the manner we have done is wise or effective.

As one who advocates an effort at rapprochement with Iran, I suppose I am not one of the more rabid interventionists, although now that we are in Iraq, I fear the consequences of withdrawal.

In any case, there is always food for thought on Laurison's blog. Almost a surfeit.

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